Chick Flicks and International Relations

Before I get started here, I should state upfront that I haven’t seen either of these movies, but will nonetheless argue that two recent romantic comedies — “It’s Complicated” (2009) and “He’s Just Not That Into You” (2009) — have a lot to say about US foreign policy. The thing is, you probably don’t have to see them to know what they’re about.

That is the first lesson of rom-coms: details may change, but the basic story doesn’t. The world will always be volatile. There will always be conflict, death, and various ills, natural and unnatural. There will also always be periods of prosperity, strong and enduring alliances, and tranquility. When the government in Iran eventually passes from the scene, as it surely will, and the military dictatorship of North Korea collapses, as it surely will, we will still have enemies in this world.

The persistence and prevalence of complicated relationships is the second lesson. We can’t solve US-Pakistani relations anymore than we can solve US-China relations. As long as certain conditions persist and prevail, we will have to deal with those countries. Those are relationships to be managed, and black-and-white terms like “enemies” (such as those described above) and “allies” may not hold.

Third, there are some nations and peoples that are just not that into us, and this may take generations to change. This doesn’t mean they hate us, necessarily, but they don’t love us for any number of reasons — historical issues, long memories, alleged and real transgressions, cultural differences, etc. Much of Latin America is extremely distrustful of US intervention in their societies and economies, for example. And that’s just the way it is.

Finally, relationships can fade. Best friends drift; old flames die out. The generation that built the most powerful military alliance in the history of the world — NATO — is passing from the scene. The survivors of the Holocaust and Castro’s rise in Cuba, two extremely influential emigre demographics, are also seeing their views on US foreign policy become less of an issue for younger generations. As the US “pivots” to Asia, what will happen to our alliances (plural intended) with Europe? What will happen to US-Israel and US-Cuba policy as historical memory recedes? As Baxter (2005) reminds us (no, I haven’t seen that one either), happy endings are not guaranteed.

So the next time you’re watching 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) — which I’ve actually seen many times — imagine that the teenyboppers on the screen are countries and Padua Stadium High School is the international system. Think of it as a meditation on foreign policy.