Grand New Foreign Policy?

David Frum has some kind words for our forthcoming book, as well as what I think is a fair criticism:

Nor do they have enough to say ... about how the GOP should express its nationalism in a post-Iraq political environment. White working-class voters are not as conservative as they are often represented on issues like abortion. (Even among whites without a college degree, prochoicers still outnumber prolifers.) The conservatism of the white working class is first and foremost a nationalistic conservatism – and given the well-known opposition to the Iraq war of one of the two coauthors, it would have been especially interesting to hear from him on that subject. Yet Grand New Party neglects foreign and security policy entirely.

It does, and let me offer four reasons why. First and foremost, because it seemed to us that there was value, given the American Right's present straits, in writing a book that focused very narrowly on domestic policy and debates over the welfare state, to the exclusion not only of foreign policy but also the domestic controversies over abortion, church-state separation, gay marriage, pornography and sundry other issues that have preoccupied conservatives for many years. Not because the topics that we left out aren't extremely important to the future of American conservatism, but because we felt that there was a specific void, separate from these concerns, that needed urgent attention. Contemporary conservatism has no shortage of writers willing to argue about foreign policy, especially (some of them unqualified to do so, but many far more qualified than myself), in part because of 9/11's impact and in part because defense and diplomacy are arenas where everyone on the Right can agree that the government has a major role to play, regardless of their feelings about the administrative state more generally. The Right does, however, have a shortage of thinkers, at least of late, willing to wade much deeper into the domestic policy debate than the "tax cuts good, new spending bad" line. I don't know how valuable our effort to fill this void will be, but it seemed worth making the attempt - and it seemed, as well, that a narrow-but-detailed approach would produce a more valuable book, in the end, than a broader-brush approach that covered more ground but offered fewer specifics.

The second reason for the book's narrow focus is related to a point I just made - specifically, that the mere act of wading into the debates over how the welfare state should work is a deeply controversial move in right-wing circles, since many conservatives would say that "tax cuts good, new spending bad" is all ye know and all ye need to know. With this mind, it seemed worth detaching our views on the contentious topic of how conservatives should think about the size and scope of government from our (no doubt equally controversial views) on the Iraq War, or gay marriage, or what-have-you. Our hope is that right-wingers of (almost) all stripes will find things to appreciate in our sketch of a new domestic policy, and we didn't want to brand it as part of a package deal - something you can only support if you agree with us in other arenas. Right now, the American Right is riven by recriminations over What Went Wrong in 2006, and no doubt whatever center-right coalition that eventually reclaims power will look somewhat different from the conservative movement as we've known it lately. But no one faction is going to succeed in routing all the others, and at some point people who disagree about the wisdom of invading Iraq (as well as other matters) are going to have to sit down and find common ground on a variety of topics. This is a book, we hope, that can be read profitably by nearly everyone involved in that still-hypothetical conversation; indeed, it's our hope that it will help kick the conversation off.

The third reason is that, well, forget about feuding paleocons and neocons - Reihan and I don't agree about a lot of issues, and so it made sense to co-write a book on the terrain where we're most simpatico. I think our worldviews and intellectual approaches are consonant enough that we could successfully co-write a book that dealt with foreign policy - and who knows, maybe we will at some point - but it would have been a much harder project to carry off, and we probably wouldn't have produced something in time for the '08 election, at the very least.

The fourth reason is simpler still: I have strong and definite views about the subjects we treat with in the book, but as to foreign policy I don't quite know where I stand. Or rather, I don't know where I stand on the crucial question of the moment, which is what our Iraq policy ought to be. I do have views about the lessons of Iraq for future policymaking, and I have all sorts of views on how conservatives should approach foreign affairs in general, but I have a difficult time writing about these topics so long as Iraq hangs like a fog over the landscape of debate. And there seems to me to be something faintly dishonorable about pontificating on general principles for right-wing foreign policy when I'm unable to be articulate about the most pressing and immediate challenge we face.

This may be a mistaken approach. I do think I have something to contribute on the long-range questions, albeited on a limited scale, and I intend to at least attempt some foreign-policy writing after Grand New Party has been published. But for the purposes of this particular project, it seemed like circumspection about foreign policy was the better part of valor.