Friday, August 17, 2007

Could A Republican (or Democratic) Candidate Write This?

Why do presidential candidates find it so difficult to say what are self-evident truths about the role and position of the United States in world affairs? Why is it next to impossible for them--and for many pundits--to spell it out that way former Secretary of State James A. Baker III does (from his essay in the forthcoming issue of The National Interest):

"... the United States is and will be the major global power.

"American might, however, is not limitless. The history of empires and great powers from Rome onwards provides an important lesson. power must be husbanded carefully. It is precious and finite. Spreading it too thinly can lead to disaster. Choices still matter. We must be able to differentiate between our preferences and our priorities, between what is essential to preserve U.S. national security and what is only desirable."

Seems logical, right? But then, perhaps anticipating the comments made by Rudy Guiliani in his missive, Baker feels it necessary to write:

"Let me make myself clear: I am anything but a “declinist” when it comes to the United States. I reject gloomy predictions about our national eclipse and am absolutely convinced that our country’s future is a bright one. But while the United States may be the most powerful state in history, we are not omnipotent.

"So the challenge confronting policymakers is how best to use our power in ways that advance both our interests and values while avoiding strategic overreach."

Does anyone think that the candidates have been laying out any such vision?

Baker's essay then lays out a guide for action. He talks about the indispensability of American leadership, the sources of American power in the world--including our military, economic and (gasp! for somehow sometimes labelled an uber-realist) ideological power. But, you see, then he does something else. He talks about limits. He acknowledges that we don't live in a "perfect world."

"Our power is limited in other areas as well. As strong as our economy may be, we still need the cooperation of others in
such areas as expanding trade and investment, and coordinating macroeconomic policy. The same is true in the diplomatic
arena, where our influence can be constrained when we are unable to persuade others."

I think that the American people understand very clearly a point the Secretary makes later on, reflecting on his own experiences in the Reagan and Bush Administrations: "We understood that sometimes policymakers must choose from a range of less-than-desirable options." So why can't the candidates?

The reason is that the White, Protestant American population cannot accept the word "limit" - they have really hard time dealing with the idea of human, institutional, and national limits. Jimmy Carter was saying the same things but people got suckered by Regan and "Morning in America" clap-trap anyway.
Nik, will be interested in seeing the Baker piece in full when it is out.

Guess it is true, old-time Republicans don't have a place in their own party anymore. So where do they go?
Anon 8:34:

So true it hurts. But every cloud has a silver lining. The segment of which you speak is taking the heaviest casualties in Iraq, and suffering the most from high energy prices/stagnant wages.

Maybe the South and Midwest will learn there are consequences to voting Republican.
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