Issues2004: Foreign Policy

Issues2004: Foreign Policy

: Here’s the toughest one — not just because the problems frequently look unsolvable and because the relations are often acidic but also because I don’t know enough about foreign relations.

I follow the news like a responsible citizen — though I’ll admit that I tend to wait until a part of the world heats up before I catch up. I’ve warned in all these Issues2004 posts that I’m not an expert and I’m writing these merely as a voter and a citizen but in this category I want to add an extra cup of caveat. So now to the point…

Neither side has yet devised a doctrine of foreign policy that works for the world today.

I don’t object to the words “preemptive war” (now that I’m a liberal hawk and I’m rather intense on the topic of terrorism). But the problem with that Bush doctrine is that you put yourself in the position of proving that you’re preempting something. You’re buying the WMD problem. And you’re fighting a hypothetical. Nonetheless, if people believed that a nation or those that nation supports could or would come after us, they would support a war of preemption. But the standard of proof his now nearly impossible to find.

I have supported the war in Iraq on different justification: essentially the Tom Friedman doctrine. I believe it was a proper — and liberal — humanitarian goal to liberate a people from their tyrant. I stand by that justification. I now see that knowing what we knew, we should have gone in to liberate Germany and Europe and the Jewish people far sooner than we did; what suffering we could have ended. But I also clearly see the problem with this doctrine: Who plays God? Who’s the devil? Which tyrants do you choose to take out? Shouldn’t we liberate North Korea? Shouldn’t we be shuttling to Africa when wars and tragedy break out? Is Saudi Arabia oppressive enough to liberate? And isn’t there a danger — a history — of using this doctrine not to liberate but to overturn for political convenience (pick your own examples of that)? This is not, as we say today, a doctrine that scales. That’s not to say it is bankrupt; there are times when we must liberate a people or take the responsibility for their suffering. But this becomes a know-it-when-you-see-it policy and it’s tough to manage that.

The second half of the Friedman doctrine is that we needed to establish a beachhead of democracy (and modernity, capitalism, education, and prosperity among citizens) in the Arab Middle East. This comes closest to my view of a winning worldview. I don’t mean that we invade every country that is not a democracy. But I do mean that we set democracy and freedom of choice for every citizen as the expected standard of nations. We must use economic and diplomatic means — and, yes, sometimes military will — to secure demoracy. It’s enlightened self-interest. Every human deserves a vote (I do not buy for one second that some nations are not ready for democracy; that is abhorrent political snobbery). And democracies are far less likely to be a threat to the rest of the world. We should expect the United Nations — of all political bodies! — to support universal democracy as a goal and hold it and its member states to that standard.

Finally, there is what I’ll call the Kerry doctrine of cooperation. He wants to get other nations and the U.N. into Iraq (but I agree with those who say there’s a snowball’s chance in Baghdad that will happen). He thinks we should work harder to gather consensus among nations. That’s a fine goal, by the sound of it, but we cannot set that as the standard or else we find ourselves hostage to the French et al. We have to face up to the fact that we are the remaining superpower. Nations do look to us to take an active role in the world and we should. Of course, there will be no agreement about every case (we had people screaming at us to get into Liberia and we had people screaming at us to stay out of Iraq). So we have to set our own standards.

So what are those standards? In foreign policy, they are never clear cut. That’s why diplomacy is diplomacy: It’s politics without laws.

But I think when we turn foreign policy around and look at it from the rights and needs of the individual worldwide, we at least have a clear starting point:

1. We must support the growth and strength of democracy. The vote and control of the governed over government must be seen as a fundamental human right. In this age of worldwide person-to-person communication, the internet will begin to tear down dictatorships. We need to help. We should support democracies with economic relationships and, when need be, military protection. We should reward moves toward democracy and shun leaders who resist.

2. We must protect our citizens — our children and the children of other nations — against the demonstrated and growing threat of Islamic fascism and so we must use the means at our disposal — economic, diplomatic, and military — to root out the terrorists and bring down those who support them. They didn’t say it this way, Lord knows, but that’s the inevitable conclusion of the 9/11 Commission: If you fail to prevent the next attack, you will be blamed.

3. We must respond to human suffering under tyrannical regimes. That response clearly will vary but it is a justification for action.

I’m writing these Issues2004 posts to put my bandwidth where my mouth is. I want us to talk issues, I need to start the ball rolling. But, again, I emphasize that I’m no expert on these topics; you can see why I’m not likely to replace Condie Rice! Still, that’s where I start the discussion. Over to you.