No Enemies on the Right

No Enemies on the Right

Conservatives dodged a bullet on November 2. Squabbling bitterly over Iraq, they contributed to the possible unseating of an incumbent conservative president in wartime. Realists or traditional conservatives attacked neoconservatives for splitting the NATO alliance and chasing after democratic rainbows in the barren sands of the Middle East. Neoconservatives attacked each other--including in the pages of this magazine--exchanging salvos about whether terrorist threats are existential and legitimacy requires broader coalitions. Nationalists deplored the crippling Cold War reflex to fight wars far away from home and give other nations a free ride.

Conservative wars over foreign policy of course are not new. Conservatives split after the Vietnam War. At that time, neoconservatives, led by Ronald Reagan, attacked Nixonian policies of d‚tente and called for the end--not containment--of Soviet communism. Conservatives quarreled again after the Gulf War. Neoconservatives faulted realists for failing to march to Baghdad and eliminate Saddam Hussein. During both periods--in 1976 and in 1992--liberals exploited conservative divisions to take the White House. That did not happen this time. But conservatives are tempting fate if they continue these intramural squabbles. Internecine wars are not only self-destructive, they are unnecessary. Conservatives need each other. Here's why.

Root Principles

It is useful to remind conservatives what they have in common, especially compared to liberals. A conservative strategy for American foreign policy is based on four general principles. These principles encompass all conservatives--neoconservatives, conservative realists and nationalists--and reflect the different choices that conservatives and liberals make when they face tradeoffs in real world situations. In these situations, conservatives generally take the following positions: Individual and national liberty (freedom) count more than collective and universal equality; competition is a better engine of change and protector of liberty than institutional cooperation; military power takes precedence over economic, diplomatic or soft power because without military power, other forms of power are impotent; and legitimacy derives more from commitments to democracy than from universal participation in international institutions many of whose members are not democratic.

From these principles, several strategic guidelines follow for conservative foreign policy. First, a balance of power in international affairs preserves the independence and freedom of individual states. As long as many states are not democratic, the balance of power is to be preferred over a collective security system or reliance on international institutions, especially if the result is to empower a non-democratic majority in international institutions. International institutions are not objectives in themselves but are useful only if they support, as the president's 2002 National Security Strategy document stated, "a balance of power that favors human freedom."

Second, a global marketplace fosters competition and indirectly supports independence while advancing growth and development. Open markets are the principal engines of change that respect independence and freedom. Some institutional framework is necessary to establish market rules (for example, to lower trade barriers, establish currency relationships and so on), but this framework should be limited and have the principal objective of fostering equality of opportunity, not equality of results (for example, through some sort of international redistribution of wealth). History demonstrates that markets, as long as they are competitive, spread rather than concentrate wealth.

Third, military power is not a last but a pervasive resort, and it makes credible all other sources of power. Soft power is deception if it is not backed up by a nation's willingness to defend and assert its political convictions by force when necessary. Market power is an illusion if there is no military power to safeguard the marketplace. And, as Frederick the Great once memorably remarked, "negotiations without arms are like music without instruments." Military power not only defends national security and freedom, it underwrites the stability that a prosperous global economy requires, and validates a national and international diplomacy without which there could be no serious international negotiations.

Based on these principles, conservative foreign policy differs from liberal foreign policy in two key respects. First, it emphasizes national ideals and interests and self-reliance. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, a country incapable of governing itself is also incapable of governing others. If nations deny their own citizens certain basic human and political rights, what right do they have to run the affairs of free nations through international institutions? Conservatives seek to get the best out of every individual and nation before they turn to national or international programs of assistance. Second, conservatism is more comfortable with competition both in the economic arena and, as a basis for balance and safety, in the military realm as well. Conservatives are more skeptical of cooperation and international institutions because they fear the dilution of liberty through compromise with non-democratic states more than they fear the loss of legitimacy through exclusion of such states.

