Courtesy Reuters

Relativity in Foreign Policy


THE orchestration of foreign policy is a vexatious art form. It exacts its toll from observers and participants alike. After some performances, all involved must yearn to consign the concept to oblivion as simply unworkable. At minimum it is fortunate for the orchestra's reputation that this is a time when dissonance is musically avant garde.

For the frustrations of the foreign policy orchestra are, beyond doubt, unique. Whether in composition or execution, making contemporary foreign policy music is a hazardous undertaking. Phrasing is often rudimentary. Clear melodic lines are seldom validly asserted. Contrapuntal themes are often overdone. Crescendos and diminuendos interrupt one another unpredictably, and the variations in tempo upset continuity of mood. Rhythms are highly irregular. Adagio is no match for prestissimo, and moderato tends to escalate into vivace brillante.

But there are environmental woes as well. The acoustics are notorious for reverberations, and the sound effects reëcho over time. Professionally offended at the orchestra's repeat performances, the critics persist in rerunning their own reviews. They take endless satisfaction in calling the encores as they see them. Yet the programs themselves are seldom prearranged. Rehearsals are rare. Some players habitually avert their eyes from the podium, others habitually from the score. Moreover, one has to consider the overcrowding of the stage and the outsized nature of certain sections, as well as the potentials for explosions among the brasses, tediousness among the woodwinds, tuning troubles among the strings, miscalculations in the tympani, uncertainties among the trumpets, excesses among the prima donnas, and, occasionally, the unexpected guest conductor.

Hence it is no wonder that self-esteem requires a refuge in relativity, the orchestra telling itself that, after all, it is a relatively splendid orchestra, turning in a relatively admirable performance, under relatively insurmountable handicaps, in a relatively cataclysmic world. Such reflections on relativity, however, happen to come naturally to the foreign policy participant, because relativity for him has become the leitmotiv of foreign policy living if

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