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Tag: "foreign policy"

From Colony to Superpower: Don’t Mess with Texas

[ 0 ] December 7, 2008 |

Erik introduces chapter five of From Colony to Superpower (for older posts click on the tag), which covers the period between 1837 and 1861. The customary random observations:

Herring discusses the impact that Texas independence had on US-Mexico relations, and especially the degree to which the decision to admit Texas to the Union precipitated the Mexican-American War. I’m not an expert on Texas history, but the widespread expectation that Texas would enter the United States, rather than remain an independent Republic, strikes me as curious. Herring noted in an earlier chapter that Thomas Jefferson expected American “civilization” to spread across the North American continent, but that this spread need not take place in the form of a single political unit. An independent Texas would have fulfilled this expectation. Of course, changes in communication and transportation technology made a continental empire more possible in 1840 than it had been in 1800, but this doesn’t quite explain why Texas pursued union rather than independence. From the beginning of its existence, Texas was dependent upon the United States, but of course such a state isn’t necessarily indicative of a particular policy; Texas might have made effort to reduce that dependence, rather than to formalize it. Ethnic and ideological affinity for the United States seems to have been the primary motivation within Texas for union, but it’s nevertheless fun to muse about the long term implications of an independent Texas.

This last week in National Security Policy the topic was Strategic Communication. We dealt at some length with the Munich Analogy as a strategic communication/propaganda strategy, concentrating in particular on how effectively it creates roles for participants (enemy=Hitler, dove=Chamberlain, hawk=Churchill). When dealing with the Analogy in the past, I’ve asked students to think about it in terms of the United States during the Polk period. Polk began by making a series of threats against British holdings in the Northwest, asserting American sovereignty over territory on which the US had virtually no legal claim. In response, the British could have fought; there were risks, but the Royal Navy could have made the Americans pay a substantial price for their aggression. Instead, the British chose a more conciliatory route, making clear that they did have clear lines beyond which they would not go (no US sovereignty north of the 49th parallel), but appeasing the US claim to the jointly administered Oregon Territory.

On the one hand, you could argue that the British conducted successful appeasement, and consequently that the strategy of appeasement works in many situations. The United States did not, after all, invade Canada or attack any other British possessions. This is fairly common sense; appeasement fails in the face of incorrigible aggressors, but very few aggressors actually are incorrigible. On the other hand, a proponent of the applicability of the Munich Analogy could draw a direct connection between the Oregon settlement and the theft of half of Mexico; if the British had given the US a bloody nose in 1845, and taken steps to guarantee Mexico’s territorial integrity, then the neighborhood bully would have backed down. I’m actually inclined to think that British resistance on the Oregon question would resulted in the theft of more of Mexico by a frustrated US, but there’s at least a nugget of an argument to suggest a parallel with 1938. US territorial expansion slowed down considerably after 1848, but that has as much to do with US domestic politics as anything else.

On that subject, in comments several people has questioned my suggestion that the 1790s, the 1950s, and the 2000s are the only times in which foreign policy came to dominate domestic political debate. In particular, some people have argued that the 1840s, which included the debate over the Mexican War and the expansion of slavery more generally, represents a fourth period of foreign policy dominance. My response would be that this is an issue of cause and effect; whereas the debates in the 1790s, 1950s, and 2000s came about because of changes in the international environment, the foreign policy debate in the 1840s was the product of disagreement over domestic affairs. Support for and opposition to the Mexican War can’t be entirely reduced to the question of slavery, but it’s pretty close. What we have, then, is not so much a debate about foreign policy, but rather a debate about slavery that had implications for foreign policy.


From Colony to Superpower: 4.2

[ 0 ] December 6, 2008 |

Reading Herring has made Erik irritable:

I think I am just more outraged by this period in American foreign policy than Rob. Rob was able to focus on a lot of important issues that I didn’t much explore–normalization of relations with Britain, probably a slightly more traditional discussion of the Monroe Doctrine than I gave, etc. Perhaps this is how you survive as a defense scholar–you have to suppress the outrage. Everything Rob says is important, but I can’t get past the revolting ideological foundations of American foreign relations (and perhaps of the nation itself), the racism and hypocrisy of our interactions with other nations, the violence we used, the self-serving justifications, the belief that we were and are expressing God’s will.

