Tag Archives: Liberal Interventionism


Buried in Mike Pence’s mindless Washington Times broadside is this foreign policy gem:

We must develop new strategies for strengthening our armed forces and homeland security, and be willing to oppose any effort to use our military for nation-building or progressive social experimentation.

You have to wade through several layers of Republican-speak to get to the real goodies – “strengthening our armed forces” is standard national security boilerplate; “progressive social experimentation” is undoubtedly a reference to gays in the military – but Pence’s explicit criticism of “nation-building” is definitely a shot at the Bush Administration. The fact that saying “invading Iraq was an absolutely disastrous idea” out loud is still political poison for any ambitious Republican is pretty disheartening, but at least Pence grasps the depth of Bush’s foreign policy failure.

The only problem with Pence’s framing is that he leaves the door open to basically any military intervention not premised on explicitly humanitarian goals. I can’t say I find this particularly surprising, but I’d venture that post-invasion Iraq minus the occupation would still be pretty horrific. So perhaps Pence should re-examine his premises.


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Max Boot gets it

Here’s Boot on the affinity between liberal interventionists and neoconservatives (via):

As someone who was skeptical of Obama’s moderate posturing during the campaign, I have to admit that I am gobsmacked by these appointments , most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain. (Jim Jones is an old friend of McCain’s, and McCain almost certainly would have asked Gates to stay on as well.) This all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign. His appointments suggest that, if anything, his administration will have a Reapolitiker, rather than a liberal, bent, although Clinton and Steinberg at State should be powerful voices for “neo-liberalism” which is not so different in many respects from “neo-conservativism”. Both, for instance, support humanitarian interventions in places like Darfur and Bosnia.

Of course, negotiating with dictators and withdrawing quickly from Iraq are entirely consistent with Realpolitik, but we can’t expect Boot to be right about everything.

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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.



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“A Better Manager of the Empire”

That’s Michael Berube’s take on an Obama Administration’s approach to US hegemony. It may sound like a trivial distinction, but improving our approach to foreign policy at the margins is a genuinely heartening development. Unlike some, I don’t have any principled objection to liberal interventionism. I think genocide, poverty, and war are pretty awful and may – under certain carefully prescribed circumstances – justify foreign (read: American) involvement. I just worry that our policy-makers are insufficiently cognizant of the pragmatic costs associated with aggressive interventionism. That’s why I thought it was so dishonest of pro-war commentators to describe critics of the Iraq War as “pro-Saddam” during the run-up to invasion. It’s not as if the mainstream antiwar movement was particularly happy with the status quo – most antiwar observers were simply better at diagnosing the strategic and humanitarian downsides of our invasion and subsequent occupation. Incidentally, Obama’s nuanced explanation of his opposition to the Iraq War suggests he has some understanding of this, which is no small improvement over the current administration.

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