The key question, then, is how to apply these principles to define a grand strategy for American foreign policy that integrates conservative views and avoids new conservative foreign policy wars.

The War on Terror

In the minds of conservatives, threats arise from disparities in power, especially when countries that do not pursue or support freedom in their own societies wield such power. Henry Kissinger, a classical realist, recognizes that free countries do not threaten one another even if they possess unequal power. Only a few structural realists, who may or may not be conservative, define threats purely in terms of relative power. Threats arise because not-free countries deprive their own citizens of basic political rights and civil liberties. While these domestic practices do not create direct conflict between states, they breed suspicions. Not-free countries, such as North Korea under Kim Jong-il, fear freedom because it means the loss of domestic power. Free countries, like the United States, fear oppression because it means the loss of domestic freedom. As President Reagan used to say: "If authoritarian states treat their own people in oppressive ways, how are they likely to treat us if they get the chance?" These are the suspicions and fears that interpret geopolitical realities and cause international conflicts. They are rooted in security perceptions generated by conflicting principles, as well as security dilemmas generated by competing power.

So it is not just the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that is at stake. France has nuclear weapons, but no one is concerned. It is the nature of the societies that seek such weapons. Not-free, fundamentalist societies and groups reject modern civilization. They pose a threat that is not local or distant but global and immanent. This threat does not bristle at the border of central Europe with tanks and artillery and missiles, capable of attacking in a specific spot within the hour (an imminent threat). It hovers in the entire fabric of contemporary international affairs, capable of striking in any spot at any hour (an immanent threat). While fundamentalist forces are small compared to those of the former Soviet Union, weapons of mass destruction even the scales. In this sense, fundamentalist Islam is a direct military threat to the United States and for that matter any other Westernized country. And this threat offers less of a visible presence or warning before it strikes than the intercontinental missiles that defined the Cold War.

In addition, fundamentalist Islam poses a new universalistic alternative to democracy and free markets, just as communism did under the former Soviet Union. History has not ended. Fundamentalist societies seek a global dominion of the faithful. True, the vision of fundamentalism they espouse is unattractive in the West, unlike fascism and communism, which had legions of Western supporters. But we would be wrong to underestimate its appeal to others. No doubt a good many Muslims, oppressed, poor and aggrieved, could live with this apocalyptic vision, just as many who were not initial supporters acquiesced under fascism and communism.

Many in the West minimize these challenges and assume they can be overcome by diplomacy and development. Conservatives do not ignore the important role diplomacy and development can play in mitigating the fundamentalist threat at the margins (such as making progress on the Arab-Israeli dispute or combatting poverty and illiteracy). But diplomatic efforts and poverty are not the principal causes of, or solutions to, fundamentalism. Middle East diplomacy made its greatest progress ever in the 1990s with the Oslo Accords, but fundamentalism nevertheless intensified. Its causes lie in deeper, independent worldviews that are hostile to freedom. And solutions involve defeat (World Wars I and II) or transformation (the Cold War) of these adversarial views. In the case of the Islamic world, which is largely undeveloped and undemocratic, transformation may take generations. For the War on Terror is first and foremost a war inside Islam. If it took the West roughly 500 years from the time of the Reformation and Enlightenment to the secular and democratic world of today, it will take Islam at least one hundred years, if such a transformation happens at all.

Conservatives have disagreed over how to prosecute the war that began--in the minds of Americans--on September 11, 2001. Neoconservatives opted for a muscular strategy that ignored allies and divided countries into those that are "with us" and those that are "against us." They advocated flexible "coalitions of the willing" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Realists preferred to act through existing alliances and patiently reorganize them to deal with new threats. And nationalists expected other countries to do more and sought a speedy victory and an early return to America's protected shores. They heeded the siren song to come back to America's "delightful spot", as nationalist Walter McDougall calls it, an America that is still separated by two broad oceans with no great power (like Russia or China) or conflict (like the Middle East) challenging calm within our own hemisphere.

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