Every bad thing about U.S. foreign policy today has its roots in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I’d like to think that Bush was an aberration. But the more I read, the less I think that. Bush was expressing fundamental tenets of American ideology, at their extremes perhaps, but there’s a reason so many supported him, even in 2004. They would have still supported him, at least until the economic crisis, if he was winning in Iraq. It would have been onto Iran with significant public support. Without an unlikely rejection of national ideology and mythology, I have little reason to hope that some other president in the next 20 years will ride that J.Q. Adams-Reagan-Bush horse into power and again try to fulfill our national destiny by running roughshod over the world.

Meh. I would say that it’s academic distance that slows the boil, but I’m not sure that’s quite it. Pretty much every country has its own story of exceptionalism, and its own narrative of a relationship with God, and its own history of how these have interacted to horrible effect. And it wasn’t American exceptionalism that drove Tony Blair to join the crusade into Iraq. That isn’t to excuse the behavior of the US then or now, but simply to place it in context; I suppose maybe that is rather the academic distance talking. And so, I have trouble finding Erik’s outrage in my own reading of Herring.

I also think there’s a problem with asserting that there’s only a single narrative to America’s approach to the world; this would be the “Adams-Reagan-Bush” approach that Erik alludes to. This isn’t to question whether John Quincy Adams would have favored the war in Iraq, because such a question can’t make any sense. Rather, it’s to reinforce that many of the important foreign policy questions that have faced the United States have produced vigorous, often bitter debate. Becoming familiar with these debates (the big differences between Clay and Adams on the proper US attitude towards the Latin American republics, for example) is one of the reasons we read books like From Colony to Superpower. Even when these debates don’t structure the political landscape (as they did in 1798, 1950, or 2002) they still exist within the foreign policy elite, the general public, and the hierarchy of the political parties. It’s kind of interesting, then, to watch as Monroe and Adams give up on certain elements of the idea of American exceptionalism (the hostility to the forms of traditional diplomacy, for example), and then watch Jackson (and even more so, Polk) return to them.

To change the subject a bit, it’s also somewhat interesting to think about how the United States interacted with the Latin American republics and the states of the Far East in the absence of any information about them. Diplomats dispatched to South American capitols did not have the benefit of Wikipedia, after all; in this context, it’s probably less than surprising that Americans managed to irritate and insult their hosts. Given the number of times European diplomats managed to direly insult Americans in Herring’s narrative, I’m guessing that such gaffes were quite more common in the early diplomatic service than they are today, and perhaps also a bit more excusable as a lack of information, rather than as evidence of American bluster and parochialism.

Tomorrow, on to Polk…

The Chinese will be Insulted if We Don’t Name a Die-Hard Maoist as Ambassador!

[ 0 ] December 2, 2008 |

I agree with Henry and Tim. Bainbridge’s critique of Doug Kmiec as Vatican Ambassador has nothing to do with Kmiec’s actual policy views, but rather with the fact that Kmiec vocally supported Obama. Bainbridge further argues that Kmiec’s support allowed Obama to win over all the fake Catholics, and consequently that real Catholics will be insulted by his appointment. The result of this argument seems to be that Obama needs to appoint a real Catholic, the measure of which will be that said person didn’t support Obama.

Indeed, I think Henry’s being far too kind to Professor Bainbridge when he refers to this argument as “puzzling”. As far as I can tell, there’s just no way to make this make sense. Bainbridge’s latest argument is that Kmiec clearly likes Obama better than he likes Pope Benedict, and as such he’s unqualified for the post of United States Ambassador to the Holy See. Again, it’s hard for me to find the nougat of a sensible argument here; it just seems kind of silly.

