Monday, November 13, 2006
my eyes have seen ya:
God bless Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan. From this week's Standard editorial:
Those who claim that it is impossible to send 50,000 more troops to Iraq, because the troops don't exist, are wrong. The troops do exist. But it is also true that the Army and Marines are stretched, and that this new deployment needs to be accompanied by rapid steps to increase the overall size of American ground forces.
I've been in Boston for the last few days, partly to see a very old friend of mine who's in the process of shedding his neoconservatism. His foreign-policy instincts have rarely been neoconservative as the term is now understood, but what attracted him to the movement in college was its emphasis in the late 1960s on social science. Consider him a neoconservative of the Daniel Bell/Nat Glazer school. Rigor was the appeal.

To understate matters a great deal, to the heirs of the movement like Kristol and Kagan, rigor just ain't there -- unless it's in the field of contortion, to explain away the disastrous fruits of its offering. Glazer would never be satisfied if one of his students submitted a paper arguing, "Additional troops for Iraq are there, because they are. Nyah." Call this Decadent Neoconservatism, with any patina of seriousness stripped away, revealing a juvenile posturing masquerading as an approach to strategy. I hope that my friend, and any other ex-neocons, can come up with a sane and rigorous alternative that proves as influential. Who knows: they may become liberals.
--Spencer Ackerman
As if Kristol/Kagan weren't enough to drive one mad, I see that William Stuntz is peddling his usual nonsense about how all our problems in Iraq would go away if only we displayed a little more resolve. I remember back when you were still at TNR you posted a piece on the Plank in which you asked Stuntz "if Iraq's security is Iran's security, why should we give another drop of blood to Iran's security?" Did you ever get a response?
Blogger Kingston Reif | 3:56 PM

Since I'm perfectly willing to unmask myself as the friend in question, I offer this: one of the obstacles to the development of an alternative to neo-conservatism is the liberal/conservative schematic itself. So long as one holds on to this division, one is more or less condemned to rethink the Cold War. That won't help much, I'd argue, because of the enormous changes in the international environment.

Here are some very tentative but I believe more useful distinctions that cut across both "ideological" and party lines:

1)sovereigntists -- these are people who regard the state as the basic unit of world politics. They believe that the erosion of national autonomy is not only a recipe for international disorder, but also hampers the achievement of domestic political ends. The key here is the principle of equality. All states "count" as independent and sovereign, which explains the popularity of this view in some of the nastier corners of the 3rd World, as well as China. But it's also compatible with the economic populism now popular on the US left.

Contrary to common use, sovereigntism is not opposed to multilateralism; it's not "isolationism". But it tends to view successful multilateralism as consisting in alliances of states rather permanent institutions of international governance.

2) global liberals -- I take liberalism here in the sense of reference to individual rights as the moral criterion for political action, rather than its American, partisan sense. This view tends to emphasize permanent international institutions and NGOs rather than alliances, with the aim of securing a decent life and political rights for all persons. There is also an economistic, free-trade version of this argument. Think pre-9/11 Al Gore, but also Doctors Without Borders.

3) National liberals -- this is a bit of a synthesis of (1) and (2). It may be the core meaning of "neo-conservatism", although I wouldn't assert it. This view has the same basic goal as global liberalism. But it sees the independent action of liberal states as the best means to achieve it. Think of the arguments for Nato as opposed to the UN. Unlike sovereigntism, this position relies on distinction between good and bad states; only the former are deemed worthy of sovereignty. Perhaps Tony Blair might be put in this category.

4) American hegemonists -- Rumsfeld and Cheney obviously belong here, but it's unspoken assumption of a lot of Democrats as well. The premise is that American dominance is desirable in itself or, at minimum, the necessary condition of an acceptable world order. In principle, that means the rejecting the sovereign rights of all other states. This view can be allied with (3), as we perhaps saw in the Bush administration. But it lacks (a) the fundamental commitment to human rights; and (b) engagement with the possibility that America might act improperly, and have to be balanced or restrained by its liberal friends.

Contrary to Stanley Hoffmann's critique of the 1st Bush administration, it was Madeleine Albright who described the US as "the indispensable nation". Can we imagine anyone being elected president -- even a liberal -- who didn't at least pay lip service to this view?

Now I wouldn't present this as an exhaustive list of possibilities. But these positions seem to me the most coherent serious alternatives, even though they can be mixed in practice.
In my view, moreover, they avoid reliance on the political science jargon of realism, etc. Each is a normative claim about how the world ought to work, as well as a description of how it does.
Blogger TheWaldganger | 2:38 PM