Friday, April 11, 2008

Liberty Fund: Realism, Order and Liberty in American Foreign Policy

I took part in the Liberty Fund conference here in Arlington, VA that was devoted to the subject, "Realism, Order and Liberty in American Foreign Policy." The Liberty Fund conference brings together a small group of thinkers to examine a series of texts--in this case, speeches by John Quincy Adams and John Randolph and some of the writings of George Kennan.

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.

It is difficult to label the US policies as pure realism or pure idealism.

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.
Nik, but a reverse question to you at the end--does any of this discussion on ideas have any real impact on actual policies?

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.]
"Is promoting a "balance of power that favors freedom" a uniquely American compromise?"

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.

Anonymous 6:51, to respond to your query to Madi, read Kagan's latest essay. He essentially argues that the US and other democracies can be judge and jury over the non-democracies, and lays out the criteria for intervention--including to defend property rights--which I think was a key motivator for the US actions in Central America.
Anonymous 7:37:

So which one is more of a right - "Principle of Sovereignity of a State" (the basis of Treaty & Peace of Westphalia) or "Property Rights"?
Read Kagan's New republic essay and the answer is clear. Westaphalia is the tool of tyrants and not to be respected.
So kagan supports the Forever War?
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