But neocons also need realists and nationalists. Foreign policy is still on a daily basis the art of the possible, not the desirable. We cannot impose democracy in every cultural situation. We can urge it, and, most importantly, we can offer the example of our own democracy. But if democracy means anything, it means home-grown. We have to take the risk that it may be rejected. After all, that is the same risk we run daily in our own democracy. Citizens are free to reject it. We rely, as Jefferson reminded us, on the public square to root out the anti-democratic zealots. Other countries cannot be so tolerant. Germany bans Nazi groups. Authoritarian Islamic states may require some time before free elections can bring to power groups other than the fundamentalist extremists.
Even if we could succeed in encouraging democracy in almost any country, we would most certainly need allies to do it. What is most puzzling about neocons is not that they believe democracy is possible anywhere (Fukuyama's complaint), but that they would undertake the democracy project without our existing democratic allies. They seek to create new, weak democracies in places like Iraq while turning their noses up at old, strong democracies in Europe. But what is the use of spreading democracy if we cannot get along with existing democracies? Of course, France is a pain and, in Iraq, probably awash in corruption. But France plays a role that does not have to destroy the democratic alliance unless we let it. Despite France withdrawing from NATO's command structure, the alliance still fulfilled its historic role. And France was always there at crucial moments, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the deployment of NATO missiles in 1983. So while we have to act at times without some allies, we do not have to enjoy it or celebrate it. We can agree to disagree and continue to try to bring them on board, while we accommodate their absence.
All of these differences among democratic allies and among conservative foreign policy advocates are understandable and bearable. What is not bearable is that we succumb to indifference, as nationalists are prone to do, or to intolerance, as neocons are prone to do, or to cynicism, as realists are prone to do. Conservatives need each other in foreign policy, especially when they consider the liberal alternative. The successful prosecution of U.S. foreign policy in the second Bush Administration depends on conservatives recognizing the complementarity of their respective contributions.
Henry R. Nau is professor of political science at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University and author, most recently, of At Home Abroad: Identity and Power in American Foreign Polity (2002). Nau served in the Ford (1975-77) and Reagan (1981-83) administrations.Essay Types: Essay