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The Dangers of ‘Centrist Internationalism’

There was another part of the Post article [1] I cited in my last post [2] that I wanted to address:

“The dynamic is totally different from what I saw a decade ago” when Democratic and Republican elites were feuding over the invasion of Iraq, said Brian Katulis, a senior Middle East analyst at the Center for American Progress. Today, the focus among the foreign policy elite is on rebuilding a more muscular and more “centrist internationalism,” he said [bold mine-DL].

Every term used in that last sentence is either misleading or flat-out wrong. A more aggressive policy in Syria or anywhere else shouldn’t be described as “muscular” [3] for a few reasons. For one thing, committing the U.S. to short-sighted and ill-conceived military interventions does nothing to enhance the strength or security of the country. Such a policy doesn’t build strength–it wastes it. Calling an aggressive policy “muscular” betrays a bias that aggressive measures are the ones that demonstrate strength, when they usually just demonstrate policymakers’ crude and clumsy approach to foreign problems. One might just as easily describe these policies as meat-headed instead.

“Centrist” is one of the most overused and abused words in our politics. The term is often used to refer to positions that are supposedly moderate, pragmatic, and relatively free of ideological bias, but here we can see that it refers to something very different. Many people that are considered to be “centrists” on the normal left-right political spectrum are frequently in favor of a much more aggressive foreign policy than the one we have now, but that doesn’t make their foreign policy a moderate or pragmatic one. In fact, this “centrism” is not really a position in between the two partisan extremes, both of which would be satisfied with a less activist and interventionist foreign policy than we have today, but represents an extreme all its own. Besides, there’s nothing moderate or pragmatic about being determined to entangle the U.S. deeper in foreign wars, and that is what this so-called “centrist” foreign policy aims to do.


Likewise, it is fairly misleading to call what is being proposed here internationalist. It shows no respect for international law. Hawkish proposals to attack Syria or carve out “safe zones” by force simply ignore that the U.S. has no right or authority to do either of these things. There appears to be scant interest in pursuing international cooperation, except insofar as it is aimed at escalating existing conflicts. One would also look in vain for working through international institutions. The only thing that is international about this “centrist internationalism” seems to be that it seeks to inflict death and destruction on people in other countries.

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8 Comments To "The Dangers of ‘Centrist Internationalism’"

#1 Comment By jeff On October 21, 2016 @ 1:06 pm

Mr. Larison, a sincere thank you for all that you’ve done to enlighten your readers about foreign policy actions and inactions that are leading to unnecessary suffering and waste of resources. In particular, I have been educated substantially by your work on what is taking place in Yemen. Thank you.

That said, I want to encourage you to take your analyses further, and help us readers unpack the “why” questions. I continually read your posts and find out what is happening, and of course I’m disturbed by it. However, I don’t believe that even the most hawkish US leaders (Clinton, Graham, McCain, etc.) truly want death and destruction. (Call me naive…) Is this about economic/corporate interests, US hegemony, projecting strength, maintaining access to oil, or otherwise. If these policies are as foolish as you believe them to be, help us understand why our politicians and leaders are not acting in our best interests.

Again, thank you for your commitment to these issues.

#2 Comment By Steve in Ohio On October 21, 2016 @ 1:06 pm

An objective media would realize that Trump is the true centrist. Here is a Republican candidate who defends entitlements, opposes trade deals that hurt middle and working class people, and opposes mass immigration which drives down wages. His foreign policy statements have been all over the place, but this shows he isn’t the consistent uber hawk that all of his primary opponents (with the exception of Rand Paul) were.

#3 Comment By Richard W. Bray On October 21, 2016 @ 6:24 pm


It’s probably not a coincidence that The US Civil War, The Mexican Revolution, The Russian Revoluton and the Communist Revolution in China each destroyed a land-owning elite that was blocking economic development.

War is money.

#4 Comment By What’s In A Name On October 21, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

That it’s not “centrist” is too obvious to mention.

And it’s only “internationalist” insofar as it’s focused outside the countries where “centrist internationalists” live. In fact, it is grossly un-“internationalist” in its obsessive focus on the Middle East. We just “lost” the Philippines, a long time ally and fairly strategic piece of international real estate,, because we’re so busy picking at Middle Eastern scabs that we’ve failed to notice such threats to our other (often far more important) strategic situation.

If there were such really such creatures as “centrist internationalists” worth the name, they’d be screaming to high heaven to end the wasteful, destructive, failed meddling in the Middle East, restore some sanity and proportion to our foreign focus – giving due consideration to other parts of the world, including the political and social wreckage to our south. Instead, “centrist internationalism” seems to be the usual gruel – irresponsible, colossally expensive and destructive neocon and neolib Middle East interventionism.

#5 Comment By Internationalist Naval Gazers On October 22, 2016 @ 1:43 am

Scratch a “centrist internationalist” and you’re apt to find a very provincial extremist. Someone who when they say “the rest of the world” means the Middle East and that we ought to be violating international law and the US Constitution by starting or intensifying some conflict or other.

#6 Comment By Quiller On October 22, 2016 @ 2:04 am

Hi folks! I’m a nice, moderate, centrist internationalist. Nice moderate people like me take the view that the responsible, balanced thing to do is [destabilize whole regions of the world!!!] and prudently do [really stoopit, fooked up stuff that kills lots of people!!!]. Surely people like ourselves can agree that [starting illegal wars and blowing trillions of dollars!!!] is to be preferred to the uninformed and often xenophobic isolationism [our code phrase for what used to be called sensible internationalism!!!] of our opponents.

#7 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 22, 2016 @ 4:42 am

Centrist Internationalism is simply an Orwell-speak euphemism for central control of all foreign nations through economic hegemony enforced by the full faith and power of those who wield the American military against recalcitrants. In other words, full bore imperialism.


#8 Comment By Chris 1 On October 22, 2016 @ 4:44 pm

It’s important to recognize the very real bipartisan consensus that we should “do something” about other people’s problems, even as we gridlock ourselves about addressing our own.

Military intervention gives the impression of strong leadership and distracts from the very real failures of governance at home…which is why you can count on the least productive members of our political class to support military intervention whenever their party says they should, and to immediately criticize the other party when things predictably go wrong.

Tom Ricks pointed out that Iraq was all about domestic politics, and still is. He was right, and that’s the real problem for our foreign policy.