Noah Millman wishes that the name of conservative internationalism hadn’t already been claimed for Nau’s reheated neoconservatism:

“Conservative internationalism” might have done well. It might have appealed to people who favor greater restraint, a greater emphasis on diplomacy, a greater respect for the sovereignty and legitimate interests of other states, and a greater interest in order and stability, than has been the case with American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War – but who don’t want to think of themselves as narrow-minded “isolationists” or hard-hearted “realists” or people who “blame America first.” So it’s a shame to lose the word to someone who appears to want it to serve the opposite purpose.

There’s nothing to stop any of us from trying to reclaim and redefine “conservative internationalism” along these lines, but if the name has been lost then I’m afraid that it was lost a while ago. I didn’t mention this in the earlier posts, but Nau’s definition has been circulating for many years. Back in early 2005 before Bush and his foreign policy were thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the country, Nau was singing the praises of the Bush administration as a model of “conservative internationalism.” These lines stood out as a perfect expression of pro-Bush rhetoric from that period:

The better things go in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more heat Iran feels. Elections in Iraq clearly raised the temperature. Forces on the ground are moving in Bush’s direction.

This endorsement of Bush as an adherent of Nau’s “conservative internationalism” is worth remembering, not just because it directly links the idea to the worst of the Bush era’s failures, but also because it clashes strongly with how Nau treats Bush and his record eight years later. When Bush was coming off of his re-election victory and the Iraq war had not yet turned into a complete shambles, Nau wanted to claim him and his foreign policy as part of this tradition. Eight years later, as Michael Desch explains in his review of the book, Nau’s view of Bush has changed in the strangest of ways. Desch writes:

Ronald Reagan is one of Nau’s heroes, and George W. Bush was an abject conservative failure. I can’t help but see in Nau’s treatment of them a deep unresolved tensions that he can only paper over by, first, arguing that Reagan and Bush 43 were very different politically–and engaging in some rhetorical jiu-jitsu by associating realism with the latter and his vice president, Dick Cheney [bold mine-DL]–and, second, ignoring the connections between the two administrations: the neoconservatives who served in them both.

So Nau effectively disowns Bush, but he does this by implausibly treating Bush and Cheney as realists, and in that way supporters of “conservative internationalism” are supposed to be spared from having to account for the many failures of the administration that Nau once celebrated as its embodiment.