Monday, September 25, 2006

The Foreign Policy the US Needs

Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard University
The New York Review of Books
Vol.53, No.13, August 10, 2006
What would be the outline of a decent and effective American foreign policy?
The first prerequisite, in my view, is to improve America's own economic and moral condition, a change that would be well received abroad. This would mean a return to the rule of law and to the protection of civil liberties, and an end to efforts to escape from the obligations of international law in the fight against terrorism. The US should accept, despite its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and try to improve it; and it should sign the International Criminal Court treaty. Accepting both would undo some of the damage of recent years.

The US also needs a fiscal policy that would take seriously the reduction of America's deficit and debt, and therefore of American dependence on foreign countries that are willing to subsidize the US by buying its debt in exchange for what we provide in return—security for Japan, access to US markets in the case of China. Otherwise the US will remain, in Charles Maier's words, an empire of consumption.
[7] Greater investment at home in technological and educational progress is indispensable. A serious effort, including a tax on carbon emissions, to reduce the consumption of oil in favor of new sources of energy is essential for several reasons: to preserve the global environment from global warming and other dangers, to escape from dependence on corrupt and tyrannical regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere, and to protect against the temptation to seize control of oil production in, say, Iraq as an insurance against possible trouble in Saudi Arabia.

A second prerequisite is a willingness to break dramatically with the foreign policies of both Republicans and Democrats. Throughout the postwar era, and especially after the fall of communism, these policies have oscillated from multilateralism to imperialism, but they have assumed, as Walt does, that the world could only benefit from American primacy, seen as both a fact of power and a condition of world security and prosperity. Even Democratic critics of neoconservative hubris and critical commentators such as Walt have not put in doubt the need for the US to set the course for its partners and for the world. Nor have the merits of the US being the world's only superpower been seriously questioned, except on the isolationist fringe and among the libertarians of the Cato Institute. These deeply ingrained views, by now as ritualized as the late thoughts of Mao, need to be changed. They do not correspond with the realities of power.
These proposals may appear utopian. And yet striving to realize them would make for a safer world; they would not abandon or damage any of America's main interests; they would allow regional disputes to be dealt with primarily by the members of the regions, and with the assistance of international and regional agencies. The US would not be the only "indispensable nation," or the nation that knows best what the real interests of others are. There is always a danger when dependent nations gain autonomy, but autonomy is the condition of responsibility. A world in which several large or middle-sized powers would have a larger say than they do now does not mean a return to the balance of power mechanisms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in which war decided disputes. Competition has to continue, but—as Kant speculated—it should be constrained by the ever-increasing costs of war, and by the benefits (as well as the dangers) of interdependence. As Kiesling puts it, "Morality and self interest are inseparable, provided we persuade our politicians to take a long enough view of these interests. In the long run, security cannot be purchased at the expense of justice."
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