It would be just over a bit of a year afterward that I became interested in politics and world affairs. It was a happy coincidence that this happened to have been an election year. I watched my glowing television that fall as Governor George W. Bush of Texas faced off against Vice President Al Gore of Tennessee in the second of three debates. This particular forum was geared toward a discussion of foreign policy. Living in the pre 9/11 world, Americans, for the most part, enjoyed the last stretch of our "holiday from history." Indeed, Vice President Gore tried in vain to redirect the debate back to domestic affairs, at one point raising Governor Bush's ire as he shockingly asked whether the Vice President was calling him a "hard-hearted" person. Such was the mood of the times, though I know many who long for those days.
Still, whilst being confined to youth and ethical ignorance, one portion of this debate fascinates me to this day. The media, notably Jon Stewarts "Daily Show," has made light of the vast distinction between Governor and President Bush's statements on foreign policy. The former argued for "realism" and a "humble" foreign policy in pursuit of only obvious and tangible "American interests." I remember this vividly, especially in contrast to Al Gore's hawkish instincts with respect to interventions in the Balkans. Bush dressed his speech in a manner of seriousness while Gore prosecuted his case against him with a tough idealism.
I was frightened that this man, Governor Bush, could become President. His worldview was incompatible with mine in every possible way. The language of "national interests" and "realism" is a language of relativism and resignation to the evils of the world. It is, in the most literal sense "conservative." The United States and its vast reservoir of power should, I thought, be used toward fostering the good. The good, as I undestood it then and do now, is enshrined in the principles of our Constitution and our history. Perhaps my perspective hints at a sympathy toward a dialectic of liberty and tyranny, I won't shun such a belief.
I found "realism" to be a corrupt, contradictory and inhumane perspective, a view that has persisted throughout my education. In next week's Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk make the case against John Kerry's realism and argue that liberalism, indeed, a revolutionary breed of it, rests in George W. Bush.
Kerry's approach to world affairs, the authors argue, is bred by a fear of American power. The desire to maintain a "balance" between great powers limits any room for idealism to shape policy. The irony that America's most liberal mainstream party is embracing this view after decades of rejecting it is not ignored. From his experience in Vietnam and his own upbringing by father, a former officer in the Foreign Service, Kerry rejects the universalism of American values and is content with coping rather than shaping history.
The authors argue that American interests are always tied to certain moral and political goals, citing the Cold War as an example. Turning Kerry's own contention on its head about Truman's anti-Soviet policies, the authors show that the rhetoric of universal values and freedoms is entrenched within American history. The authors, shown by their choice of fora, are partisans to the American Right. Unfortunately, their political affinity exposes their argument in one glaringly inaccurate statement.
In the long twilight struggle against the Soviet Union, it was Americans' faith in the universality of liberty, capitalism, and self-determination that sustained our commitments to like-minded allies around the world and weakened our enemies, ultimately converting them to our principles
This is an air-brushed reading of history that all Americans should be well advised to avoid. Yes, universal principles motivated great men to embark on great crusades against tyranny during the Cold War, including Ronald Reagan. However, the means by which these principles were articulated in policy were far from idealistic. Upholding American values and interests must always be a priority of this Nation, but its citizens should never turn away from the consequences of its actions, as righteous or as ignominious as they may be.
The horror that rose from my soul when I first learned of Pinochet is indescribable, but every conscientious American has surely felt the same thing. American interventions in South America are but one example of realism dominating policymaking during the Cold War. The mess that Africa is in today is directly traceable not only to post-colonial times, but to Cold War posturing between the two great blocs. Indeed, realism and idealism, ironically, collided when the United States aided Saddam Hussein against Islamofascist Iran, only to have to deal with its former ally decades later once he became a menace in his own right.
Which, if any, of these places has been "converted to our values"? While Eastern Europe is on its way toward liberalism with assistance from the EU and its dissenting classes, the Middle East surely is not--without further involvement by the United States.
The results of realist-thinking foreign policy during the Cold War have been the Balkan Wars and last spring's intervention in Iraq. The United States has had to remove the same monsters it once stood behind. While other writers in the Weekly Standard would dismiss this argument as "punitive liberalism" it is but a recognition of justice and our obligation to serve it. In 1999 I did not know that taking up arms against Milosevic was the right cause, but now I do. It is unfortunate to see that the American left has abandoned any pretense of understanding what the right and the good are in favor of hand-wringing relativism in the face of terror. Donnelly and Serchuck do a good job in exposing the sale of the Democratic Party's soul in these matters, but are not scrupulous enough to avoid betraying their own biases.
Rating : 3.5/5
x-posted in my LJ