The Spectrum of Foreign Policy Opinion

Daniel Larison has some thoughts on the Right’s inability to recognize differences within our foreign policy establishment. In Hot Air’s bizarro-world, self-described liberal interventionists like Samantha Power are somehow antithetical to mainstream conservatives despite the fact that both groups favor a muscular American presence overseas. Their immediate priorities may differ – Power’s individual forte is genocide prevention – and liberal interventionists seem at least somewhat chastened by the Iraq debacle, but their assumptions about the desirability of American hegemony are actually quite similar. Power herself was one of the few voices on the Left cautioning against a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq during the campaign season – a talking point straight out of McCain’s handbook.

Scowcroft and the realists, on the other hand, are less enthusiastic about American interventionism, which is why traditional Left-Right labels are so unhelpful when it comes to foreign policy. Liberal internationalists and realists may part ways over multilateralism or ultimate foreign policy goals, but they share certain areas of broad agreement on the misuse of American power. Rather than fall back on liberal vs. conservative categories, I think the best way to conceptualize this relationship is to construct a two-dimensional chart – modeled on the famous “World’s Smallest Political Quiz” – that simultaneously tracks various figures’ support for American interventionism and their preferred foreign policy objectives:


This is a pretty crude way to measure things, but it’s a lot more illuminating than flinging around obsolete political labels. I can think of two immediate problems, however:

  1. My chart doesn’t measure a person’s affinity for international institutions, which represents a major disagreement between traditional realists and liberal internationalists. Perhaps adding a z axis would help?
  2. I’m not sure who would fall under the “supports American interventionism to promote stability/advance national interests” category. Conservative cold warriors are the best example I can think of, but no contemporary figure immediately comes to mind.




Filed under Foreign Policy

2 responses to “The Spectrum of Foreign Policy Opinion

  1. Pingback: Max Boot gets it «

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