We have gone from one foreign policy extreme (waging wars to impose democracy on people who don’t want it and who have no cultural or religious foundation for it) to the other (projecting a weakness that has given us Islamic radicals taking over Iraq, Russian aggression in eastern Europe, Chinese aggression in Asia, a war between Israel and Palestinians, civil war in Syria, and a “new world disorder”). Is there a happy medium? What would a truly conservative foreign policy look like?
George Will reviews a new book on that subject that proposes things like “limited government” applied globally, the preservation of local cultures, and “armed diplomacy.”
Having recoiled from the scandal of the Iraq war, which was begun on the basis of bad intelligence and conducted unintelligently, Americans concluded that their nation no longer has much power, defined as the ability to achieve intended effects. The correct conclusion is that the United States should intend more achievable effects.
Obama has given Americans a foreign policy congruent with their post-recoil preferences: America as spectator. Now, however, their sense of national diminishment, and of an increasingly ominous world, may be making them receptive to a middle course between a foreign policy of flaccidity (Obama) and grandiosity (his predecessor).
If so, a Republican presidential aspirant should articulate what George Washington University’s Henry R. Nau calls, in a book with this title, “Conservative Internationalism.” This would, he says, include:The liberal internationalist goal of spreading freedom, but doing so “primarily on the borders of existing freedom, not everywhere in the world at once”; the realists’ use of “armed diplomacy” against adversaries outside of negotiations; and the “conservative vision of limited global governance, a decentralized world of democratic civil societies” rather than “one of centralized international institutions as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt advocated.” The blend is conservative internationalism because “states remain separate and armed; national culture, sovereignty, defense, and patriotism are respected; civic virtue and democracy are widespread; the global economy is mostly private; and global governance is limited.”
Is this enough of a solution? Or would it still involve more of what George Washington described as “foreign entanglements” for your taste? Or would it give us less foreign involvement than we need in this age of a resurgent Radical Islam and a resurgent Russia? And would it fly politically?