A Realist Symposium: Partisans Reviewed

A Realist Symposium: Partisans Reviewed

Mini Teaser: Responding to Dimitri K. Simes’s assertion that we aren’t having a real debate over foreign policy, Derek Chollet argues the Democrats are providing genuine alternatives; Grover G. Norquist looks at the structural reasons inhibiting both parties f

by Author(s): Derek CholletGrover G. NorquistDov S. ZakheimDimitri K. Simes

It is also difficult to imagine a world where the United States refuses to stand up for values like liberalism, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. As Simes's essay illustrates, how much U.S. foreign policy should be based on promoting values remains controversial. There is no doubt that such goals have taken a huge hit from the Bush Administration's failures and excesses. In fact, one of the most consequential decisions the next president faces is to choose what parts of the Bush "freedom agenda" he or she wishes to continue. Yet while self-described realists question the wisdom of keeping core values at the heart of U.S. policy, trying to take values out would make American policy little different than the policy motivations of others, like Russia and China. This is an area where many from both the Right and Left agree.

Which leaves the challenge-and opportunity-a new administration and a new Congress will face when they take office in 2009. As Brzezinski argues, they will have a "second chance" to set a new direction for America in the world. He recommends heeding Raymond Aron's injunction that a great power's strength "is diminished if it ceases to serve an idea." Of course, having ideas alone is not enough-the current Bush team believes that they are in the ideas business, although the result has clearly been a disaster. So the debate must continue to be about which ideas-and, importantly, how to manage the risks and trade-offs required to implement them.

Derek Chollet is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and is currently co-writing a book about American foreign policy between 1989 and 2001.

Wild Parties
Grover G. Norquist

THE GENIUS of the U.S. Constitution has given America political stability and economic liberty that have combined to create the richest and most powerful nation on the planet-spending only 4 percent of the nation's income on the military. The combination of political cohesion and unrivaled wealth has allowed the United States to survive and thrive despite foreign-policy decisions that might have failed to protect smaller, more fragile nations.

Some have argued that we are, or recently were, the leader in a unipolar world-a hybrid between the British and Roman Empires with better dentistry and plumbing. Still, the experience of the past several years suggests that even a colossus needs a competent foreign policy.

The structures of our two major political parties, the relative strengths of each and the issues that rally the two coalitions do not bode well for getting from here to there.

For several decades following the Civil War, the Republicans and Democrats were regional parties. But during the political life of the beloved Ronald Reagan, they divided along recognizable ideological lines. The Republican Party became the vehicle for a center-right coalition of businessmen, taxpayers, property owners, gun owners, home-schoolers and the various communities of faith that feared the aggressively secular state that primarily wanted one thing from the central government-to be left alone. The Democratic Party became a home to the members of the Left-labor unions, trial lawyers, government workers, contractors-who saw themselves as beneficiaries of government spending and state power.

Neither of the two parties house a major coalition member that votes on foreign policy. During the Cold War, the leave-us-alone coalition included anti-communists, often refugees from Eastern Europe, Cuba, Indochina, the Soviet Union and other nations in contest.

Today the two parties are evenly matched: Note the close elections of 2000 and 2004, and the House and Senate's thin majorities in either direction from 1995 to the present. Each coalition demands complete loyalty from its constituent parts and looks for the silver bullet that will achieve a stable and significant majority. The foreign-policy debate has become a central front in that struggle for majority status-at the expense of designing and implementing a serious and successful foreign policy for a great nation.

This is why the Iraq War and occupation have become the objects of partisan bickering. The Washington Post recently reported that polling showed that views on Iraq were more divided along party lines than those on the Vietnam War. While the Democrats may be seen as the "peacenik" party now, they supported Clinton's bombing of Serbia because the bomber was a Democrat. Meanwhile, the Republicans-playing a role similar to the one now occupied by the Democrats-expressed disinterest in "Clinton's War" in Bosnia. Today, Republicans do not support Bush because of Iraq; they support Iraq because of Bush.

Had Bush decided not to overthrow the Iraqi regime or to occupy the country the Republican electorate would have applauded, and the Democrats would have criticized the decision.

While there were reasons to believe that America might benefit from rethinking its policy vis-à-vis Iraq, all such debate within the Republican Party was shut down for the bulk of 2006 in order to avoid advantaging the Democrats in the November elections. Partisan loyalty has created a stickiness in moving to-or even suggesting-different strategies. On the Democratic side, there is more attention paid to how to damage Bush and the Republicans than to what the United States should and should not be doing in Mesopotamia and its environs.

The blind partisan loyalty of the bases of both political parties is not conducive to creating a serious foreign policy.

It gets worse. The monopoly once held over America's national discourse by the three television networks reciting The New York Times each day has broken up. We now have an America with 500 television stations and thousands of blogs. Every political impulse has its own source of news. Americans see very different situations in Iraq depending on whether they view Fox or MSNBC, or read The Washington Times, Washington Post, New York Times or New York Sun.

Conservatives are understandably pleased that the liberal establishment's monopoly on news has ended. But with millions of Americans getting their understanding of foreign policy from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and millions of others learning how the world works from Jon Stewart and MoveOn.org, we have a policy apartheid that makes debate-never mind compromise or consensus-difficult.

There are no forces on the horizon capable of demanding that political leaders become serious about addressing America's position in the world. There is no National Rifle Association or AFL-CIO to draw a line in the sand for one or both parties. There is no national lobby for free trade-although one could certainly see the resources being available for this effort. There is no national lobby for a strong military.

The lobbies dealing with national defense either focus on satisfying individual companies' contracting needs or securing additional benefits for retired military officers-which come at the expense of buying new planes, ships and tanks.

The ethnic lobbies provide the only constraint on the foreign policies of presidents or congressmen. One must check in with the Armenian lobby and the Greek lobby when dealing with either end of Turkey; one must check with AIPAC on Middle East policy; and Republicans have to double-check with the Cuban-American community on all matters Castro. After that, a president or congressmen is free to do or say just about anything on foreign policy.

And with increasingly non-competitive congressional districts gerrymandered for a Republican or Democrat, there are more and more congressmen that can and do "freelance" foreign policy, as Charlie Wilson (D-TX) did in Afghanistan and New Mexico's Bill Richardson did in North Korea. Neither was going to win or lose votes based on their "playing" in foreign policy. They didn't care because they had a majority vote based on party affiliation.

We tend to remember-or imagine-a more engaged and informed electorate prior to 1991. In fairness, the United States took a while to arrive at a somewhat consistent policy towards the threat posed by the Soviet Union. The world was fairly clearly divided in the wake of World War II, and it was therefore easier to "pick up teams" and identify friend and foe. Voters had decades to learn about U.S. defense and foreign-policy issues on a playing field that didn't change very much and benefited from millions of refugees from communist countries that brought real-time information about that world.

The present partisan stalemate is unlikely to change until one party breaks through and becomes dominant, as the FDR coalition did after 1934. This will free the majority party to create a position devoid of the extreme fringes currently needed to compete in the evenly matched partisan fight. The party out of power will have the time and focus to think not only about foreign policy in the abstract but also to confront and challenge the ruling party's approach to the world.

One can hope that the "think tanks" in Washington, DC-which have too often in this hyper-partisan atmosphere done less thinking and more serving as cannon fodder for competing partisan positions-might hold more debates and fewer monologues, beginning the process of rethinking America's role in the world.

Grover G. Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Essay Types: The Realist