James Poulos has a post up today that is sort of a funky jazz fusion of the two, like some Asian/Tex-Mex restaurant in an Indian casino. (Zagat rated!) It's a testament to the ingrained absurdity of American foreign policy that someone as bright as James can begin a post discussing the failings of neoconservatism and come up with a list like this:
(1) Prevent the transformation of Russia into an enemy.
(2) Help India transition into a position of increased regional dominance and security.
(3) Speed Europe as quickly and surely as possible into the role of assertive global power capable of managing full responsibilities.
(4) Continue to manage China’s ‘peaceful rise.’
(5) Prevent Iraq from collapsing into a failed state.
(6) Prevent Pakistan from becoming the next Afghanistan.
(7) Arrange to avoid the spread of Islamic jihadism in Africa.
(8) Arrange to avoid the spread of civil war in South America.
This is a list, of course, that Vladimir Putin could love, an unapologetic statement of hegemony and imperial conceit. I count one two three four five of the eight that are simple questions of imposing American wishes onto foreign shores, and I'm not confident the other three can possibly be undertaken by this America without become yet more excuses for military aggression, destructive espionage and adventurism.
What is it about the American psyche that imagines that we have any business "managing" another country's peaceful rise? What sad, strangled vision of democracy enables a vision of foreign policy that has as its bedrock principle the idea that we are entitled to enact whatever change in whatever country we might decide? I am wondering what James would think about Chinese attempts to manage our peaceful decline. What if Europe doesn't want to take an assertive role in bullying the collective bad actors of the earth? They certainly have the imperial history necessary to understand the grave consequences of that stance, as well as the recent history of war on home soil that America profoundly lacks. The despicable history of American intervention in South America makes the notion that we have the moral clarity or right to stop civil war therein a cruel joke.
Poulos's list would appear uncontroversial to most American commentators. Strange, then, that so many of the world's dictators who we deride have taken to expressing themselves in precisely the kind of "stability and democracy" rhetoric that this kind of list relies on. Vladimir Putin, who pursues his country's military aggression with the kind of brio and ruthlessness that Donald Rumsfeld would admire, still finds it necessary to invoke the security of "his" people living in South Ossetia, when justifying the Georgian campaign. Neoconservatism and realism, far from being enemies, have bled into each other, mixing together to make one grand apologetic elixir for the aggressors of the world to rely on when leveraging their interests. The rule is simple: do what it takes to get what you want, and some justification, towards safety or to human rights, will emerge. America is still watched by the world, and it's not just music videos and commercials. The world's strongmen have been listening to our foreign policy justifications, and they took notes.
Ah, but of course, if there is one iron-clad rule to our foreign policy debate, one insisted on by realists, liberal internationalists and cons, paleo and neo, it's that there is no "moral equivalence" between America's actions and those of our antagonists. This is such an iron-clad article of faith that no argument needs to be made about particulars at all. Merely string the two words together, "moral equivalence," and the assumption is that you have brutally cowed anyone who argues that American actions in the world have moral content, and that this moral content can be reasonably compared to that of other countries. Well, there still remains some small contingent of us who don't believe that American actions are definitionally righteous, or more righteous than identical action undertaken by our antagonists, and we are unmoved by the lame feints in the direction of human rights and compassion that have infected our foreign policy discussions. Human rights are precisely what we sacrifice when we set out to remake the world to fit our designs. Military occupation and expansion are the death of democracy, always.
The only grand vision I have for foreign policy is this: that we leave the rest of the world alone, that we act only in instances of immediate and inevitable danger to our country and our close allies, and that we trust to the (time-honored) tradition that the best way to avoid conflict is not to start it. Sadly, I am destined to frustration for the foreseeable future; as this ideology has the benefit of being moral, supportive of democracy and pragmatically advantageous, it is naturally deeply unpopular.
(And oh, the work "relatively" can do...)