Dueck’s “New Conservative Realism” Revisited
Beneath the Republican Party’s various divisions over the years, Dueck argues, there has always been an enduring unity: A commitment to American nationalism, “hawkish and intense,” that has sought the strongest possible military and the freest possible hand for American power. At the same time, though, Republicans have given their presidents a great deal of leeway to define what this nationalism requires – realism or neoconservatism, saber-rattling or negotiation, pre-emptive war in Iraq or disengagement from Vietnam and Korea.
As a proud nationalist (and would-be Republican president), Romney will find aspects of this narrative congenial. He should be challenged, though, by Dueck’s view of what the Republican Party needs now: The continued defense of American primacy, he writes, requires “a new conservative realism in foreign policy,” which “adjusts for some of the political and policy failings of the Bush years” by recognizing the limits to our power and treading carefully in areas where too-rash action might make those limits manifest once again.
When the advocate of the “new conservative realism” also calls for what he calls the “Al Davis Doctrine,” one might be forgiven for not being able to identify anything realist in the foreign policy Dueck promotes. Dueck’s position is that the U.S. must “win” in any given foreign engagement once it begins for the sake of “credibility,” which is one of the woolier and least realistic beliefs in circulation. Kennan said, “There is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant or unpromising objectives.” Dueck’s “realism” does not allow for liquidating such unsound positions, because it is too preoccupied with maintaining “credibility” even when doing so advances no American interests.
Dueck’s arguments on some specific foreign policy issues might as well have come from the Romney campaign itself. Consider this bit of nonsense from an article he wrote last fall:
Specifically, the U.S. signed a New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that gave Moscow most of what it wanted, including apparently an informal understanding on missile defenses.
The new arms reduction treaty was beneficial for both parties. If the treaty was biased, it was in our favor. There was no “understanding” on missile defense, informal or otherwise. New START did not affect U.S. missile defense plans at all. Dueck later described New START as a “concession” to Russia, which ignores the overwhelming support for the treaty from the U.S. military and national security officials. Dueck’s “new conservative realism” often seems to involve repeating many of the same ridiculous arguments that Romney has made.
In another part of the same article, Dueck might as well be reading from Romney’s script:
Georgia and Poland are expected to accommodate Russia.
This is either uninformed or it is simply the repetition of the standard partisan line. The U.S. has not made Georgia accommodate Russia in their ongoing dispute over the separatist republics. On the contrary, the official U.S. position on South Ossetia and Abkhazia is just as entirely pro-Georgian as it was under the previous administration. Poland has not been required to accommodate Russia in anything. These things are simply untrue, and it echoes some of the most embarrassing, ignorant statements that Romney has made over the last three years.
During the Libyan war, Dueck declared:
But it is an illusion to think that the United States can launch large-scale military operations abroad, and then simply walk away, unsuccessfully, without significant negative consequences. America’s adversaries regularly refer to historic cases such as Somalia, Lebanon, and Vietnam as examples of how a country as powerful as the United States can be defeated through the infliction of a certain amount of cost and pain. This impression serves to encourage attacks on the U.S. and its allies.
In fact, the U.S. was able to “walk away” from all three of these horrible mistakes without suffering significant negative consequences. Withdrawal from Vietnam had no significant effect on U.S. or allied security elsewhere in the world. Post-9/11 neoconservative talking points notwithstanding, pulling out of Lebanon and Somalia did not have significant negative consequences for the United States. The fear of losing “credibility” kept the U.S. in all of these places far longer than it should have been, and the false belief that these withdrawals were mistakes kept us in Iraq for far longer than should have ever been allowed. Far from being a remedy to “the political and policy failings of the Bush years,” Dueck’s “new conservative realism” just recycles many of the same failings and presents them as something different. Even if he takes Ross’ advice and reads Dueck, Romney’s foreign policy arguments will not improve and they will continue to fall on deaf ears.