Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Etzioni and Lind

Amitai Etzioni and Michael Lind facililated one of our regular "squaretable" discussions on U.S. foreign policy at the magazine today.

Etzioni said that U.S. policy is not simply in need of adjustments (saying we need to "work with allies" isn't enough) but needs to be grounded in what he called Freudian realism--policies that are based in reality testing as to whether they can be achieved or not. He compared some of the foreign policy analysts to Evan Pritchard's rain dance practitioners--when rain didn't happen it was because the dance was done wrong (perhaps not enough dancers deployed) or that in fact it would rain--just later on (perhaps after the next election cycle).

For Etizoni, the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy needs to be to prevent nuclear terrorism. This means reducing the amount of deadly material and getting regimes to give up weapons programs. For him, the success story has been Libya. The bargain was Libya got rid of its WMD programs in return for no overt attempts at regime change. If other states feel that after complying more demands are coming--don't expect them to give up WMD.

Etzioni believes democratization is a long-term goal and needs to be done by generational, educational means. Meanwhile, you work with the regimes you have, and you engage realistically. Getting Iran to give up WMD might be feasible; getting a pro-American liberal democracy probably isn't, or as likely as thinking that faced with sanctions Bush would give up the White House to Gore and become an advocate for gay marriage and abortion rights.

For Lind, the classic American approach has been to avoid a foreign policy that requires excessive militarization or leads to an autocratic, secretive executive. Isolationism (more properly, "spheres of influence"--the U.S. being the hegemon of the Western Hemisphere but not getting involved in other regions of the world) was one approach. The Theodore Roosevelt, FDR and to some extent Wilson and Truman vision was the concert of great powers--not a utopian vision of harmony but a push for collective shared hegemony. More recently, we have had both neoconservatives and neoliberals articulate a vision of American hegemonism based on hegemonic stability theory--that a concert of power is impossible and so the United States can use its overwhelming advantage to deliver peace by convincing other powers not to challenge U.S. supremacy and by providing their security. The problem, as Lind sees it, is that the American people do not want to pay the costs of this approach. So we have a bait-and-switch approach where the maintenance of this hegemony is cloaked in the mantle of "threats" to the American heartland--a tendency reinforced by a foreign policy community which needs "threats" to stay in business. This produces a situation where the government increasingly lies not about specific details but about the overall foreign policy strategy--which in turn erodes the democratic system.

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