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Bush and “Conservative Internationalism”

Noah Millman wishes [1] that the name of conservative internationalism hadn’t already been claimed for Nau’s reheated neoconservatism [2]:

“Conservative internationalism” might have done well. It might have appealed to people who favor greater restraint, a greater emphasis on diplomacy, a greater respect for the sovereignty and legitimate interests of other states, and a greater interest in order and stability, than has been the case with American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War – but who don’t want to think of themselves as narrow-minded “isolationists” or hard-hearted “realists” or people who “blame America first.” So it’s a shame to lose the word to someone who appears to want it to serve the opposite purpose.

There’s nothing to stop any of us from trying to reclaim and redefine “conservative internationalism” along these lines, but if the name has been lost then I’m afraid that it was lost a while ago. I didn’t mention this in the earlier [3] posts [4], but Nau’s definition has been circulating for many years. Back in early 2005 before Bush and his foreign policy were thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the country, Nau was singing [5] the praises of the Bush administration as a model of “conservative internationalism.” These lines stood out as a perfect expression of pro-Bush rhetoric from that period:

The better things go in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more heat Iran feels. Elections in Iraq clearly raised the temperature. Forces on the ground are moving in Bush’s direction.


This endorsement of Bush as an adherent of Nau’s “conservative internationalism” is worth remembering, not just because it directly links the idea to the worst of the Bush era’s failures, but also because it clashes strongly with how Nau treats Bush and his record eight years later. When Bush was coming off of his re-election victory and the Iraq war had not yet turned into a complete shambles, Nau wanted to claim him and his foreign policy as part of this tradition. Eight years later, as Michael Desch explains in his review [2] of the book, Nau’s view of Bush has changed in the strangest of ways. Desch writes:

Ronald Reagan is one of Nau’s heroes, and George W. Bush was an abject conservative failure. I can’t help but see in Nau’s treatment of them a deep unresolved tensions that he can only paper over by, first, arguing that Reagan and Bush 43 were very different politically–and engaging in some rhetorical jiu-jitsu by associating realism with the latter and his vice president, Dick Cheney [bold mine-DL]–and, second, ignoring the connections between the two administrations: the neoconservatives who served in them both.

So Nau effectively disowns Bush, but he does this by implausibly treating Bush and Cheney as realists, and in that way supporters of “conservative internationalism” are supposed to be spared from having to account for the many failures of the administration that Nau once celebrated as its embodiment.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "Bush and “Conservative Internationalism”"

#1 Comment By Myron Hudson On November 13, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

I’d agree with Bush 41 as a realist, but W? Somebody has lost their mind. Apparently a long time ago.

Bush 41 famously referred to the neocons as “the crazies in the basement”. I’ll always love him for that.

#2 Comment By Puller58 On November 13, 2013 @ 9:16 pm

Great exchange that supposedly took place between Bush I and II. “What’s a neocon?” asks W. “One word. Israel.” replies H.W.

#3 Comment By graham cracker On November 14, 2013 @ 9:09 am

“Bush 41 famously referred to the neocons as “the crazies in the basement”. I’ll always love him for that.”

Poppy was the last President to serve in combat. Youngest naval aviator in WWII, downed in the Pacific while Mr. Reagan was in Hollywood braving cirrhosis and STDs with the First Motion Picture Unit. Worth remembering when you hear some ferocious neocon or neoliberal shirker sneering at GHWB.

#4 Comment By James Canning On November 14, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

Dick Cheney presented as a “realist”? What a joke! Cheney ignored warning after warning, from well-informed sources, that invading Iraq would be a major blunder.

#5 Comment By James Canning On November 14, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

Graham – – I too am a big admirer of George H W Bush. Too bad G W Bush lacked his father’s ability to spot the nonsense promoted by the neocons.