- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Dueck’s “Conservative Realism” and The Obama Doctrine

Frank Hoffman reviews [1] Colin Dueck’s The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today [2]:

The author proposes an alternative strategy called conservative American realism. It is designed to appeal to the center mass of today’s conservatives by triangulating the three factions. This strategy seeks to counter the perceived retrenchment of the last six years, and explicitly embraces American primacy. Primacy, to Dueck, is “a circumstance and an interest, not a strategy.” Conservative American realism emphasizes reassuring allies that the United States seeks to remain a key player in the international arena by expanding forward presence and bolstering deterrence. Dueck details U.S. fundamental interests, and defines the specific adversaries that must be countered. These include state competitors (China and Russia), rogue states like North Korea, and jihadi terrorists. To deal with the latter, the author chides Mr. Obama for half-hearted approaches, and suggests these implacable foes require solutions that are “appropriately Carthaginian.” One wonders how far Dueck would really take that historical analogy — enslave Muslims or salt their lands?

Based on the description of Dueck’s “conservative American realism” in the review, it is debatable whether the proposed strategy qualifies as either conservative or realist. It would appear to commit the U.S. in too many places to bear burdens that our allies and clients should be taking on for themselves, and it does so out of a misguided concern that the U.S. has not been activist enough during the Obama presidency. I don’t know what Dueck means by “appropriately Carthaginian” solutions, but the implication that the U.S. should be seeking to ruin and dominate other nations in such a fashion is disturbing in itself. It is not at all clear that the U.S. should be doing more “reassure” allies and clients. Most of them are already too dependent on the U.S. for their security and should be expected to do more to provide for themselves, and their endless demands for “reassurance” are attempts to get the U.S. to give them extra support they don’t need or that the U.S. has no interest in giving them. The U.S. currently has too many commitments overseas and hardly needs to expand the presence that it already has.

Dueck places great emphasis on applying coercive measures against various states, but there doesn’t seem to much attention paid to the costs that applying these measures can have on the U.S. and its allies. Imposing costs and intensifying pressure on other states aren’t ends in themselves, and they have proven time and again to be ineffective tools for changing the behavior of recalcitrant and hostile regimes. Coercive measures can backfire and can have effects that their advocates don’t anticipate, and they can provoke the targeted state to pursue more hostile and dangerous policies than there would have been otherwise. Dueck’s interest in relying on coercive measures seems to be little more than a reaction against the perceived laxity of the Obama administration, which has itself been too reliant on imposing sanctions as an all-purpose response to the undesirable behavior of other governments. If Obama failed to apply enough pressure, Dueck’s thinking appears to be that more pressure must be the answer. Missing from all of this is any explanation of why the U.S. needs to be cajoling and pressuring these states in the first place. To what end?

Dueck also wants to throw more money at the military by insisting on setting the military budget at 4% of GDP. As Hoffman notes, tying the military budget to an arbitrary figure like this represents the absence of strategy:

The basis for this amount appears aspirational, and I have previously written on why such general goals are astrategic if not tied to specific requirements and threats. More importantly, details about how he would employ the additional $170 billion per year in defense spending are lacking.

If one wants huge increases in military spending and the pursuit of pointlessly confrontational policies against both major authoritarian powers, Dueck’s book would appear to offer the desired guidance. What it has to do with either realism or conservatism remains a mystery.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Dueck’s “Conservative Realism” and The Obama Doctrine"

#1 Comment By Anchor Wot On May 14, 2015 @ 8:28 pm

Give me a break. As “conservatism” this sounds more like radical imperialism, and as “realism” it sounds more like fantasy.

America doesn’t exist in order to “reassure” anybody. It doesn’t exist to keep client states in the manner to which they have become accustomed. America exists in order to make possible a life of freedom and prosperity for Americans.

If Dueck were genuinely interested in conservative realism, he’d stop running his mouth and read more Larison.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On May 14, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

Has it occurred to any of these people, that the primary mission of the US Government should be to ensure that most Americans have a good life? Our infrastructure is crumbling, but we must spend trillions on unnecessary foreign wars. It may be time for the Saudis, Israelis, Japanese,etc. to assume primary responsibility for their own defense. We have assumed primary defense of Japan for 70 years. How long does this last? 100 years? 200 years?

