Scott has written a challenging essay for World Affairs Journal that is worth your time. He argues that a multicultural America resulting from the waves of post-1965 mass immigration will be more receptive to a humble, less interventionist foreign policy, and that this exposes contradictions in the views of both restrictionist paleoconservatives and pro-immigration neoconservatives, among others. Scott writes:
What seems more likely is the entrenchment and expansion of a worldly, cosmopolitan elite, increasingly multicultural and transnational, that bears little connection to the WASP establishments of the twentieth century, the cold warriors, or even the Bush administration. American foreign policy will necessarily become less ambitious, more a product of horse-trading between ethnic groups. Messianism, in either its Protestant or neoconservative variants, will be part of America’s past, not its future. Americans will not conceive of themselves as orchestrators of a benevolent global hegemony, or as agents of an indispensable nation. Schlesinger, for one, exaggerated the extent of the fall when he averred that a foreign policy based on “careful balancing of ethnic constituencies” was suitable only for secondary powers, like the late Austrian-Hungarian Empire. But he exaggerated only slightly.
This claim seems persuasive at first, but I have my doubts. It seems persuasive to me because a few years ago I started to notice the non-interventionist or neutralist instincts of large parts of the Democratic Party, and these instincts were most concentrated among the poor, less educated and non-whites. As this profile of the “mind our own business” voter suggests, minding our own business is not something that elites qua elites are typically interested in, but it is rather an attitude that is strongest among those who do not see themselves as having any stake in or responsibility for world affairs. Regardless of how poorly many of our elites have understood the rest of the world, they fancy themselves to be quite knowledgeable and believe they have an obligation that goes along with being the winners in our quasi-meritocracy to “get involved” in the affairs of the globe as much as the power of the United States permits them to do so. That doesn’t mean that the future globalist and interventionist foreign policy of Scott’s “worldly, cosmopolitan elite” will be identical to what we have been experiencing for at least the last 16 years, but I see little reason to think that any future American elite is going to dismantle or retreat from U.S. hegemony, no matter where their ancestors came from. While it is true that the old sort of assimilation is not as effective on account of the sheer number of immigrants, the reduced pressure to assimilate, and the greater importance for education in order to be employed in and integrated into the modern economy, the Americanism to which immigrants assimilate is flexible enough that it can be adopted by almost anyone. Rather like nationalism in its abstraction, it is extremely superficial, but for that reason it demands less thought and can also include far more people.
Furthermore, as a matter of experience over the last 16 years the rise of multiculturalism at home has coincided with and to some extent fed into the hyperactivity of U.S. interventionism. This is not only evident in the official valorization of U.S.-approved and backed separatists as representatives of the cause of “multiethnic democracy,” regardless of whether they were any such thing, but also in the (admittedly opportunistic and self-serving) promotion of ethnic self-determination at the expense of other states. We impute “multiethnic tolerance” to our clients, whether it is true or not, and we exploit ethnic difference and grievance to undermine other powers, and the latter is done as often as not thanks in part to the pressure from immigrant communities from the regions in question. The administration that engaged in numerous interventions and deployments and coined the phrase “indispensable nation” was also the administration that celebrated a Cabinet that “looked like America.” The “proposition nation” idea served as a way to redefine American identity in much more fluid terms, which facilitates inclusion of new ethnicities, who would in turn be taught the progressive nationalist, “liberating tradition” version of U.S. history and would accept this mythology as truth. Multiculturalism has functioned as a sort of way-station on the way to instilling an ideological understanding of American identity, and it also works to break down an existing broadly shared cultural identity. Some more vehement Americanists have found multiculturalism disturbing because of its supposed threat to national unity on a political level, and this could endanger American power projection abroad.
Many defenders of the “proposition nation” idea will fret about the potential “Balkanization” resulting from multiculturalism, which they seem to mean specifically in the sense of Balkan separatist wars and ethnic rivalries, but the two sides are not so very far apart in their goals or their assumptions. They differ on points of emphasis. Even if multiculturalists claim “diversity is our strength” and “proposition nation” advocates are more concerned to reinforce common national bonds, they actually believe the same things about American exceptionalism, they feed off of each other and each side grows stronger as the other gains influence. Arguably, the impulse towards war and national service as unifying experiences will become ever stronger as the population becomes more ethnically and culturally diverse. Likewise, it is conceivable that the secular religion of some variant of Americanist ideology and national messianism may gain ground as Americans become more religiously diverse.
If America is treated as an idea, rather than as a place with a specific historical and cultural identity, there is not necessarily any reason that demographic shifts will change elite attitudes towards the American role in the world or their willingness to project power anywhere. As the demographics change, the parts of the world in which America intervenes most often may change as domestic political pressures prompt elites to pay more attention to certain countries than they had done in the past, but there is so much of a built-in institutional bias towards activist and forward policies and the competition among American elites continues to be defined in terms of who can best manage the empire and “lead” the world that the ability for members of growing immigrant communities to influence policy will be determined in large part by their willingness to conform to elite and establishment values.
I see a few pitfalls that make it unlikely that mass immigration will at least usher in a sane foreign policy. For one thing, the “worldly, cosmopolitan elite, increasingly multicultural and transnational,” is one that we already have to some extent. This is by and large the same kind of elite that endorses and defends U.S. hegemony as necessary to their understanding of global order. They may sour on this or that military deployment, and they may disagree among themselves about tactics and priorities, but hegemony itself is non-negotiable. Questioning this is how one gets on the fast track to marginalization. The perversity of the current arrangement, in which the “worldly” elite exploits the nationalistic sentiments of the sections of the country most inclined today to support hawkish policies, is not likely to give way to an elite that is highly responsive to relatively more non-interventionist sentiments among a more ethnically diverse population.
Looking at this in narrow political terms, opposing illegal immigration specifically and mass immigration generally continues to draw enormous support. It is not enough by itself to win an election, but opposition remains tremendously popular. Advocating for a sane foreign policy of the Bacevichian realist or Ron Paul non-interventionist kind frankly does not draw anywhere near the same amount of support on either side of the spectrum. What has to be stressed is that the U.S. entered WWI and WWII and has embarked on intervention after intervention since the end of the Cold War regardless of the effects of waves of immigration. While ethnic heterogeneity may have temporarily restrained the impulse to intervene in the past, it did not prevail, and the ensuing mass mobilization in the world wars and the deployment of smears against the patriotism and loyalty of dissenters in more recent years have all worked to smother expressions of ethnic and political diversity.
In the end, foreign policy is an elite concern, and among most elites activist and interventionist policies continue to be seen as acceptable and desirable. Mass immigration stirs up populist backlash because it more directly affects everyday life in cities and towns across the country, and the status quo on immigration remains unacceptable to a broad majority of Americans drawn from all races. There are quite a few reasons to want to curtail mass immigration, not least in its potential to worsen economic and social stratification and contribute to the so-called “turtle” effect with its negative consequences for the formation of social capital, and the remote possibility that it could eventually create a large constituency for a sane and rational foreign policy is not nearly enough to counter these more pressing and immediate concerns.