Friday, October 13, 2006

Liberals try discussing alternatives to American empire

Michael Lind has a very interesting post up at American Prospect Online discussing his latest book "The American Way of Strategy", as well as defending it from some criticism it garnered by James Lindsey.

Lind's foreign policy vision is based on "traditional liberal internationalism", or as he explains it, a world policed by "great-power concerts in which the United States would take a leading part." Lindsey argues that this formulation might or might not be preferential to the current administration's.

Lind notes that Lindsey is on record as arguing that "the real debate [in America] is not whether to have an empire, but what kind.” Lind wryly notes that this is a debate that the American people have not been invited to participate in.

Frankly, reading through the various authors' descriptions of what US foreign policy should consist of, I'm left wondering if this is the best The American Prospect, or the US for that matter, can muster. Clearly neoconservative apologists Lindsey and his collaborator Ivo Daalder ought to be ignored by anyone serious about the future of this nation. But I find self-described "radical centrist" Lind's thesis, that the focus ought to be a "tough-minded liberal internationalism of Franklin Roosevelt and his Cold War liberal successors" to be essentially just as unworkable. Lind's pronouncements are as vague as Peter Beinhart's (see "The Good Fight") and advance the canard that progressives aren't as "tough-minded" in foreign policy as their 20th Century counterparts, I can only guess because they did not support the illegal invasion of Iraq.

According to Lind:

I reject the profoundly un-American idea of an American global “empire” of any kind in favor of Franklin Roosevelt’s realistic vision of a post-imperial system of sovereign states policed not by a hegemonic U.S. but by a concert of great powers, whose members do not have to be democratic as long as they share a commitment to peace, including peace from terrorism

If someone can explain to me what this means in practice, as opposed to principle, I'd love to hear it. For example, are these "great powers" he refers to supposed to stand in for, say, the UN's permanent Security Council members? What "non-democratic" countries does he envision will lead the new world order to peace and security?

If Lind fails to advance an intelligent framework for moving the ball forward, at least he is smart enough to call bullshit on the neoconservative-neoliberal "free markets will save the world" fundamentalism.

Anyway, check out what passes in serious policy circles these days for liberal foreign policy debate, while noting what important questions are discretely left off the table.

Update: After reading a review of Lind's book "The American Way of Strategy" in the Inernational Herald Tribune, I understand his specific recommendations a little better, and am even more convinced that he is nearly as misguided as the neoconservative supprters of a unipolar, imperial America he rightly denounces.

From the review:

Lind's case against [a US foreign policy] Goliath is forceful but repetitive, and it culminates in only a vague and facile formula for a less taxing American posture. The United States should lead "a concert of power," he says, defining it as "a kind of hegemony shared among a number of great powers." Uncle Sam, as concert master, would rule alone over North and Central America but combine with different nations to manage different regions - with China, Japan and Russia in Northeast Asia; with China, Japan and India in Southeast Asia; with China, India, Russia and maybe Iran and Turkey in Central Asia; and so on.

If all these proud lions actually worked in concert, Lind would ask them to enforce peace and order, "not to produce liberty, democracy and the rule of law in every country." But he expects them also somehow to eliminate terrorism, prevent the spread of major weapons, rescue disintegrating states, end ethnic cleansing, manage energy supplies and protect the environment. (emphasis added)

To stimulate such sweeping cooperation, Lind urges that we stop isolating Russia in Europe and threatening to fight China over Taiwan. He does not say what will happen if his regional teams fall out of balance and into conflict. And he concedes that no foreseeable concert can work in the Middle East, where the "least bad" option now, after retreat from Iraq, is for the United States to act as an "offshore balancer," arming others to preserve an equilibrium. That hardly addresses our problems if Egypt or Saudi Arabia succumbs to radicals or Iran eludes balancing.

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