Thursday, October 7, 2010

Restrained and Intelligent Foreign Policy

In keeping with a recent tradition of writing an entire post just to announce I'm adding another link to the sidebar on a blog that very few people actually read (ahh! self-deprecation is nice!), I'm announcing that I'm adding a new link to the sidebar and I strongly suggest you click on this one.  The link is to a blog on the website Foreign Policy by Stephen M. Walt.  If you're interests range outside of domestic politics at all, and they really should, then Walt's blog is a must read, in my opinion.

In response to the odious Bill Kristol's recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal which uses fear-mongering to lobby for continuing the current insane level of funding for our bloated military-industrial complex, Walt gives several reasons why cutting "defense" spending is necessary but unlikely.  He concludes with this:
Which brings me to my main point. Although it is mind-boggling to realize that five percent of the world's population (the United States) now spends more on defense than the other 95 percent put together, this situation is hard to avoid when you see threats emerging virtually everywhere and when you think all of them are best met by an ambitious and highly interventionst foreign policy. If Americans want to be able to go anywhere and do anything, then they are going to have keep spending lots of money, even if all that activity merely reinforces anti-American extremism and makes more people want to come after us. (And for more on that latter point, read this book).

If you want to cut defense spending significantly, in short, you have to make some non-trivial adjustments in U.S. grand strategy. As some of you know, I think the United States would be both more prosperous and safer if we had a more restrained grand strategy and a more intelligent foreign policy. Until that happens, however, reducing defense spending itself is going to be an uphill fight, and our defense expenditures will be closer to the views of Kristol et al than to mine. Unfortunately.
By a more restrained and intelligent foreign policy, he means this, from another recent post of his:
The solution is not to retreat into isolationism and cede the initiative to others. Rather, the solution is to remind ourselves what American power is good for, and avoid taking on tasks for which it is ill-suited. The United States is very good at deterring large-scale aggression, and thus good at ensuring stability in key regions. (That assumes, of course, that we aren't using that same power to destabilize certain regions on purpose). We are sometimes good at brokering peace deals -- as in Northern Ireland and the Balkans -- when we use our power judiciously and fairly. And we've often done a pretty fair job -- in concert with others -- at encouraging intelligent liberalization of the world economy. The United States is not very good at governing foreign societies, especially when the local inhabitants don't want us there and when we have little understanding of how they work. And if we keep trying to do this sort of thing, we're likely to look inept far more often than we look effective.

In short, regaining an aura of competence isn't just about trying harder, or restoring the work ethic and "can do" attitude that we associate (rightly or wrongly) with earlier eras. It also entails picking the right goals and not squandering time, money and lives on fool's errands.
What a refreshing look at American foreign policy, and way more in line with my sense of Christian peacemaking.  Instead of destabilizing regions and starting wars and occupying foreign societies, all of which make us less safe, we should focus our resources on deterring large-scale aggression, brokering peace, and spreading democracy through peaceful means, all of which would make us more safe.

This idea of restrained foreign policy also ties in nicely with the idea that we, as members of the church, should espouse practices and ideas that lead us to more moderation.  We are taught to exercise restraint in everything from consumption to debt to ideology.  But as Americans, we are taught to believe that the world is our playground, that we have a right to create a world, by force if necessary, where Americans are free to go anywhere they want with no restrictions at all, that everyone should love us and laud our positive influence in every region.  The reality is that we simply aren't going to make friends with everyone, there will be places Americans can't go, and we can only improve those conditions through peaceful and patient means.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are disasters.  They have cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of civilian lives.  They will end up costing in the trillions of dollars.  They have no objective end point and there is no hope of meaningful victory.  They have increased terrorism and hatred towards our country.  Our foreign policy is in the hands of people who will not likely learn from these disasters and continue to bluster about military force against Iran, Yemen, and other unfriendly countries.  We are not a country that practices a Christian foreign policy, but it isn't too late to change.

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