OxBlog

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

# Posted 4:29 PM by Taylor Owen  

PROGRESSIVE REALISM?: In a similar vein to the Truman Democrats, Beirnartian liberalism and Ikenberrian liberal realism, Robert Wright has weighted in with what he labels ‘Progressive Realism’. While the terminology is sure to make some oxblog readers (those who are neither liberals, nor realists) squirm, he argues that what is needed is the idealism traditionally attributed to liberal foreign policy combined with a degree of realism that reflects the changing nature of American strategic interests.

The proposal is a response to what he feels is a false dichotomy between the “chillingly clinical self-interest” of traditional realism, and the “dangerously naïve altruism” of neo-conservatism. A choice, he argues, which has serious limitations.

The realism in his argument stems from a broadened interpretation of American interests beyond the preservation of state integrity, the core of traditional realism. This of course, is a consequence of the globalizing of vulnerability. In Morgenthauian terms:

America’s fortunes are growing more closely correlated with the fortunes of people far away; fewer games have simple win-lose outcomes, and more have either win-win or lose-lose outcomes.

The liberalism in his proposal is similar to that proposed by Beinart and the Truman Democrats – multilateralism as a necessary tool for both pragmatically addressing the global nature of threats, as well as a means of legitimising American international engagement.

He concludes that what is needed is a reinvigoration of post-war multilateral institutions, legitimised by the active involvement of the US. As he summarizes:

President Bush’s belated diplomatic involvement in Darfur suggests growing enlightenment, but sluggish ad hoc multilateralism isn’t enough. We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

The question of course is the same one that many have asked of Beinhart, Ikenberry and Kupchan over the past year - how is this different than simple liberal internationalism?

I suppose that one way is that the Realist aspect of Wrights proposal would limit American involvement in broader/global security issues to those with the greatest overarching and broadly defined strategic consequence for the US. As he puts it, this would obviously prioritise the Middle East over the Sri Lankan civil war. While I can see the attractiveness of this for a US domestic audience, unless these overlapped identically with perceive global interests, then this would undermine the very multilateralism for which he advocates. He wants to have his cake (the benefits of multilateral institutions), with out the sacrifice (collaborative threat prioritization). This is ok when the interest converge, as is the case with the current dynamic in the Middle East or arguably with a new nuclear arms control regime (for which Wright is an advocate). But what happens when they do not?

Who knows if progressive realism will catch on - in a sense though, it doesn’t matter. There is enough overlap in the numerous emerging liberal responses to the Bush foreign policy that we could be beginning to see the common ground that will form the next (‘08) democratic foreign policy platform.

(15) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
The problem with the argument is that it requires consensus to work.

At this time the world consensus is against the US and democracy.

Take the UN as an example. It could be said that the worst thing about the UN is the Security Council because it gets in the way of the truly democratic, one vote per nation, General Assembly.

The only problem with the General Assembly us that it would be against the US and its principles more than it would be for them.
 
As he summarizes: President Bush’s belated diplomatic involvement in Darfur suggests growing enlightenment, but sluggish ad hoc multilateralism isn’t enough. We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share.

Yes, we also need a pony and a perfect renewable fuel.

The summary only points out the speciousness of his argument. It never addressed the question "What if the international community doesn't go along?" President Bush has pushed Darfur-- and the UN has gotten just as much done as in Rwanda under Clinton. We've even sponsored several resolutions, and China and Russia have threatened to veto them all. What then? It's all very well to say that multilateral structures should be better, but the current United Nations, which he suggests, simply isn't going to do anything, not with the Chinese and Russian vetoes. Why, especially, should the Chinese and the Russians and the rest of the world community go along with a system that prioritizes US interests? Isn't that even less likely to get world support than the “dangerously naïve altruism” of neo-conservatism, as you point out?

Frankly, the difference in opinion between liberal internationalism and Bush's foreign policy is greatly overstated. Did not Clinton engage in what General Clark called an "illegal war" in Kosovo? How precisely has President Bush differed from the liberal interventionist idea of always using the biggest group that you can--the UN when you can, NATO or other established groups when you can, but
ad hoc multilateral alliances when you must?

You can't simultaneously criticize any move outside of UN frameworks and criticize for doing nothing in Darfur and Rwanda. What if the UN won't do it? Do we go or do we not go? The tension between "we must intervene in cases like Rwanda and Darfur" and "we must only follow the lead of the global legitimacy of the UN" cannot be removed by simply blending them together; not without ending up with a policy with as many internal contradictions as Bush's, Clinton's-- or any other US President's.