Pull up the drawbridge and focus on making the lives of our citizens better. As for the Israelis, Saudis, Japanese, etc. Good luck. We’ve done enough. Now it’s your turn.

#3 Comment By John On May 14, 2015 @ 9:23 pm

It is interesting that he makes his policy case by reference to the Carthaginians, with us apparently in the place of Rome. Maybe we aren’t supposed to think about the fact that Carthage and Rome fought three wars lasting a combined 43 years, the second one almost destroying Rome and the third one a war of choice brought on by unreasonable demands from an avaricious Senate?

While we’re learning from the Roman experience, maybe we should consider that Rome also meddled in the affairs of other countries and stole whatever it could for the gain of its elites, until it no longer had the strength to fend off the enemies it continued to make.

#4 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On May 15, 2015 @ 1:38 am

Colin Dueck, before teaching whatever he teaches on some abstract “foreign relations”, must start with learning some real history. Especially military one. But I don’t hold my breath, judging by the unstoppable “successes” of US foreign policy in the last 15+ years, I think US “scholars” in “foreign relations” should feel very proud of themselves. Everything worked out just fine, totally in accordance to their theories and, of course, but even if it didn’t–Tolstoy’s description of Pfull (aka Pfuel) on the eve of Austerlitz is a good reference;-) I doubt, though, that Dueck read Tolstoy.

#5 Comment By Del Enda On May 15, 2015 @ 1:46 am

“appropriately Carthaginian”

I suppose it’s too much to hope that Dueck is referring to the Carthaginian habit of crucifying their own unsuccessful generals.

It’s got to be a pedestrian reference to the Romans selling the miserable survivors of Scipio Africanus’s triumph into slavery and, as the story goes, salting their fields, right?

Indeed, now that we’re nearly free of all that petty, constricting Christian morality, why not revive other fine old Roman traditions, like handing POWs over to Roman children to be tortured to death? It’ll toughen the kids up for the work of perpetual war which will be the only lasting legacy of our current depraved leadership.

#6 Comment By Bob On May 15, 2015 @ 2:54 am

How stupid does he think realists are?

#7 Comment By Mike Alexander On May 15, 2015 @ 8:08 am

Can someone explain exactly what foreign *policy* is supposed to achieve? I am not talking about diplomacy. Nations need to form agreements on things like trade, policy towards criminals, the environment etc. But these things are analogous to agreements between intrastate actors like cities, states, businesses, etc. Nation states also engage in policies that have no analogy at the substate level, such as wars. I am using the term foreign policy to refer to this category of diplomacy.

It seem to me that in medieval and early modern times, foreign policy simply referred to the apparatus through which the monarch achieved his career goals. An ambitious monarch like Edward III of England, would seek to expand the size of his realm. Expansion also served as a means of internal pacification as it gave (mostly military) elites something to do for a living and kept them from plotting against the monarch.

During the 16th century the internal stability feature of external war went away and all that was left was personal ambition of the ruler. Starting with the Dutch in the 17th century a period of commercial wars occurred where war was a business proposition run by a commercial state following mercantilist principles to build up the wealth of its elites and their subordinates. But all this is ancient history compared to a young country like America. And besides its all Europe-centered and the Europeans hardly play the foreign policy game as they once did.

What is unclear to me is why does America engage in foreign policy at all? We don’t have a monarch who rules for life, ours are term-limited. And we don’t honor our conquerors like Polk, McKinley and T. Roosevelt by appending a “the Great” after their names. I doubt any of our rulers are trying to achieve career success by engaging in foreign policy, (seems to me simply being elected president represents the apex of any political career).

Are books like Dueck’s simply an attempt for a bureaucrat to justify his existence by creating an elaborate game that America is supposed to play (at great expense) simply job security? Is the purpose of foreign policy today the way foreign policy professionals (in lieu of the monarch) seek to achieve career success?

#8 Comment By jk On May 15, 2015 @ 10:09 am

This is no “triangulation of three factions” or whatever vague post-modern term he uses.

This is a big fat neocon drivel with lipstick painted on it to dress it up.

Neocons are more enamoured with theory and government intervention as much as the domestic left wing. They want to trash the vestiges of experience and history and the tried and try law of unintended consequences.

This will be on some required reading list for the Senate Armed Forces Committee and for the “he who must be obeyed” caucus (aka Bibi’s bunch).

