Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Reagan Republicans and Foreign Policy

John Hulsman, TNI contributing editor, once noted that there is a real gap between what I might call "professional conservatives" (in other words, the Washington, DC-based pundits and commentators) think about foreign policy and what many rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives espouse.

We've certainly had some straight talk recently from Senator Chuck Hagel, but some have dismissed his sentiments as not authentic Midwestern sentiments but some sort of insidious beltway corruption.

But there are more signs that ferment is taking place out there that avoids the shouting match categories of "crossfire" style programs.

Consider Eugenia Ordynsky, running for Congress in Maryland's 3rd district, who describes herself as a "Reagan Republican":

Whether or not the US involvement in Iraq was a wise decision will be debated among historians for years to come. However, now that we have opened Pandora’s Box we cannot walk away. ...

As long as there are groups around the world that have, as their main goal, the destruction of America we have a duty to our children to keep them off our soil. Since we are in such close proximity to the nation’s capital, national security is even more of a concern for our district. We must do everything possible to ensure against nuclear or terrorist attacks. This, unfortunately, means having our soldiers stationed abroad and at times mounting offensive attacks. New offensive attacks require Congressional approval. Rest assured that I would not give such approval lightly. I would not approve any attack meant to topple a government. Even though America believes it is her Manifest Destiny to spread democracy to the world and that the Monroe Doctrine gives her the authority to do so directly rather than by example, it should never be done by force. We have meddled in the affairs of Cuba, the Philippines, Vietnam, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Chile, Iran, Afghanistan and others. Often these interventions were for the benefit of a select few. The final results are rarely those that are in the best interests of the American people as a whole. America needs Representatives in Congress who will represent the interests of the people and prevent the needless interference in the sovereignty of foreign governments.

Some of these are similar to points that have been raised in past issues of TNI by various authors--so it does seem that there is a place for ethical, pragmatic realism after all.

It is interesting to see whether or not there is indeed, for lack of a better word, a "Hagelite" wing of the Republican party in foreign policy and whether it can consolidate itself rather than just being a collection of "mavericks." Any indication about other Republicans running in the midterms on this type of foreign policy platform?
"America needs Representatives in Congress who will represent the interests of the people and prevent the needless interference in the sovereignty of foreign governments."

It is hard to argue with an expression of such general principle. The problem is what we should do in the situations that could put this principle to the test.

Right now foreign policy debate seems to frame itself in terms of two positions that strike me as equally unrealistic. One is that we should destroy our potential enemies before they blow us up. The other is that we should wait for catastrophic events to prove that we live in a world in which dysfunctional national sovereignty, and perhaps functioning but fanatical states and private groups, cannot be managed through traditional realist approaches.

This brings me to three questions:

First, how should the long-run future of the world order affect policy today?

One school of realism holds that nothing ever really changes: the names and shapes of international actors and the problems they have turn over, but national sovereignty is eternal until the day it isn't. Events should simply be managed because the fundamentals of world order stay the same.

Another school of realism looks at underlying trends in things like technology, population, environment, and cultural adaptations and sees nation-states as means to ends rather than just as ends in themselves. This view can try to make big changes in the present that may or may not be practical. This school can overlook the continuities in international life, just as the first school can give too little attention to deeper change.

The question isn't which of these schools is true; obviously they both contain truth. The question is one of balance. But recognizing this need is also to recognize the need to operate in more than one timeframe.

Second, with the above in mind, is it realistic or even possible to distinguish ends from means in policy if ends are open? Shouldn't the starting point of realism be some notion of national purposes that are not open-ended?

Third, is it ethically realistic to conduct policy in a way that implies a calculus of US conduct? Losing 3,000 people on 9/11 prompted us to cross some boundaries of conduct that we did not cross in the 1990s: we did not depose the Taliban after the 1998 embassy bombings; after 9/11 we did. But we have not crossed other boundaries since 9/11. We refuse to use the methods of Saddam Hussein against insurgents and we have been lenient with Pakistan and other countries that give sanctuary to al-Qaida. Would that change after a nuclear attack on the United States traceable to one of these countries? Will taking the gloves off solve the problem, or only ratchet it up even higher? Are the present dilemmas we face in the Middle East the result of having tried to pursue some intermediate level of violence?

The question to which all of this boils down, I suppose, is whether the costs of miscalculation are in some long-term sense rising. We have survived setbacks in the past and will no doubt survive them in the future, but we don't want to have to dig ourselves out of deeper and deeper holes.
I agree with dave on the argument that “idealism” is in fact realist, and would seek to add Germany, Japan and Italy to the list of US occupations, oh yeah, and Korea.

Reestablishing an international legitimacy as a defender of humanistic liberal values would not only make any necessary regime change smoother, but may also prevent the necessity of preventative regime change by neutralizing the potency of aggression against the US as a source of legitimacy for certain autocratic regimes (I’m thinking of Cuba, honestly…).

PS: While Slobodan was not directly taken out by NATO, Serbia could also be considered a successful intervention into the sovereignty of a nation by the US. Speaking of the nineties, Rwanda was a missed opportunity, as was Haiti, Liberia, and Darfur for Bush.
David Billlington--you hit the nail right on the head. The costs of miscalculation are indeed rising. THis is not only because of the spread of WMD but also because of the nature of the global system which over-reacts to the slightest shock--look at how sensitive oil markets are now.

Because of that, I think striking a cautious note is the right starting point. And McCain's own admissions that the Bush team made it seem like things would be so easy in Iraq explain why this message resonates.
Are old-school Republicans reasserting themselves or what?
But if old school republicans are doing it in isolation and there's no national movement then it doesn't achieve much.
Comments on "A Clarifying Moment"

I think the writers miss the point.

The President is purposefully conflating all opponents of US policies in ME as terrorists because that is the surest way of justifying his policies to the American people. Moreover, he might genuinely believe in what he says.

He is also purposefully avoiding the Israel-Palestine War because there really is not much that he could do to move the ball forward. He might genuinely be aware of its centrality but he also might know that he is powerless to do anything about it.

The President also might know that US lost the information war 3 years ago. That he himself has lost the Muslim people and he cannot make them distrust US & him any further by his actions.

These are the actions of a man who has made up his mind and is either expecting to win or is going for broke.

And for him, the Cedar revolution was not worth that much.

I agree that he has politically weakened the friendly Arab states-but let's face it: where are they going to go? To Tehran? I think not. They will grin and bear it.

And as for these policies creating more enemies for US, again, the President might feel that US can take care of that issue in a reasonable manner.

Over all, I think a case can be made that the President's policies are following a certain rationale that is mostly consistent with a hard-power approach.

The reason that no meaningful alternatives have emerged is that the mainstream thinking favors US staying engaged both in the Levant and in the Persian Gulf as the Hegemon.

By the way, EU countries agree with him in most of this (barring Iraq); they just want a softer touch.
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