But of course, that doesn’t mean that it necessarily works as a system–that Bill Gates gave billions to charity is not a vindication of communism. Having gotten it so dreadfully wrong on Iraq, I am seduced by the easy by-the-numbers approach posed by a non-interventionist foreign policy. But I wonder what I am not seeing–the wars that don’t happen in the Middle East1, or Central Europe, because all the participants know that it would be a foolhardy invitation to US intervention. I take this to be the foriegn [sic] policy defense of their position; and it’s a pretty compelling one. For the same reason that it’s only a good idea to be a pacifist in a nation with a strong police force, it may only be possible to be an idealist when realists are running the show. ~Megan McArdle
Ms. McArdle seems willing to concede the possibility that Dan Drezner‘s foreign policy fight with certain other bloggers is one of sober “realists” (Drezner) against high-minded, but necessarily reckless idealists (Greenwald, Quiggin, etc.). Non-interventionists do not assume that natural human goodwill and peace would spring up in the absence of U.S. intervention; we are not the foreign policy equivalent of utopians or idealists (it is strange that this needs saying). Non-interventionists do not imagine that states do not act in their interest, and many of us do not think that they ought to act any other way. We have this funny idea that it is not in the national interest of our country to start fruitless and aggressive wars. To use an economic comparison, non-interventionists are like those who think that there ought to be a free exchange of goods, but who still hold that murder, assault, theft and arson should still be illegal. We are like those who assume that the security of persons and property is vital to the functioning of a market economy (or, indeed, of society in general). The serious “realists” of the Foreign Policy Community believe that there is at least one actor in the world that is allowed to ransack the other “shops” to secure what it “needs” and indeed takes this as an essential part of the foreign policy consensus. We oppose foreign policy criminality, whereas they find it acceptable, at least when it comes to our government. We regard wanton aggression as something that destroys the proper working of the international system (this is something that internationalists themselves used to believe before our government got into the habit of attacking smaller states), just as we might argue that criminality undermines trust and the effective working of the market.
Most non-interventionist critiques of those “serious” people trying to push anti-Russian, anti-Iranian or other aggressive lines around the world focus on the understandable and legitimate interests of other states that a sane, responsible foreign policy (i.e., something the Foreign Policy Community would not be interested in) would have to take into account. The “realists” take it for granted that those states’ interests are not only to some degree illegitimate, but that any pursuit of their interests must necessarily be damaging to America, because maintenance of hegemony is their overarching concern.
Quiggin points us to this Drezner’s rephrasing of Greenwald and Drezner’s remark following it:
The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.
Yes, well, we all make mistakes. Non-interventionists accept the concept of “national interest,” but we don’t endorse the abhorrent idea that Drezner endorses here. Indeed, we place national interest fairly close to the heart of our foreign policy view. The fundamental argument of non-interventionism is that aggressive and interventionist wars–always in the name of “vital national interest”–are detrimental to the American interest and always will be. They are also damaging to the international system as a whole. Invading Panama to clean up one of Bush the Elder’s old mistakes at the CIA strikes us as a rather senseless waste; starting a war against a European country in the name of European stability and human rights strikes us as fairly barbaric. I would be interested to know what a “paid-up member” thinks our “vital” interests were in the many military campaigns over the past 17 years.
“Vital” interests are always so broadly defined by the people who invoke them as justifications for intervention that they come to include almost everything. These interests are never clearly defined, and this is because America does not have any significant interest at stake in many regions around the world. Any effort to define and describe those interests would reveal this. It is hardly in the interest of the Foreign Policy Community to acknowledge that part of its definition of “vital” interests includes the perpetuation of U.S. hegemony itself.