‘Foreign Policy’ magazine’s ‘distinguished’ Global Thinkers

FP purports to “present a unique portrait of 2012’s global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them”.

Obama is recognised for his "more restrained view of America's role in the world" and for "curb[ing] his predecessor's dangerous excesses", thereby "conclusively put[ting] cowboy diplomacy out to pasture" [AFP]

A few years back, Foreign Policy magazine began compiling annual lists of “The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers”. Aside from some worthy exceptions, the lists are populated by individuals whose dearth of intellectual qualifications tends to render the whole business an exercise in oxymoron proliferation. 

With this year’s survey of Global Thought, FP purports to “present… a unique portrait of 2012’s global marketplace of ideas and the thinkers who make them”. 

Given the neoliberal presentation of the mission statement, it’s not surprising to find corporate apologists well-represented in the marketplace. Global Thinker no. 65, for example, is US economist Paul Romer, whose crusade to revive the practice of colonialism in the world is creatively euphemised by FP into a “novel idea for persuading a developing country to sign away a parcel of land to be governed by a foreign power as a model for economic growth”. 

Multibillionaire Bill Gates is meanwhile elevated to the rank of “perennial FP Global Thinker for the enormous scale and ambition of his efforts to finance – and reimagine – global health and development”.

Some of these virtuous efforts were showcased in a 2007 Los Angeles Times report revealing that “the Gates Foundation funded a polio vaccination clinic in Ebocha, Nigeria, in the shadow of a giant petroleum processing plant in which the Gates Foundation was invested” and which itself contributed in no small way to the deterioration of local health. 

The brains of empire 

Of course, no inventory of Global Thought would be complete without a celebration of the cognitive processes underpinning US imperial predations. Among the 2012 honourees are President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Vice-President Dick Cheney – the latter two icons dating from the administration of someone who has been excluded from the FP list despite notable thoughts such as that Africa is a country.  


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Obama, the “brainy 44th president”, is recognised for his “more restrained view of America’s role in the world” and for “curb[ing] his predecessor’s dangerous excesses”, thereby “conclusively put[ting] cowboy diplomacy out to pasture”. 

To be sure, reports that the Obama team has managed to conduct five times as many drone strikes in Pakistan as the preceding cowboy – a practice inevitably resulting in rampant civilian casualties – are a sure sign of civilised progress and a conclusive rejection of George W Bush’s “smoke them out” rhetoric. 

In similar counter-intuitive fashion, Clinton is praised by FP, along with her husband, for her “vision” that the US can “promote democracy and development abroad without… needlessly antagonising other countries. It’s a different kind of American exceptionalism, based on more than just firepower”. 

FP does not care to explain how Clinton’s campaign to validate the 2009 coup d’état against the democratically-elected president of Honduras constitutes democracy promotion or an eschewal of needless antagonising of a country that has for the duration of its contemporary history been at the mercy of US corporate and military interests. 

That the coup has ushered in an era of intensified murder and impunity raises additional questions about the merits of “American exceptionalism”

According to FP, Clinton “has emerged as one of the Obama administration’s most forceful advocates for human rights and democracy” based on her preeminent role in “the push for the United States to intervene in Libya last year”.

This assessment overlooks the fact that even the New York Timesbastion of imperial apologetics – has drawn attention to disconcerting accompaniments to firepower in Libya such as NATO’s refusal to acknowledge or investigate the substantial civilian casualties that resulted from its own bombardments. 

Condoleezza Rice is meanwhile hailed as an “optimist” with an “unwavering belief in American indispensability” in the world. This indispensability was previously asserted via such events as the 2006 Israeli destruction of Lebanon and 1,200 persons (primarily civilians) therein, assisted by rush shipments of US weapons to Israel and hailed by Rice as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East“. 

The presence in the annals of Global Thought of Iraq war profiteer Dick Cheney – described by FP as Rice’s “dark-side-minded rival” who is to thank for “keeping the neocon flame alive” – is cast as a mere diplomatic reflection on the man’s influence: “Cheneyism is alive and well in today’s Republican Party”. 

After decreeing that “If scaring us silly were a religion, Dick Cheney would be its high priest”, FP goes on to observe that the former VP “is still waging a campaign… to convince us that the dark side of terrorists and rogue states is out there and must be defended against at all costs”. 

Israel’s global musings 

Despite apparently mocking Cheneyesque propaganda concerning alleged “dark sides” and “rogue states”, FP devotes slot 13 on its Global Thinkers list to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak “[f]or forcing the world to confront Iran’s nuclear programme” and for “[a]lmost single-handedly… wrench[ing] the world’s attention toward the apocalyptic potential of a nuclear Iran”. 

That Netanyahu and Barak’s alleged feat is not as single-handed as FP implies is made quite clear in a recent essay for the Journal of Palestine Studies by Edward S Herman, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania, and journalist David Peterson. 

“Dick Cheney … is still waging a campaign… to convince us that the dark side of terrorists and rogue states is out there and must be defended against at all costs.”

– Foreign Policy magazine

Entitled “The Iran ‘Threat’ In a Kafkaesque World”, the essay presents such findings as that, from July 2002 to June 2012, “the volume of media attention devoted to Iran’s nuclear program [in English-language wire services and newspapers]… was 88 times greater than that devoted exclusively to Israel’s (and 105 times greater in the New York Times alone)”.

Never mind that the International Atomic Energy Agency has not, in the course of obsessive inspections, stumbled upon the Iranian “nuclear programme” that FP passes off as unquestionable reality. 

As Herman and Peterson note, “[t]he last major US National Intelligence Assessment of Iran’s ‘Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities’ in November 2007 concluded with ‘high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme'” – something that cannot be said for the bellicose homeland of Global Thinkers no. 13, a country that is nonetheless exempt from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as well as from weapons inspections.  

That non-Iranian entities may enjoy a monopoly on “apocalyptic potential” is furthermore suggested by the authors’ contention that the hype over Iran “allows the United States to divert attention from the real threats that it poses itself, including its own contribution to the spread of nuclear weapons by its refusal to live up to its own disarmament obligations [as stipulated in Article VI of the NPT] and its acquiescence in the nuclear weapons programmes of Israel, India and Pakistan outside the NPT”. 

As for FP‘s assessment of Netanyahu and Barak’s global influence – “Pretty impressive for a country the size of New Jersey” – impressive is not the first word that ought to come to mind when faced with the possibility of regional destruction. 

Perhaps in an effort to appear less blatantly warmongering, FP assigns slot 14 on the Global Thinkers list to another pair of Israelis: ex-Mossad director Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin, for “mak[ing] a convincing, hard-nosed case that a strike [on Iran] would only make the Iranian threat greater”. 

Lest we start feeling overly warm and fuzzy at the prospect of human co-existence in the Middle East, however, FP assures us that “[t]hese former soldiers are no peaceniks… Netanyahu once praised Dagan by saying that he went to war not with a knife but with ‘a rocket-propelled grenade between his teeth'”. 

According to FP, “[i]f the Israeli government doesn’t end up launching a war against Iran, it won’t be because of the persuasive abilities of US President Barack Obama or the political machinations of Israel’s opposition parties”. It presumably won’t be because of FP either. 

Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, released by Verso in 2011. She is a member of the Jacobin Magazine editorial board, and her articles have appeared in the London Review of Books blog, The Baffler, Al Akhbar English and many other publications.