Thanks to Andrew for inviting me to guest blog this week. Over at ProfessorBainbridge.com, I started out blogging about business law and economics (which is what I do for a living as a corporate law professor at UCLA), but eventually expanded into politics, religion, music, cars, cooking, and wine. I may leave a recipe or two behind before I leave, but for the moment let's start with a topic commonly discussed here; namely, foreign policy.
I was struck today by Gregory Scoblete's essay on Ron Paul's theory of non-intervention:
During the May 15 debate in South Carolina, Paul wondered how Republicans were able to capture the presidency in 2000. "We talked about a humble foreign policy," he said. "No nation-building; don't police the world." Paul, alone among GOP contenders, opposed the invasion of Iraq and has been a critic of the enterprise ever since.
Such restraint does not sit well with many conservatives intent on seizing what columnist Charles Krauthammer dubbed the "unipolar moment" of American ascendancy in a world without the Soviet Union. To them, only the maximalist goals espoused by President Bush in his second inaugural address are worthy of America. Neoconservative champions of an "American Empire" such as Council on Foreign Relations scholar Max Boot chafe at the notion that there are, or should be, limits to American power or that the American interest should be defined as anything less than a globe-spanning, benevolent imperium. Unfazed by our inability to pacify Iraq, neoconservatives like Norman Podhoretz (recently named as an advisor to the Giuliani campaign) are now agitating to expand the war into Iran.
Nor does Paul's parsimony sit well with Democrats and liberals, whose predilection to use military force seems to increase as the relevancy of the mission to U.S. security decreases. Supposedly aghast by the civil war in Iraq, Democratic statesmen like Delaware Senator Joseph Biden want to insert the U.S. into Sudan. If you blanched at the President's Second Inaugural, which pledged to erase tyranny from the pages of human memory, you won't find much comfort in Barack Obama's barely-less expansive formulation of America's interests in Foreign Affairs.
A plague on both their houses. Russell Kirk wrote about Bush 41's war:
Are we to saturation-bomb most of Africa and Asia into righteousness, freedom, and democracy? And, having accomplished that, however would we ensure persons yet more unrighteous might not rise up instead of the ogres we had swept away?
A soundly conservative foreign policy, in the age which is dawning, should be neither 'interventionist' nor 'isolationist': it should be prudent. Its object should not be to secure the triumph everywhere of America's name and manners, under the slogan of 'democratic capitalism,' but instead the preservation of the true national interest, and acceptance of the diversity of economic and political institutions.
There have been times when intervention was more consistent with a prudential assessment of our national interest than would be a blanket policy of non-intervention. Afghanistan post-9/11 is a case in point; indeed, even Ron Paul voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan. For that matter, the prudent thing to do would have been an even more aggressive intervention that actually managed to catch and kill Osama bin Laden. And there have been times when non-intervention would have been the prudent choice. Looking ahead, Sudan looks like an extra-large version of Somalia. Intervention there would be imprudent even if the Iraq war hadn't stretched our military resources to the limit. We would be walking into another civil war.
We don't need a presumption against either interventionism or non-interventionism. We need a presumption in favor of prudence.