From Colony to Superpower: New Neighbors

[ 0 ] December 1, 2008 |

On to chapter IV of From Colony to Superpower…

Herring clearly prefers the last of the Virginia Dynasty to the previous two. Much of the credit for Monroe’s foreign policy competence goes to John Quincy Adams, who Herring (among others) gives place of honor among US Secretaries of State. Monroe and Adams pursued a far more “realist” line than their predecessors, although it’s fair to argue about whether their form of realism deserves a capital letter. It’s also reasonable to wonder about the division of labor between Adams and Monroe. Monroe seems not to have been overly interested in foreign policy, and thus allowed Adams a reasonably free hand. This suggests that the successes of the administration belong to Adams. On the other hand, the quality of competent delegation is an under-stated Presidential virture, and Monroe deserves credit for picking the best guy and letting him do his job without too much interference. It’s not hard to argue that the interventions of Jefferson and Madison into foreign policy worked out poorly, thus putting Monroe’s hands-off approach in a good light. That said, Washington and the first Adams took a strong personal interest in foreign policy, which generally worked out to their credit.

The United States didn’t win the War of 1812, but the conflict nevertheless led to what amounted to the normalization of US relations with the rest of the world. In part, this is because the rest of the world became more normal; the end of the Napoleonic Wars led to a long period of general peace in European affairs, rendering many of the conflicts that developed in earlier periods of US foreign policy moot. The United States also became more “normal”, abandoning the revolutionary pretense that characterized the Jefferson administration and that was still present in the Madison period. Adams had little patience for revolutionary pretense, and dropped the

This is not to say that the revolutionaries all went away, or that the revolutions ceased. Weakened by the Napoleonic Wars, the Spanish Empire in America substantially crumbled on Monroe and Adams’ watch. Adams tried to maintain an arms-length relationship with the South American revolutions, fearing British intervention and using US support as a negotiating chip with Spain and Russia. Others within the government (including Adams eventual Secretary of State, Henry Clay) preferred a more activist role, seeing the revolutions as a positive good and something that ought to be encouraged by the United States. The Monroe Doctrine was the product of ambivalence as much as empire building; the United States shared with the new Latin American states a genuine fear of European intervention, but at the same time could make only clumsy efforts to act as a regional leader.

From the 1830s on, the United States would expand substantially at the expense of Mexico. For the most part, territorial imperium in the Americas ended there; while some enthusiasts envisioned further expansion to the south, American elite opinion settled, according to Herring, around the idea that Latin American was culturally antithetical to the United States. The United States was an English speaking, largely Protestant country; the Latin American states were full of Catholics with questionable ethnic origins. The idea that Catholic states posed certain key difficulties for US foreign policy persisted for quite some time, and colored US relations with France, Spain, the independent colonies, and even Russia (Orthodox was apparently worse than Catholic, although Herring discusses American enthusiasm for the Greek Revolution). The shared concern over Catholic monarchism probably smoothed over differences in Anglo-American relations during this period, in spite of the fact that the two states continued to have trade and territorial disputes.

Herring mentions, but doesn’t explore at length, the relationship between the United States and Pax Britannica. The United States was born and developed under the umbrella of British maritime dominance. This dominance was occasionally tested by the French, and was in some regions only intermittent, but nevertheless the United States could largely count, from independence until roughly 1900, on ocean transit secured by the Royal Navy. This absolved the United States of certain maritime responsibilities; although the United States Navy grew during the Monroe-Adams period, it did not approach in size or capability the important (and even not so important) navies of Europe. The US, dependent as it was on maritime trade, was in a position to uniquely benefit from this security. Had a multipolar (in the maritime sphere) system existed, the United States might not have been able to free ride on Great Britain’s provision of security, and consequently might have suffered economically.

More later, especially on the Jacksonian period.

Walt on Foreign Policy Challenges

[ 0 ] November 14, 2008 |

Good diavlog. Watch the rest.

