Conservative internationalism

Henry Nau, writing in the September 30 issue of National Review, calls for “conservative internationalism,” which he describes as “a strategy whereby [the United States] stays engaged in the world and accepts smaller costs in the short run to avoid much greater costs in the long run.” Nau’s strategy involves four key tenets:

First, “spread freedom in a way that is disciplined by priorities.” This means, among other things, focusing primarily on areas that border on countries that already have freedom.

Second, “back diplomacy with force.” Don’t use force only after negotiations to fail.

Third, “back force with diplomacy.”

Fourth, “use timely compromises to maintain public support.” This involves looking for ways to translate military gains into diplomatic compromises that win us something, though not everything we want.

Each tenet has merit to one degree or another, but the second one — backing diplomacy with force — strikes me as the most self-evident. It is also the tenet that President Obama most blatantly ignores.

By that I mean that Obama ignores it in the realm of foreign policy. In domestic policy, Obama doesn’t hold back against Republicans until negotiations fail. Rather, he works the battlefield in advance in an effort to maximize his negotiating position.

But, as Nau points out, Obama “is doing none of this in the Middle East:”

Iran is achieving its objectives by force outside negotiations. It marches steadily toward a nuclear capability, arms and funds jihadists in Lebanon and Syria, and meddles increasingly in Iraq and Afghanistan as the United States withdraws.

Meanwhile, the United States cuts its defense budget in a mindless sequester, scales back missile defense against Iran for minimal concessions from Moscow, leaves no residual forces in Iraq, agonizes and delays over arming the moderate rebels in Syria, and pivots forces to Asia that are now needed in the Middle East.

What does Iran lose by negotiating as long as it can? Its influence grows stronger as violence spreads both north and south of Israel.

Meanwhile, the United States launches new Middle East peace initiatives. Was this summer really the moment to expect negotiations to succeed? The situation surrounding negotiations matters as much as the negotiations themselves, and the situation in the Middle East today is decidedly unfavorable for either side to make risky concessions.

It’s easy to think of Obama as the classic bully who loses his nerve outside of his own neighborhood. It may be more accurate to think of him as the bully who loses interest outside of his neighborhood because he believes all of the real bad guys live on his street.

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