Their alternative is not an alternative, but an echo of the same fundamental principle of pragmatic idealism that has animated all postwar US Presidents. The judgement calls have been different, and their have been criticisms about methods or tactics or priorities, but that's merely the devils in the details.
 
Davod, 'democratic' is rule by the people. The General Assembly is composed of governments. It's as undemocratic as most of its member states.

Does Wright say in whose eyes the UN has global legitimacy? Can anyone point to one event over the past 60 years when a state acted against its perceived national interest to comply with a UN dictate?
 
He's trying to fuse three different strains of criticism of current foreign policy:
1) We intervene too much, we should limit it to where we have strategic interests (realist);
2) We intervene too much, we should limit it to where there's approval from international organizations (transnationalist/internationalism);
3) We should intervene more in places where we have a moral obligation to do something selfless, like Darfur (idealist interventionist).

1) and 3) seem completely unresolvable. 2) and 3) suffer from the "what if the UN doesn't go along" dilemma. 1) and 2) suffer from the "naked self-interest doesn't build the UN or encourage other countries to go along" tension.

The Beirnart/Truman idea is more, "Pretty much the same thing philosophically, just done better than Bush. Maybe with slightly different judgement calls here or there. We know we'd do better since we're smarter/Democrats/not as incompetent as Bush." Really, it's the only thing you can come up with in US foreign policy. There are too many difficult schools of foreign policy (yeah, I enjoyed Walter Russell Mead's book) for anything other than tweaking around the margin.
 
And the emerging liberal consensus will be "more of the same crap that didn't work the first time". None of these recent prescriptions are new or particularly relevant. They are the worn clap-trap of discredited liberal policies of years past.

Arms control treaties? Wow, they work great!
 
John:

How silly of me to equate one vote per country representative to democracy.

Of course we need to have each and every person from every country in the UN vote on everything in lieu of the country reps.
 
Isn't this more Boomer feel-goodism? With 'liberal realism' promoting consensus among nations as the highest good, no one in the ruling elite would ever need to feel guilty about a Cambodia or Darfur, as the only alternative to genocide would be unilateral action that would put the more precious international order at risk.

In other words, isn't liberal realism exactly what we saw when the blue helmets abandoned Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serbs back in 1995?
 
Mr Thacker

"Quantity has a quality all its own" they say. I would respectfully suggest that the Beinart approach, with its subtle differences in emphasis, priority, rhetoric, and competence, amounts to a different approach in many ways.

Serious neocons, who are tired of the current hesitancy about democratization, the undermining of the Iraq project by incompetence and distaste for nationbuilding, and the reemergence of both Tory Reaction (Buckley-Will) and neo-realist cynicism (Scowcroft-Baker-Hagel-Djeregian) might do well to swallow their dislike for multilateralist rhetoric and for neoliberal positions on issues like global warming, and reach out to the liberal hawks as a real political strategic alternative.
 
Davod:

You're responding to bgates, not me. Though I somewhat agree that the legitimacy of the UN is somewhat at an issue the more the countries which compose it are ruled by dictators and hence somewhat illegitimate.

Liberalhawk:

Quality is a quality, to be sure, but it's a lot different than pretending to have a novel new school of foreign policy. The strands of foreign policy have not changed over the years, and there are so many schools that the parties always have elements from each school.

I certainly agree that neocons and liberal hawks should work together. They represent very similar strands of thought. Regarding multilateral rhetoric, both agree in using multilateral institutions when possible and are willing to go it alone or with smaller groups when necessary. Liberal hawks simply have a larger fear about going it along upsetting potential allies, whereas neocons have a greater fear about being prevented by the UN and other groups from doing what must be done.

There are those domestic issues (or not foreign policy) with international effects, certainly, and they can cause disagreement between the neocons and liberal hawks. (Indeed, they may be a strong reason for differing identification.) Like treaties on global warming, censorship/banning of racist speech, tariffs, international gun banning, and the like. Disagreeing with parts of Europe in many of these things can affect foreign policy relations, certainly, but in some case it's necessary. But those sorts of things should be able to be overcome.

