Monday, July 31, 2006

Towards a Foreign Policy That Works

I've noted before now that America simply does not do foreign policy - it does domestic policy that is then inflicted upon foreigners. If someone asked me what I thought about American foreign policy planning I would probably paraphrase Ghandi and say "I think that would be a very good idea". Luckily, that is changing - and Robert Wright may be singlehandedly responsible.

Wright, you may recall, was the author of an article entitled "An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With" recently published in the NY Times. His outline of a viable foreign policy framework appeals to many I consider sane and sensible from both Left and Right and I heartily recommend you read it.

Kevin Drum has a post today in which he reprints an email from Robert Wright. I'm going to reprint it here. I hope neither mind because it's the most relevant thing you will read this week.
Progressive Realism, Take 2
Robert Wright


Let me restate the argument in a way that I hope will make progressive realism's considerable relevance to the problem of non-state terrorist groups clearer.

Various technological trends suggest that, as the decades roll by, hatred of America abroad will translate into the death of Americans (via terrorism) with increasing efficiency. This "growing lethality of hatred" implies a couple of things:

1. Hatred of America will be increasingly inimical to America's security, so we should act in ways that minimize it — e.g., avoid adventures like Iraq, be a good and generous global citizen, respecting international law and norms, and working hard to comprehend and accomodate the perspectives of all peoples. In short, be roughly the opposite of George Bush and the neocons.

2. So severe is this "growing lethality of hatred" that, even if we succeed in thus minimizing hatred of America, half a century from now America's security will still require an unprecedented level of intrusive arms control encompassing all nations on the planet. Further, America's security will best be served if all nations are by then free-market democracies, because (a) such nations have considerable "natural" transparency (regarding biotech facilities with munitions potential, for example) and (b) the entanglement of such nations in the global economy strengthens their incentive to preserve world order and their inclination toward international cooperation — including, crucially, highly intrusive arms control.

Of course, wanting to bring democracy to the whole world sounds neoconish, but there's a difference. Progressive realism holds that:

1. Making free-market democracy pervasive is only crucial to America's interest in the long run, over decades. Hence: no need to rush into, say, the Iraq war (which, as your reader Detroit Dan noted, I opposed unequivocally).

2. Progressive realists (unlike neocons) believe that economic liberty strongly encourages political liberty. So (a) America should economically engage, rather than isolate, countries like Iran and North Korea, and (b) more generally, economic engagement offers a path to peacefully fostering the free-market democracy that neocons are inclined to implant via invasion.

In sum: Progressive realism puts great emphasis on dealing with the threat of terrorism, whether or not my NYT piece successfully conveyed this. The basic game plan is: (a) monitor and restrict with increasing severity the kinds of weapons with which terrorists can do the most damage; (b) cut off their lifeblood (hatred of us); (c) give them no place to hide — i.e., create a world of naturally transparent societies that are economically interdependent and (by virtue of this interdependence) can be readily tied together via extensive global governance (which would go well beyond arms control, as my NYT piece notes).

Now, if your complaint is that I don’t vow to go kill terrorists wherever I find them, well: Killing terrorists is nice when you can do it cleanly (i.e., when the value of killing them outweighs the blowback). But, as I noted in my op-ed, I reject the "premise common in Democratic policy circles lately: that the key to a winning foreign policy is to recalibrate the party’s manhood — just take boilerplate liberal foreign policy and add a testosterone patch." The problem is more subtle than that, and Democrats aren’t doing America a service when they fuel a Democratic-Republican arms race on the macho front.
(For an even more detailed explanation of some of the concepts behind Wright's "progressive realism", see his nine-part article in Slate from 2002.)

Readers will notice that Wright really doesn't have much to say about when or how to use force as part of a progressive realist foreign policy. However the sentence "Killing terrorists is nice when you can do it cleanly (i.e., when the value of killing them outweighs the blowback)" suggests a lot.

I submit that he might not be entirely disgusted by the ideas of military reconstruction, the "raid and aid" paradigm and specific applications of force I've been wittering on about in the last week and a half.

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