From Colony to Superpower: Part I

[ 0 ] November 10, 2008 |

Erik Loomis and I have embarked on a project to evaluate George Herring’s new book, From Colony to Superpower. Herring is a well-respected historian of the Vietnam Era, and has produced a roughly 900-page book on the history of American foreign policy. Each Sunday, Erik and I will comment on a new chapter of the book. I’ll be reading as a political scientist, focusing on how the development of US foreign policy fits into extant theories of international relations. Erik will be reading the book as a historian, with an eye toward how Herring integrates modern scholarship on American foreign policy into the overarching narrative. Perhaps more interesting than the academic element, we’ll also take the opportunity discuss interesting and worthwhile stories about American foreign affairs, in particular those that have fallen out of the public memory. The book has twenty chapters, so we expect to keep this up for twenty Sundays. We’ll be responding to each others points in posts throughout the week, and of course in the comments sections of both blogs. Anyone who wants to join in is welcome, even if you don’t plan to read the book. We’ll take care to include responses to posts and comments in our responses to one another. If you have the book and would like to participate, drop one of us a line. Erik has the first post on the first chapter; go read it now.

Herring makes what amounts to a second image reversed argument about the impact of international factors on the formation of American political institutions. A second image argument (using the terminology developed by Kenneth Waltz in Man, the State, and War) derives international outcomes from domestic factors; for example, democracies don’t go to war against other democracies. Second image reversed derives internal characteristics of states from the international system. Herring makes the case that much of the drive towards centralization in the early Republic came from the need to interact with the international system. While security was one concern (the Founders were concerned about Native Americans, the British, and the Spanish), commerce, according to Herring, was a larger consideration. Pursuit of an open commercial policy was one of the justifications for the Revolution, and expectations were that the new nation would enjoy good commercial relations with Europe. It turned out, however, that coming to agreements was difficult without a central legislative and executive authority capable of negotiating and regulating such agreements. This is a clear cut case of institutional isopomorphism on the international stage. In order to deal with the states that then existed, the United States needed to become like them. The international system creates units that mirror already existing units. There’s both a realist and a constructivist account for this, with the realist case focusing on security concerns, and the constructivist case concentrating more on social and commercial issues. Both cases find some support in Herring’s argument, although I tend to find the latter more satisfying.

As Erik points out, the introduction and first chapter of this book probably look different than they would have fifteen years ago. Herring makes clear that the Founders were, in a very important sense, genuine revolutionaries; they expected the United States to behave differently internally and externally than the nations of Europe. Moreover, the Founders believed that the United States would play a revolutionary role in world politics, eventually if not immediately. Early American efforts at diplomacy with Europe were, it’s fair to say, uneven and often a bit naive. The colonists shared the British prejudice towards continental powers, especially Catholic ones, even as they sought the military and commercial aid of France and Spain. It’s still wrong to make a leap connecting the Founders to modern-day neoconservatism; the Founders on the whole had a profoundly different conception of the relationship between democracy and force than is held by the neoconservative right. Nevertheless, the idea that the United States would play and unique and crucial role in world politics is not new to American political thought.

I’m not sure that I can agree with Erik’s argument that the Revolution was a mistake. Herring convincingly argues that the interests of the colonies and of England diverged significantly in the latter decades of the 18th century. The United States wasn’t able to achieve everything that it wanted through independence (in particular, the commercial sector didn’t grow as anticipated), but the nation was able to survive and expand without the protection of the British Empire. The expansion point is key; Britain and the colonies disagreed bitterly over proper relations with the various Indian nations. The British preferred a far more conciliatory policy than the colonists were willing to entertain. This disagreement doesn’t put the Founding generation in a particularly good light, but it nevertheless represented a serious dispute that would have proved problematic even if the various tax and autonomy issues had been solved. Also, the Revolution limited (but did not fully preclude) American participation in the world war that last from 1790 until 1815. The avoidance of such entanglements was another justification of the Revolution.

