The World: Not Going Away.

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Here is the foreign policy truth that liberals in general will not speak and don’t really accept: some people can’t be reasoned with.

Liberals believe in the psychotherapeutic model of foreign policy. Lie back, troubled nation or group or culture, tell us what’s bothering you. You say you feel neglected? You say you feel oppressed? You blame America? Of course you do, don’t we all?

Liberals don’t know what to make of Al Qaeda.

Here is the foreign policy truth that neo-cons in general will not speak and don’t really accept: people are not all secretly just like them. Some people are really quite different.

Neo-cons believe in the liberation model of foreign policy. Everyone, everywhere wants just the same things I want, and if only we could get evil governments off their backs, all people would subscribe to the Weekly Standard, buy Thomas Pink shirts and spend their weekends reading each others’ books.

Neo-cons are stunned that in free elections Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Iraqis don’t vote for anyone associated with the American Enterprise Institute.

Here is the foreign policy truth that paleo-cons in general will not speak and don’t really accept: you cannot wish the world away.

Paleo-cons believe in the gated community theory of foreign policy. If we build walls, and hire a trustworthy guard, and arm ourselves with shotguns to shoot intruders, everything will be fine. Good fences make good neighbors, and what goes on beyond the fence is not our problem.

Paleo-cons haven’t felt quite right since the invention of the intercontinental ballistic missile, and have yet to accept the fact that their home is mortgaged with the Bank of China.

I suspect the American people are closest to the paleo-con belief. The average American could not name more than three foreign leaders. Or a dozen foreign countries. The American people were stunned to learn that one foreign country was selling control of American ports to another foreign country.

The United States grew up in a gated community: safe borders with smaller, far weaker neighbors, and large oceans that seperated us from potential rivals. When we had serious international trouble we generally had to leave home to find it. Even Pearl Harbor happened far away in a territory that wasn’t yet a state.

The United States is the most dominant power since Rome at its peak. We don’t have an empire in the classic 19th century style, but our economic and cultural power is felt in every corner of the world. Our military power is respected or feared in every corner of the world. We are the 800 pound gorilla in a world full of spider monkeys. But we don’t know what we want to do with the rest of the world, or if we want to do anything at all, let alone how.

The foreign policy realists, the Kissinger/Scowcroft types think in terms of managing threats, playing chess with the world with the straightforward goals of protecting our markets and ensuring that none of those spider monkeys out there can bulk up enough to be trouble. The realists don’t care if this pawn or that knight is attractive, pleasant or moral, a chess piece is a chess piece. Saddam Hussein used to be one of the realists’ chess pieces.

Here is the truth that the realists generally won’t speak and don’t really accept: good and evil are not irrelevant, not to Americans.

We have these different points of view, each of which has a bit of the truth, and each of which includes a fatal virus. We need the liberal’s eagerness to understand, but not the impotent self-flagellation; we need the neo-con’s faith in freedom, without the credulousness and naivete; we need the paleo-con’s reluctance to leap into every fray, without the head-in-the-sand isolationism; and we need the realist’s readiness to occasionally accept moral ambiguity, but without their eagerness to embrace moral blindness.

The crucial job here falls to the American voter. The voters need to spend more time on foreign policy than they want to. They don’t need to run out and get doctorates in international relations, but they need to learn the basic rules of the game. We can’t trust the people in power not to be ideologues or incompetents or megalomaniacs — or, in the case of the current administration, all three. But we can’t really trust ourselves, either, if all we know is what we’ve gleaned from attack ads and talk radio rants. It’s time for American voters to raise the level of their game, because the world will not go away, no matter how much we wish it would.

Cross posted from Mighty Middle.)

  • http://talkingtonobody.com Ed

    Some intersting points, but also some useless name calling. I think that to say that the Neo Cons think THIS and the Liberals think THAT is pretty meaningless. In order to unravel these long chains of interaction between countries, civilazations, etc you have to learn history, know the back story, and learn the names of the players. These are things that the American public seems to think are beneath them. They aren’t interested in WHY someone would hate them. They seem only interested in comfrontation. Only when someone confronts us do we act. That’s what is killing us. Our populace and in turn our leadership doesn’t often take the long view. Only what will happen now, not what’s coming next. Untill we all do, semantics arguments won’t get us much farther than this..a blog entry.

  • http://www.mightymiddle.com/ Michael Reynolds

    That’s why I included the qualifier “in general.”

    As to the rest, that’s exactly the point I was making. I’m glad we agree.

  • http://maverickviews.blogspot.com/ Alan Stewart Carl

    As I said in response to a family member’s recent ranting about our “alliance” with Pakistan only minutes after he ranted about our invasion of Iraq:

    Foreign policy is damned hard. All actions have undesirable consequences. Even inaction comes with serious risk.

    They key I think is not to try to craft “doctrines” or stick to one ideology but to try to manage all the competing interests you stated above. There’s a lot of gray area out there and it ain’t a pretty path to walk. Perfection or even near perfection can’t be the goal. But competency is a good place to start.

  • http://vernondent.blogspot.com/ Callimachus

    I’ll overlook the nit-picky things that anyone who fits any one of the subgroups listed here might make, because the taxonomy isn’t the point of the post. It’s the need to bring all these views to the table to develop a coherent foreign policy that the nation can unite behind. And I agree with that. We’re in for some rough skulling; it’s only going to work if we can be reasonably united while preserving the precious right to dissent.