#9 Comment By Barry On May 15, 2015 @ 10:26 am

Mike: “What is unclear to me is why does America engage in foreign policy at all? We don’t have a monarch who rules for life, ours are term-limited. And we don’t honor our conquerors like Polk, McKinley and T. Roosevelt by appending a “the Great” after their names. I doubt any of our rulers are trying to achieve career success by engaging in foreign policy, (seems to me simply being elected president represents the apex of any political career).”

A combination of mercantile/industrical interests, and elites who find war to be domestically useful.

#10 Comment By Worried On May 15, 2015 @ 11:33 am

Re: “A combination of mercantile/industrial interests, and elites who find war to be domestically useful”

Don’t discount vanity as a factor. As GW Bush told a Houston Chronicle reporter, “One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.”

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 15, 2015 @ 12:04 pm

I am not sure the references to neoconservatism here are accurate.

Last week I read, King leopold’s Ghost and have begin another text that will take more time. But in comprehending the “neoconservative mind”

In the previous mentioned text, by Adam Hochschild, I was introduced to a gentleman by the name of E.D. Morel. I think if one wants to understand the “neoconservative” ideal and, I am using the term in a manner rarely discussed today, the ethics of E.D. Morel most reflect those aspirations — it is not one of conquest.

#12 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On May 15, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

@Worried

Don’t discount vanity as a factor.

It is one of the major factors contributing to the present state of the affairs. This and sheer stupidity of those who live in the parallel universe.

#13 Comment By balconesfault On May 15, 2015 @ 12:42 pm

My reflexive take on this was “these people are loonies!”

@Del Enda I suppose it’s too much to hope that Dueck is referring to the Carthaginian habit of crucifying their own unsuccessful generals.

I’d settle for metaphorical crucifixion of pundits and think tanks who make claims of “quick and easy victories” when cheering us into Iraquian debacles.

The crucifixion could take place at the Washington Pundits Dinner – instead of just laughing at punchlines and patting each other on the back, they could take stock of a list of who made the most ridiculous predictions leading into our most recent military disaster, and declare them banned from the Sunday morning talk shows, their OpEds barred from the papers of record, on any issues related to geopolitical matters going forward.

In short – publicly crucify their credibility, so we don’t continuously have the same hacks crawling out from under their rocks and gaining credibility from serious treatment by our media for opinions that should have the same value as Newt Gingrich’s economic predictions.

#14 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On May 15, 2015 @ 4:46 pm

@balconesfault

I’d settle for metaphorical crucifixion of pundits and think tanks who make claims of “quick and easy victories” when cheering us into Iraquian debacles.

It has been my position on these boards for a long time–to finally resort to what those n-cons and their “academe” were doing for a long time against their opponents–ad hominem attacks,of sorts, on them. It has to be pointed out that all those “analysts” and “think tankers” are nothing more than ignorant hacks. Phonies. The question here is not even the fact that they were wrong–we all make mistakes once in a while. At issue here is the fact that they are absolutely NOT qualified to be in the position of any scholarly, let alone political, power. Shallow and dishonest ideologues–that’s what they are. Whom would you rather trust the operation on your jaw to auto-mechanic or to professional dentist? And then, of course, comes this OTHER issue of US education of the elites. I am almost tempted to quote here Alexis De Tocqueville or Von Clausewitz….but I will not;-)

#15 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 15, 2015 @ 7:25 pm

How does one “triangulate” among THREE factions? In technical terms, to triangulate means to fix an unknown point in relation to two (not three!) known points. And even in political usage, to triangulate means to adopt a policy that is or at least perceived to be halfway between two (not three!) opposing views.

From the review itself, we learn that these are the three factions in GOP FP-land:

“◦Anti-interventionists who strongly favor avoidance of foreign entanglements, reduced overseas commitments, and cuts in both foreign aid and defense spending.

“◦Internationalists who are on the flip side of most of the positions of the anti-interventionists. They favor ‘clear American leadership internationally, support a forward U.S. strategic presence overseas, and are comfortable with the current and historical institutions behind American national security policy.’

“◦Nationalists who reject liberal internationalists and their penchant for multilateralism, international governance activities, nation building, and humanitarian projects as ‘naïve, wasteful, unlikely to earn foreign gratitude, and threatening to U.S. national sovereignty.’”

