Guest Blog

We are rising to a discussion regarding fundamental principles regarding American policy regarding international relations. This comment from "Tocqueville" appeared in the comments section of a previous post. It deserves featured consideration:


The Republican Party now presents itself as the party of Hard Wilsonianism, which is no more plausible than the original Soft Wilsonianism, which balkanized Central Europe with dire consequences. No one has ever thought Wilsonianism to be conservative, ignoring as it does the intractability of culture and people's high valuation of a modus vivendi. Wilsonianism derives from Locke and Rousseau in their belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind and hence in a convergence of interests.

George W. Bush has firmly situated himself in this tradition, as in his 2003 pronouncement, "The human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth." Welcome to Iraq. Whereas realism counsels great prudence in complex cultural situations, Wilsonianism rushes optimistically ahead. Not every country is Denmark. The fighting in Iraq has gone on for nearly four years, and the ultimate result of "democratization" in that fractured nation remains very much in doubt, as does the long-range influence of the Iraq invasion on conditions in the Middle East as a whole. In general, Wilsonianism is a snare and a delusion as a guide to policy, and far from conservative.

Practically everywhere we look around the world, U.S. foreign policy is in a shambles. Long-sought objectives – stability in Iraq, peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the demise of terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, the spread of democracy in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, the end of the North Korean nuclear weapons program, the end of the Iranian nuclear program – seem less attainable today than they have in many years.

Surveying the wreckage, the American public is frustrated, and fearful. This is not isolationism; the belief that the United States can wall itself off from the rest of the world is roundly, and rightly, scorned by people across the ideological spectrum. Rather, these “mind our own business” sentiments reveal a keen appreciation that even the most powerful nation in the world needs to be more discerning about where, when and how it chooses to deal with challenges to U.S. security and threats to U.S. interests. And yet, even as dissatisfaction with the current course of U.S. foreign policy mounts, Americans are confused as to the available alternatives that would allow the United States to remain engaged in the world. They seem prepared to spend money, and put American troops in harm’s way, when vital U.S. interests are at stake, but they balk at paying those costs, and incurring those risks, when they are not.

The godfathers of realism, men like Hans Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr and George Kennan, would have been hard pressed to explain the logic behind the Bush Doctrine. Those realists still alive have likewise tried, and failed. It should be possible to assemble an alternative to the Bush Doctrine, one that draws adherents from both the political left and the political right, and all points in between, and that cannot therefore be dismissed by one side or the other as a political ploy.

This piece by Andrew Basevich is a useful start to help frame the discussion.

From the Cato Institute, this essay with more on the "Isolationism Canard."