Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

A Foreign Policy That “Works”

One needn't pretend that the U.S. can "become Switzerland" to insist that the U.S. must stop trying to be the micro-manager/overlord of the rest of the planet.

Jim Antle considers the foreign policy alternative offered by Rand Paul. He sets out a number of conditions for a successful alternative Republican foreign policy, including these:

Furthermore, this foreign policy must command enough assent from governing elites that qualified professionals would exist to implement it in the event sympathetic politicians were elected. And it must be a foreign policy that could actually work [bold mine-DL], not one that waves away genuine national-security threats or pretends that United States could become Switzerland.

This sums up very well why Republican foreign policy reform seems so unlikely to happen in the near future. A large number of the “qualified professionals” associated with the GOP don’t agree with a lot of what Paul said last week, and many of them support an aggressive and interventionist foreign policy that has already been proven not to “work” on its own terms. In order to gain their “assent,” Paul would have to strip out whatever he got right in his speech while re-emphasizing the things he got wrong, and at that point the alternative becomes a copy of the Republican foreign policy we already have. This wouldn’t “work” because that foreign policy is currently founded on a number of false assumptions about what the U.S. role in the world should be and how it should carry out that role.

But then what does it mean to say that a foreign policy “works”? If it can keep the U.S. secure, free from unnecessary conflict, and on good terms with a large majority of the other nations of the world, that would seem to be a foreign policy that “works” for U.S. interests. It might not resolve ongoing foreign conflicts, and it might not prevent other major powers from exercising substantial influence over their neighbors, but then those are things that the U.S. can’t do very well and usually shouldn’t be trying to do. The less ambitious and presumptuous one’s foreign policy goals are, the more likely it is that they can be achieved. One needn’t pretend that the U.S. can “become Switzerland” to insist that the U.S. must stop trying to be the micro-manager/overlord of the rest of the planet. Right now, most Republican elites insist on something close to the latter role, so any credible foreign policy alternative has to be one to which they do not “assent.”



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