Based on that, what is being proposed is actually a triangulation of options two (neo con) and three (frankly nationalist hawk), with option one (the Ron Paul, minding our own business view) getting no play at all. Basically, keep intervening all around the world, but end the Obama/Clinton/Kerry/Power/Rice/Slaughter/etc pretense of doing it for humanitarian reasons, and, perhaps, as a sop to option three, also toning down the neo con version of the liberal humanitarian BS, ie the “democracy spreading” and so on. Frankly admit that we are self interested (that part actually strikes me as a marginally positive idea), and that we are bombing, pressuring, killing, intervening, etc in service of that self interest, rather than for any squishy, other-directed goals, left or right.

In other words, doing exactly what most Republicans NOT named Paul already do…advocate endless war, but sell it to two different audiences with two different sets of commercials…to the neo cons, the business elite, and the Israel Firsters, it is all about “leadership” and “a forward strategic presence,” and retaining “international institutions”…and to the “Jacksonian” nationalists (ie the Yahoos) it is all about “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Iran” (sung to the tune of “Barbara Ann”) and “nuke ’em till they glow.”

#16 Comment By jamie On May 15, 2015 @ 10:20 pm

I’d chuckle at a clever locution like “appropriately Carthaginian”, if I didn’t know it was a euphemism for wanton murder.

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 15, 2015 @ 11:51 pm

“At issue here is the fact that they are absolutely NOT qualified to be in the position of any scholarly, let alone political, power.”

No. At issue really is whether we will have a leadership able to recognize error, acknowledge it and correct accordingly. That in the wake of so many failures, that no one had resigned, but instead use that error as their card for more.

Unlike many of you, I am not opposed to intervention, and many seem anti-intervention by default it seems.

But I am deeply concerned that we have no accountability
____________________
““◦Nationalists who reject liberal internationalists and their penchant for multilateralism, international governance activities, nation building, and humanitarian projects as ‘naïve, wasteful, unlikely to earn foreign gratitude, and threatening to U.S. national sovereignty.’”

This is so braod there’s no room to breath f you are a Republican. And as a conservative that is profoundly keen on US leadership, your descriptor doesn’t really define me or even most Republicans. It may define those making the most noise, but I am not sure they reflect a Republican or conservative mindset.

Unfortunately in opposition to the current executive they have done fairly poor job of defining themselves out of the very formula he following on policy, the noise makers, and it doesn’t look or sound very effectual.

Granted, but any suggestion that Republicans alone are responsible for the state of affairs, and I did note you used the term nationalist against liberal — is thoroughly incirrect and any suggestion that Sen Paul is the answer because he is somehow different, is rebuffed by his views Israel a cornerstone on much our MS policy, rightly ot wrongly.

Further, no Republican has terminated the billions of dollars we spend on hmanitarian programs all over the world from feeding, to building bridges. Nor has any Republican terminated USAID or the Peace Corps.

#18 Comment By philadelphialawyer On May 16, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

EC:

Not sure if you realize it, but, as I said, I was quoting the linked review of the book. According to the review, and, presumably, the book, there are three GOP FP factions, and the review presents their respective, bullet pointed, in quotation marks, characterizations, not me. Their “descriptor,” not mine.

And thus, unless the review is wrong, it is the author of the book who ultimately claims that there are Republicans (prong three-nationalists) who oppose the allegedly “nation building,” “democracy promotion” rationale of the neo con (prong two) agenda, but still favor interventionism generally. And yes, many of the prong three-ers, at least rhetorically, do oppose US foreign aid, including the bridge building, feeding, and so on, operations. In fact, opposition to “wasteful” non military foreign aid is a big staple of Tea Party and general Yahoo GOP grassroots politics. That the Yahoos have not yet succeeded in supplanting the prong two neo con interventionists (and the lib interventionists, who also favor foreign aid) doesn’t change that. And, again, in any event, it is the reviewer paraphrasing and also quoting the book for the proposition about the nationalists, with me merely repeating it.

As for the non interventionist (prong one) GOP wing, yes, I added the reference to Ron Paul. But, if he is not an anti interventionist Republican, well then, I guess there aren’t any. Which means there is no prong one. If so, again, take it up with the authors, not me.

Finally, re the “liberals,” you will notice that I, speaking in my own voice, specifically mentioned the Obama/Clinton/Kerry etc Democratic party brand of “humanitarian interventionism.”