Erik further makes the case that slavery in North America would have been abolished earlier in the absence of the Revolution. I’m not sure that I can agree with this, either. To keep the colonies part of the Empire, some power-sharing arrangement would have been necessary. The population of the United States was 16.2 million in 1838, while the population of Great Britain was a touch over 25 million. Even allowing that a considerable portion of that population was enslaved, and that the population might not have grown to the same extent had the colonies remained part of the Empire, this represents a free white population of a scale dramatically different than the other elements of the Empire. The continued inclusion of the colonies within the British Empire would have necessarily transformed the character of the Empire, opening some possibilities and foreclosing others. In particular, the continued existence of a large, white, and wealthy slaveholding class in the North American colonies would have made it much more abolition in the British Empire a much more dodgy prospect than it ended up being. Moreover, the slaveholding class was willing to fight to protect slavery in 1860; there’s no reason to think that would have changed if the relationship between the Empire and the colonies had remained intact.

Finally, I think that a movie or HBO miniseries about John Jay is long overdue. He seems to have had entertaining adventures in France and Spain, and was of course both the “Forgotten Federalist”, and the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A quick perusal of Wikipedia and IMDB reveals not a single instance of Justice Jay appearing in film; this is surely a crime against cinematic history.

Any thoughts on casting?


[ 24 ] October 15, 2008 |

It’s difficult to exaggerate the degree to which Stephen Walt demolishes Josh Muravchik in their realism vs. neoconservatism exchange in the September National Interest. The prompt concerns which, of realism or neoconservatism, will best answer the threats that the United States will face in the future. As such, the debate really turns on which of realism and neoconservatism has proved a better predictor of past threats, and has provided the best recommendations for response to those threats.

Muravchik lands a couple of blows on realism. The reality of realism is and always has been in serious question, which is to say that there’s a tension between the normative and descriptive claims of realists. Walt waves this away with an “of course realists call out what they believe are mistakes”, but the problem does run deeper. Hans Morgenthau includes an anecdote in the first chapter of Politics Among Nations about French and British consideration of military assistance to Finland in 1939. Such assistance would have put the Allies at war with both Germany and the USSR. Morgenthau mocked French and British concern for international law as unrealistic, which is fair enough, but he didn’t explain how international law and norms of justified intervention could guide the behavior of two great powers. If France and Britain, then why not the world, and if the world, then where is realism? Thinking along these lines might lead to a whole new research program…

Muravchik also notes that realists failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union. This is reasonably fair, although Kenneth Waltz in Theory of International Politics did wonder whether the Soviet Union could keep up with the United States. Perhaps more to the point, neoconservatives also failed to predict the fall of the Soviet Union on anything approaching the timeline that the collapse actually occurred. The number of neoconservatives who believed, in 1984, that the USSR would be gone by 1992 can be counted on the fingers of no hands. Muravchik might object that neoconservatives, at least, believed that the lifespan of the Soviet Union was limited, but then realists also believe that the structure of the international system (by which I mean polarity) can change over time. Moreover, neoconservatives were strongly committed to the idea that the Soviet Union was much, much stronger than conventional analysis suggested; this was the motivating concept behind Team B, and animated the rhetoric of the first Reagan administration. Far from expecting that the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, neoconservatives seemed to believe that it was competing quite well against the United States. Indeed, a young scholar named Stephen Walt wrote a book called Origins of Alliances, arguing that the global balance of power was not nearly as dire as neoconservatives (and offensive realists) would portray it. Ironically enough, Walt departed in important ways from realist analysis in the book, but that’s a story for another day.

