Friday, April 11, 2008
Liberty Fund: Realism, Order and Liberty in American Foreign Policy
Because the emphasis is on discussion rather than on finding some lowest-common denominator consensus, the conversations were quite wide-ranging. I'm not going to do this summary any justice, but I thought I'd share some of the points.
Is there such a thing as "American realism"? Can Americans be comfortable with power/interest-based policies, or must there be an appeal to values? Is promoting a "balance of power that favors freedom" a uniquely American compromise?
What does it mean for America to "provide an example" to the rest of the world? Is this done passively or by the expression of American power? What exactly is our example that we want others to emulate--our constitutional order, our material success, or something else?
Who is responsible for defining interests? A professional elite? To what extent should the "palsied will of the constituents" to use a later J.Q. Adams phrase play a role in controlling/defining policy?
What are the distinctions between being a well-wisher for the liberty of others (and is liberty for others defined in terms of liberty for peoples or liberty for individuals) and being responsible for them?
In looking at foreign policy, is war inevitable? How much that happens occurs accidentally? Do statesmen make mistakes?
How do we deal with the apparent paradox in the American mind, the tensions between liberty and power?
And the timeline for the inculcation of liberty as defined by the West; the cultural and institutional background needed.
The notion that a government should reflect the "genius" of the people, and whether the principles, perspectives and animating spirit of a country changes as its power position changes.
A discussion I enjoyed and which I feel happens too little in Washington, where we don't often spend as much time not only on ideas but on examining the intellectual heritage of the Republic.
In terms of defining the goals of policies, the US makes use of principle of idealism; in choosing the strategies for achieving these goals, the US employs the principle of resalism.
Since universal moral principles cannot be applied to states in original, it will be erronous to judge the US on this count.
Which principles of idealism was used by US to overthrow the democractically elected governments of Guatemala and Iran? Or assasinate Diem? Or mine the harbours of Nicaragua?
Inquiring minds want to know.
[If you believe all of that, I have two bidges to sell you.]
The only balance of power the US foreign policy elite will ever be comfortable with is the one where the US has undisputed global dominance whereever it desires, simultaneously. Any country with the capacity to oppose US will, even theoretically, is the enemy, and will be opposed, destabilized, and undermined at every opportunity, with the only limit being that provided by US fear of power's capacity to reply in kind.
So which one is more of a right - "Principle of Sovereignity of a State" (the basis of Treaty & Peace of Westphalia) or "Property Rights"?