Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Stephen Walt, blogging for Foreign Policy:

Last Wednesday I spoke at an event at Hofstra University, on the subject of "Barack Obama's Foreign Policy." ...

During the Q & A, I talked about the narrowness of foreign policy debate in Washington and the close political kinship between the liberal interventionists of the Democratic Party and the neoconservatives that dominate the GOP. At one point, I said that "liberal inteventionists are just 'kinder, gentler' neocons, and neocons are just liberal interventionsts on steroids." ...

The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy, both groups believe that U.S. power -- and especially its military power -- can be a highly effective tool of statecraft. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America's right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world. Both groups consistently over-estimate how easy it will be to do this, however, which is why each has a propensity to get us involved in conflicts where our vital interests are not engaged and that end up costing a lot more than they initially expect....

Well, what do you expect? You can call this a betrayal of principles by people who are supposed to be liberals -- there'd be a lot of truth in that -- but really, if you're a Democrat and you don't want to be thoroughly marginalized, you're always constrained by what passes as "acceptable" in our political culture.

Because our political culture overwhelmingly favors right-wing ideas, we regularly learn exactly the wrong lesson from our debacles. What we learn is that we must never apply the liberal solution to ny problem.

When there's a horrifying gun crime, we're told that we must never, ever impose more gun control, and in fact we should make guns more readily available. When there's a financial meltdown, we learn that we must never punish the responsible financial fat cats, but must punish only those who can't afford to be punished.

And, of course, from the debacle of Vietnam we learned that we must never, ever allow a filthy hippie who's genuinely skeptical about the use of American military might anywhere near a position of genuine power -- we must never allow "another McGovern" to even have a shot at the Oval Office.

I could go on. (The death penalty? The War on Drugs?) Yes, it would be nice if someone were to challenge this orthodoxy. But it's no surprise that ambitious Democrats just go along, limiting themselves to what's acceptable (conservatism or lite conservatism), if they want to go far in American politics.

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