I don't think that neocons, for example, are reluctant to work with liberal hawks on foreign policy issues just because they may disagree on treaties about cutting CO2 emissions. Now if you're expecting them to change their policies on that as the price of an alliance, that's another thing altogether.
 
Davod, that's a nice strawman you've got there. Pity if anything should happen to it. You realize, I hope, that UN representatives represent governments not countries. Would you consider the pre-Civil War Senate 'truly democratic' as you do the UN? The Senate had an equal number of representatives from each state, as the UN does; each Senator had an equal vote, as in the UN. Granted some constituents had less of a voice than others, but gosh, the only alternative you could conceive would be to abolish the Senate and "have each and every person from every [state] in the [union] vote on everything in lieu of the" Senators.

Or might it be possible to keep the deliberative body and not require direct democracy, but instead have representatives to the body chosen through some kind of democratic process? Wouldn't that make the body even more 'truly democratic'?
 
"They represent very similar strands of thought. Regarding multilateral rhetoric, both agree in using multilateral institutions when possible and are willing to go it alone or with smaller groups when necessary. Liberal hawks simply have a larger fear about going it along upsetting potential allies, whereas neocons have a greater fear about being prevented by the UN and other groups from doing what must be done."

I would say that most neocons,(Robert Kagan being the only exception who comes quickly to mind) actively dislike the UN an organization, and will deign to use it ONLY for a modicum of added political legitimacy, and with little real sincerity to strengthening it as an institution (barring the fantasy of its transformation into a league for democracies) There is among many neocons (again Kagan excepted) a belief that Europe by its secularism, its "socialism", and its commitment to "transnationalism" is fundamentally decadent and barely a worthwhile partner.

I would suggest a key difference, rhetoric apart is - do you support the institutional strenghtening of the European Union? Id suggest most neocons think of the very notion of european integration as flawed, and ones whos demise is to be cheered, while liberalhawks see it as a real gain for the West.

"I don't think that neocons, for example, are reluctant to work with liberal hawks on foreign policy issues just because they may disagree on treaties about cutting CO2 emissions. Now if you're expecting them to change their policies on that as the price of an alliance, that's another thing altogether"


I would suggest that the neocons unwillingness to make any substantive concessions for the sake of improving relations with Europe is a problem.

Most have, I think, swallowed positions on church-state relations, and on economics, that they fundamentally are troubled by in order to achieve positions of leadership in the Republican party. My suggestion is NOT for mere tactical alliances in certain instances - Im suggesting something far bigger than that.

As a youngster I was a volunteer in the Scoop Jackson campaigns. I was a member of the Coalition for a Democratic Majority. Those who became neocons were at that time trying to fight the McGovernite wing of the Dem party. When Reagan came to lead the GOP, a large portion of the CDM crowd made the strategic decision to go over to the GOP. My suggestion is that what may have made sense then, is in the course of failing now. The neocon-GOP alliance is at least as problematic as the continued membership of liberal hawks in the democratic party. Were the neocons to join the Democratic party, they could have a huge impact, swinging the center of gravity of the Democratic party.

Alternatively, if the DLC forces within the Democratic party are successfully purged, a real possibility, I fear, the emergence of a centrist third party might become a possibility. In that event there would be another option for neocons. Again, that would require compromise from both sides.
 
I would suggest that the neocons unwillingness to make any substantive concessions for the sake of improving relations with Europe is a problem.

Well, it depends on what you think is important. Would you support a "substantive concession" that resulted in adopting European-style censorship of hate speech, banning Mein Kampf, that sort of thing? I wouldn't.

And the neocons are, overall, better on free trade (though certainly most DLC types are better than the rest of the Democratic Party), which is a way to improve relations with other countries.

Personally, I disagree with the centrist third party idea. After all, even if it were to happen and succeed (which would require a shift to foreign policy as the primary concern), it would simply be opposed by a new "centrist third party," this one centered around isolationism and rejecting immigration. And soon you would see that neither party was really centrist, merely the axis of comparison had changed.

The two party system has endured for a long time, even though what they disagreed about has changed.
 
Liberalhawk:

Or to propose another concession (which I would disagree with), what about all those that complain that the US won't make the concession to Europe of becoming an "honest broker" in the Middle East and no longer supporting Israel so much? Would that be worth better relations with Europe? It's another one of our exceptional positions that makes relations difficult and upsets Europeans, after all. Yet I'm glad in some cases that we don't modify our positions.
 
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