Wednesday, October 25, 2006

TNI, Liberal Organ?

Do the labels "conservative" and "liberal" mean anything anymore? I've noticed that some in the blogosphere have decided to put TNI in the "liberal" camp when they read something that criticizes the Administration or isn't AEI-compliant.

I published yesterday in National Interest online a short essay ("Original Intent") on how the first issue of the magazine continues to serve as our "editorial lodestone." In it, I noted:

Re-reading the first three items that appear in the premiere issue shows to what extent the magazine throughout the years has remained loyal to its founding principles.

“A Note on The National Interest” proclaimed that the magazine would “be characterized as conservative. And so it is, though only in the sense that, these days, the assumptions from which it proceeds are more congenial to conservatives than to anyone else.” (emphasis mine).

One of those assumptions—“that the Soviet Union constitutes the single greatest threat to America’s interests”—was rendered moot six years later. Conservatives and moderates today continue to debate whether there has been a replacement (Islamic radicalism? China? Iran?). This is one of the areas where the magazine stays loyal to its founding injunction that the “foreign policy of this country can only benefit from such a sustained and open exchange, however sharp the disagreements that may emerge.”

But the other two remain very valid—that “the primary and overriding purpose of American foreign policy must be to defend and advance the national interests of the United States” and “for better or for worse, international politics remains essentially power politics.”

The second item—the first signed article to appear in TNI—was Irving Kristol’s “Foreign Policy in an Age of Ideology”—in which he warned that the “real trouble with American liberal-internationalism is not that it is hypocritical and disingenuous but, on the contrary, that it is naïve and utopian.” Two pages later, he identifies the principal task of U.S. foreign policy at that time as to defeat the Soviet Union’s messianic ideology “not so that the world can be made ‘safe for democracy’ but so that the nations of the world can have the opportunity to realize whatever potential for popular government and economic prosperity they may possess, or come to possess.”

Finally, the third item in the table of contents was Robert Tucker’s “Isolation and Intervention.” Tucker, one of the founding editors (who is now an editor emeritus), questioned—in 1985!—whether promoting freedom ought to be the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy. “The issue,” he wrote, “is not the value of freedom. Instead, it is what power can accomplish in spreading freedom. It is also whether universalizing freedom is a proper interest of foreign policy. … Conservatives, despite their deep attachment to liberty, should be the first to recognize this.”

I think that often Kristol the son's views are conflated as being the views of Kristol the father. Kristol the elder never lost his suspicion of grand programs of social engineering and nothing that he wrote in later issues of the PI seems to think he'd changed those views.
It is amazing how consistent Bob Tucker's views have been over the last two decades; his 1985 article could be only slightly edited and then re-released today as a powerful critique of the Bush Administration.
Tucker, Harries and Kristol--who I assume collaborated on the opening editorial statement--make an intereseting point often lost in today's shouting back and forth. They define what is conservative by adherence to first principles. Today it is often defined as blind loyalty to specific people or policies. I wonder if the 1985 founders would, in their 1985 incarnations, see George W. Bush as a true conservative or even as Reagan's heir, or a dangerous innovator.
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