So yeah, Muravchik lands a couple of glancing blows. Walt then proceeds to beat Muravchik like a red-headed stepchild. First, Walt calls out Muravchik’s nonsensical “history” of neoconservativsm, which essentially portrays every successful policy endeavour of the United States in the 20th century as falling under the rubric of neoconservatism. This claim has been common among neoconservatives since Robert Kagan’s Dangerous Nation, which argued that the United States has always, evidence and appearance aside, been a neoconservative nation. As Walt notes, it is indeed strange that neoconservatism could have such a critical impact on foreign policy decades before it was coined, and especially odd that it gets credit for originating the successful policies of liberal internationalism, which neoconservatives have always bitterly criticized. Muravchik gives neoconservatives credit for both Wilson and Roosevelt/Truman, without noting that there’s considerably divergence between the two approaches, and that both (but especially the latter) involve exceptionally heavy doses of the institutionalization of international life, something that actual neoconservatives are allergic to.

And then Walt gets to Iraq. Read it yourself; a summary does no justice. The real coup de grace comes with this:

Finally, Muravchik claims neoconservatives “treat purely moral concerns . . . as a higher priority than would realists,” yet his response evinces little concern for ordinary human beings. He expresses no remorse at the suffering that neoconservative policies have wrought and seems mostly concerned that the neocons are now “taking their lumps” over Iraq. What matters to him is political standing in Washington, not the hundreds of thousands of needless Iraqi deaths, the millions of refugees who fled their homes, or the tens of thousands of patriotic Americans killed or wounded. So let us hear no more about the neoconservatives’ “moral” convictions. Amid such company, the realists who opposed the war can stand tall.

Indeed; the moral component of neoconservatism has always been the appearance of moral rectitude, rather than any practical effort to achieve moral goals. This makes it particularly appropriate for creatures of the Beltway, who endure no real costs for their moral postures.

In any case, the exchange is well worth reading; it reminds me a bit of Walt’s dispute with formal model/rational choice types in International Security, which is collected in Rational Choice and Security Studies. That’s also worth reading, but only for political scientists.

Failed Imperialists

[ 36 ] July 16, 2008 |

Atrios makes a point:

From the perspective of US as imperial power the “‘single-minded’ focus on Iraq” has also been an utter disaster. For those who think that one way or another the US should be throwing its weight around everywhere (by invading random countries, by various forms of economic imperialism, or by controlling and using the power of international institutions), Bush has pretty much set that agenda back substantially. That these people have been and continue to be his biggest supporters is a testament to the fact that their egos are more important than their dreams. But that’s no surprise either.

Indeed; to the extent that the United States must devote years, billions upon billions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of troops to “winning” in Iraq, the very purpose of the invasion is undermined. It does no good to “throw some little country against the wall” if in doing so our own capacity to act is severely wounded; other little countries that might have been intimidated take note of the fact that we are incapable of acting. This was, of course, why Don Rumsfeld bitterly resisted proposals to go into Iraq with substantially more troops, why he resisted the idea of increasing troop levels, and why he resisted the shift to counter-insurgency; he understood that such moves undermined the purpose of the invasion in the first place. To the extent that the war has been about the extension of American imperium, it has failed disastrously.

Maybe Latin America Doesn’t Need Our Leadership

[ 6 ] July 15, 2008 |

Mr. Trend on Obama’s proposed Latin America policy:

Certainly, it’s tough at this stage to say exactly and concretely what kind of plans or policies he has for Latin America, because he’s not offered much beyond general, open-ended comments. Still, the two clearest models, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, the two Democratic presidents that might offer the clearest examples of what foreign policy from a Democratic president could be, are pretty poor examples (I think we can exclude Carter because his policy was based almost strictly on human rights violations in military dictatorships, which simply no longer applies in the Americas). However, drawing on vague, Kennedy-esque notions of an “alliance of the Americas” strikes me as the kind of paternalistic rhetoric common to the mid-20th century. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, while beneficial for some countries in various ways, was also extremely patronizing, imperial, and too closely bound to Cold War polarizations to be as effective as Kennedy’s supporters would like to have us believe. And Clinton’s insistence that Latin American countries join in his neoliberal Washington Consensus (which, let us not forget, South American leaders like Menem and Cardoso agreed to do) resulted in the Argentine economic collapse and also caused long-term negative consequences that leftist leaders in Ecuador, Bolivia, and Brazil (among others) are only now overcoming. Far from being some benign program of social and economic improvement, the Alliance for Progress and the Clinton administration’s Washington Consensus were just two in a series of presidential (Democratic and Republican) efforts where the U.S. government presumed it knew what was best for Latin America, regardless of whether the individual countries wanted that help or not.