    The four-way division in American foreign policy outlook isn’t really new. Walter Russell Mead wrote about them a few years back and characterized them as Jeffersonians, Hamiltonians, Wilsonians, and Jacksonians.

    Various problems at once arise. One was a paradox noted by the German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr 50 years ago: America cannot at the same time project its world power and maintain the fiction that it is an innocent, virtuous nation.

    Yet we need to believe in our virtues in order to aspire to them, and power like ours, without virtues, is a terrible thing. That — the Niebuhr paradox — is the problem I have to wrestle with in my own approach to foreign policy. I happen to put great stock in our virtues. Many people in one of the categories you describe only sneer at that. They ought to be wiser.

    Others have their own. Paleo-cons and what you call liberals often taunt the neo-cons and their ilk by saying “yes, but we created Saddam.” If they’d think it through to the next step they might arrive at, “and that makes him our responsibility.” But I’m not holding my breath.

    I introduce it, though, because the other point they don’t seem to get is, we didn’t simply create him in the Kissinger’s chess piece sense; we created him every dawn of every day after the end of the Cold War that he woke up in his palaces, running his nation. We’re the people who have the force capable of changing things in places like Iraq. If you have such power, the decision to use it and the decision not to use it involve you equally in the consequences. There’s no going back, in our times, to the years when America was just another country.

    For the realists, the challenge is, perhaps, something Alan has mentioned before: The game they play is a game between nation-states. Increasingly, those are not the main actors on the world stage. There are no rules and strategy books for this new game.

    We as a people need not just a better education, but the ethical maturity to make painful choices among crappy options. Good luck. What’s on TV tonight?

  • rob

    One of the worst posts I’ve read here. Do your really think stereotyping is helpful?

    You should have read some of the posts here before you started writing.

  • http://www.mightymiddle.com/ Michael Reynolds

    Sorry, but the stereotyping charge is wrong.

    People adopt certain positions. They speak from those positions. Others, listening to them, have a right to respond to them based on their positions. And a right to satirize or criticize them based on those positions.

    If I am a Marxist, is it wrong for you to criticize me on that basis? Wrong for you to bring up forced collectivization or incompetent industrial planning? Of course not. If I’m an Islamist do you not have a right to criticize or lampoon me on that basis?

    Without a degree of stereotyping it is simply impossible to discuss political issues. We’re not talking here about race or faith or gender, we’re talking about specific ideological positions. For example, neo-cons have a large body of writtten and spoken words on their beliefs. I have a perfect right to characterize people who identify with those written or spoken words. Right?
    Hope so, because otherwise I’m at a bit of a loss as to how we discuss ideologies, political parties, factions, etc…

    But notice that I say a “degree” of stereotyping. Just as I said liberals, neo-cons, and so on “in general.” Qualifiers are important, not just as CYA, but because we can’t let ourselves be trapped by stereotypes anymore than we can entirely dismiss stereotypes.

    As for reading some of the posts here before I started, I did, of course. I’ve been reading them for a long time, since the blog started. Just as Justin had been reading my blog for a long time before he asked me to join the Donklephant team. I’m pretty sure that neither Justin, nor Callimachus nor Alan Stewart Carl are surprised by my style.

    That having been said, one of the great strengths of this blog is that you, the reader, can choose among a half dozen excellent writers and ignore those that disappoint you.

  • GN

    For Ed,
    “Useless name calling” …. there is no such thing. We have been calling each other names for centuries on the basis of our actions and habits.

    For Rob
    Stereotyping is one of our favorite passtimes … for instance when you see a man in robes and a turban, and wires hanging out of his jacket you think “Here comes one of those terrorist assholes”, you see Cheney with a shotgun and you think ” I’m safe … I ain’t no lawyer” (ha ha) The point of the post is that all of the types have some value, and it might be a good time to get together and build some cohesiveness before we get our collective asses slammed again.

    Everybody Stereotypes … variously we are seen around the world:
    Imperialist Pigs, Western Devils, Suckers (Yell at the Americans …. they will send money”)

    Why just a few months ago I saw a guy on TV that was wearing a cowboy hat and boots and thought “must be a cowboy”. Guess what, it turns out he was the President. No shit! Now there is fodder for stereotyping.

  • http://lefarkins.blogspot.com Rob

    I have to concur with (the other) Rob; not a terribly interesting or useful post.

    Would it have killed you to do some research and actually provide an example of two from each tradition? In particular, I just don’t know any “liberals” who fit the description you try to assign them, and I’ve been studying international relations and liberalism professionally for the last nine years. “Paleo-con” foreign policy is not only much more complex, but also more varied, than that which you describe. You get the Political Science 203: Introduction to International Relations version of realism more or less right, but I don’t think you’re fair even to the neocons.

    In one way, though, this post is emblematic of all the problems with this site; the hope that, if we just add everything together and stir sufficiently, we’ll come to an answer that accomodates everyone. A pox on all of their houses, split the difference, the golden mean, and so forth.

    It’s not politics. Rather, it’s anti-politics; the hope that pluralism can somehow be made to disappear or rendered irrelevant if we try hard enough.

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