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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Failure of Conservative Foreign Policy

The New York Review of Books contains a fantastic piece by Samantha Powers this week on exactly how damaging the Bush Administration's actions have been for the world. Republicans have longed championed their ability to defend America. Powers uses two recent works, Us vs. Them: How a Half Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America’s Security by J. Peter Scoblic and Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats by Matthew Yglesias, to trace the arc of the conservative ideology that has led us to the failed wars in Iraq and Afganistan.

Scoblic shows that these men had in common several core premises. One cannot coexist with evil-doers, who are irreparably "fallen," and thus rollback is required. Negotiation is not merely pointless, it is costly "appeasement." And the United States should participate in only those international institutions that are servants of American power; those that constrain American power are enemies of the national interest.

Scoblic's book offers a terrifying glimpse of the persistent tendency of one militant strand of conservatism to pursue conflict over peace, arms races over arms control, and ideology over pragmatism. His analytic history is particularly strong in revealing how, in a world of uncontrolled forces, conservatives sought to impose complete control, whether by pursuing technological fixes (like the nuclear missile shield) or treating US security as if it were something that could simply be willed. Because many conservatives presume exceptional American virtue —and believe that this virtue is self-evident to others—they have also consistently failed to see how aggressive US actions can appear abroad, and how the fear they generate can give rise to threatening behavior by others, who believe they are acting in self-defense. Scoblic, who sympathetically describes Reagan's shift from denunciation to negotiation with Gorbachev over nuclear arms reduction, writes that it had not previously "even occurred" to Reagan

that adopting a war-fighting strategy, beginning a widespread civil defense program, researching a missile shield, while increasing the military budget by 35 percent, starting a new bomber program, deploying a new ICBM, and deploying missiles in Europe could be construed as threatening.

We liberals must remind everyone of the awful mistakes the Republicans have made, how much of a mess has been left for the next President. We must remind everyone that McCain intends to continue the same knee-jerk ideological foreign policy. What Powers does not mention, but should be added to this conversation, is how important war is to business. Killing people and blowing up stuff will always improve certain interests' bottom-line. It's about time the Halliburtons of the world did not dictate our foreign policy.

Terry Gross interviewed J. Peter Scoblic on today's Fresh Air.

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