[ 0 ] May 4, 2008 |

Let me second Yglesias’ recommendation of this Dave Meyer post on signaling. Meyer concentrates on the public relations aspect of signaling behavior in a democracy, but here are some assumptions that have to hold for a strategy of “signaling”, such as invading small countries in order to demonstrate that we’re tough, to work:

  1. Signals are unambiguous: The meaning of our signaling is not subject to interpretation, such that different people could, based on different priors, carry away different meanings.
  2. Signals always indicate what we want them to indicate: This is related to the first; if we are trying to send a signal of strength, then we send a signal of strength, not a signal of mean, stupid, crazy, etc.
  3. We never develop a bad reputation, except for weakness: This is related to the first two; our effort at signaling strength doesn’t have reputational costs. If we invade his country, the Other will understand us as strong, rather than as brutal, imperialistic, crusading, evil, etc.
  4. No one ever considers that we might be trying to deceive through signaling: This is probably the most important. If signaling is about creating a reputation for strength, and if a reputation for strength is a positive good, then obviously there’s an incentive to lie about being strong. The entire premise of signaling depends on no one noticing that we have an incentive to lie about our own strength.
  5. We know our own strength: Our effort to communicate the true level of our resolve is dependent on knowing what that level is. However, the resolve of the American people to crush enemies of the American public is a value that is unknown to anyone, including our leadership. At best we’re guessing, which basically means that every effort to signal is essentially deception.

Unfortunately, none of these assumptions hold. Worse, in an effort to signal that we have the will to crush small countries under our boot, we often seem to gut our capability to do so; even if attacking Iran were a good idea, the military deployment in Iraq has made such an effort impossible.

Not Burke! Not Burke!

[ 14 ] April 12, 2008 |


But foreign policy questions are McCain’s passion, he’s chosen to put them at the center of his campaign, and there’s really nothing at all Burkean about McCain’s take on them. The “our country is democratic, democracy is awesome, therefore we should try to conquer the entire world in the name of spreading democracy” syllogism at the core of McCain “Enduring Peace Built on Freedom” is straight out of the French Revolution.

Quite. Read Uday Mehta Singh’s Liberalism and Empire for a good account of the differences between Burke and the Mills on colonialism and aggressive foreign policy. I’d add that a certain rump “Burkeanism” is almost a default position for a politician who doesn’t really care about domestic policy issues; it’s easy enough to disguise indifference as the appreciation for slow, careful reform.

…indeed, it’s just this kind of thing that Burke would warn against:

Suppose we replaced the mayor of your town with a twentysomething foreigner who didn’t speak English but did have a ton of firepower at his disposal and no real checks on his power. You’d probably feel that was a step in the wrong direction. And conversely, it’s not genuinely reasonable to expect relatively junior Army officers to do this sort of job well.

With the added insight that producing twentysomething imperial viceroys who have had the experience of virtually unchecked power is something that has never been good for a healthy democracy…


[ 26 ] February 23, 2008 |

Randy Paul helpfully explains why Castro is bad even if he led only the 34th worst regime since 1900. Police state dictatorships are never particularly admirable; it seems to me that US policy should in general be that the institutions of such regimes ought to change in broadly democratic directions. This doesn’t imply that all such regimes are equal, or that such a policy requires invasion, embargo, etc., or that there’s anything admirable or consistent about current or historical US foreign policy in this area etc. etc. etc. As such, for me the single greatest crime of US policy towards Cuba is that for the last fifty years it essentially guaranteed Castro’s hold on power, especially in the last twenty years as the rest of Latin America has steadily transitioned towards democracy.

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