This morning’s round of National Review’s conservative summit featured, among other panels, a discussion of foreign policy moderated by Andrew McCarthy. John O’Sullivan gave the lead presentation; then David Rivkin and Cliff May responded.
O’Sullivan believes that the “main facts” regarding the big foreign policy picture are “mildly encouraging.” We remain the world’s leading power; trading and other economic arrangements are mostly sound; the international institutions that would constrain us are still fairly weak; and we have decent alliances. Our main threats are islamist terrorism, the attempted power grab of transnational organizations (“transies”), and rising powers, in particular China.
O’Sullivan does not consider the islamist threat to be existential, but it does have the potential to make gains that will disrupt world order and result in a a great many deaths. The “transies” seek to usher in a new world order inimical to U.S. interests and with only a “hazy democratic connection.” (Already, they are trying to impose global taxes, e.g., through taxes on airline tickets). China represents the old-fashioned kind of threat we’re used to dealing with. Its dependence on trade with the U.S. will likely prevent a conflagration, though the question of Taiwan remains quite problematic. Moreover, O’Sullivan believes that the rise of China and India may help protect us against the transies — an essentially European project with which the two emerging great powers are not likely to feel comfortable. O’Sullivan also believes that the Bush administration has done an excellent job of cultivating new regional allies (e.g., India and Vietnam) with which to counterbalance China, while also tightening relations with existing allies like Japan.
How we fare in dealing with the threats we face depends on our power, which in turn depends in part on our prestige. Prestige enables us to get our way without fighting, but, O’Sullivan reminded us, maintaining our prestige means that when we fight we have to win. With respect to Iraq, O’Sullivan contends there’s no reason to assume we’ve lost, and every reason to make sure we don’t lose. He sees in this country, though, a “will to lose,” which helps explain that poll in which so many Dems said they don’t want the surge to work or are indifferent to its success. If the defeatists here at home cause us to lose, Iran, Syria, and the terrorists will likely dominate the Middle East. Eventually, O’Sullivan is convinced, we’ll “restore ourselves” in the region, as we eventually restored ourselves after Vietnam, but it will be quite costly, much more so than staying on in Iraq.
The key, then, is to end the “cultural masochism” that has become so prominent here at home. As O’Sullivan puts it, “physician, heal thyself.”
But even if we succeed in that endeavor, O’Sullivan believes that in the aftermath of Iraq, we’ll be far less inclined to use force to achieve our aims. Thus, we’ll have to rely increasingly on local forces. And to enlist them, we’ll need to be less insistent on democratic reform. We will still be able to push for liberalization of local regimes, but we’ll have to adopt more of a “live and let live” mentality.
David Rivkin agreed with O’Sullivan for the most part. However, he would like to see the U.S. continue to assign a major role to democratization. If Osama bin Laden and his like see democracy as so fundamentally their enemy, we should take that seriously. Moreover, radical islam is a powerful ideology; more so than communism which did not produce suicide bombers. This suggests the need for a strong counter-ideology, and democracy fits that bill.
Rivkin is also more pessimistic about our “allies” than O’Sullivan (who himself is not sanguine). The Europeans want a new world order, but are not serious about using military power. Thus, their quest is to ensure that we don’t (or preferably can’t) use power. He noted that in Afghanistan, the EU forces don’t even bother to interrogate captured al Qaeda forces because they are so constrained by European sensibilities. Rivkin agrees that the main problem is here at home, but he thinks that problem stems, in significant part, from the desire of so many Americans to follow the Europeans. Thus, we need not only to combat the ideology of radical islam, but also to “ideologically engage our allies.”
Cliff May shares Rivkin’s concern about the efforts of our “allies” and their blue state American friends to constrain the U.S. He sees these efforts as the source of the desire that we lose in Iraq, so that we pay for, and abandon, our “arrogance.” He agrees with O’Sullivan that the radical islamists aren’t a threat to “occupy” the U.S., but notes that they may well occupy parts of Paris before long.
May identified three fundamental foreign policy principles shared by conservatives of all stripes, but not by the American left: (1) Islam is extraordinarily dangerous, (2) American nationalism is, on balance, a good thing, such that we ought not cede sovereignty, and (3) protecting (and maybe even expanding) the free world remains an important objective.
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