Thursday, September 21, 2006

Taking Aim at "Exemplarism"

In the second issue of Democracy (one of the spate of new journals that have emerged on the Washington scene in the last year), Anatol Lieven takes aim at the newest entrant to replace "neo-conservatism", what has been termed "exemplarism" by Michael Singer.

He notes: Signer declares that "exemplarism would value both strength and international prestige equally, seeing them not as mutually exclusive but rather as mutually reinforcing" and that "America’s economic, political, and military strength, when deployed wisely, enhances our prestige around the world." Who could possibly disagree? But, once again, what does "deploying American strength wisely" actually mean in practice? And who gets to decide what is "wise"? Is it America alone, or do American allies get a real say when it comes to designing and changing American policies? Without a real willingness to change American policies, it may be possible to bring about the kind of sullen acquiescence to the United States that one sees at present in Western Europe, for example, but it will be quite impossible to get nations outside that sphere to make real sacrifices for the sake of those policies and thereby lighten the present unsustainable burden on American resources. It is easy to talk of a need for more diplomatic approaches by the United States, and it is true that leading members of the Bush Administration have been notoriously and dangerously contemptuous of the very idea of diplomacy. But the liberal hawks who praise diplomacy in principle also appear to misunderstand its true nature. When they speak of engaging other countries diplomatically, what they usually mean is talking at them more loudly and sweetly, but with the same ends in mind. True, this has always been a key feature of diplomacy. But real diplomacy also means a recognition of other states’ vital interests and a willingness to reach compromises accordingly. This, by contrast, is too often called–by Democrats as well as Republicans–"accommodation" or even "appeasement."

I've been skeptical of attempts to come up with new labels and supposed "new schools". I wrote earlier this year

"If a new school of foreign policy thought is emerging, then its progenitors need to move beyond changing labels or finding fault with tactical decisions. And this new school should be able to make the case it would have emerged even if the Iraq war had gone according to plan."

Does "exemplarism" pass this test? Lieven would seem to argue, no it does not.

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