Dueck’s “Conservative Realism” and The Obama Doctrine
The author proposes an alternative strategy called conservative American realism. It is designed to appeal to the center mass of today’s conservatives by triangulating the three factions. This strategy seeks to counter the perceived retrenchment of the last six years, and explicitly embraces American primacy. Primacy, to Dueck, is “a circumstance and an interest, not a strategy.” Conservative American realism emphasizes reassuring allies that the United States seeks to remain a key player in the international arena by expanding forward presence and bolstering deterrence. Dueck details U.S. fundamental interests, and defines the specific adversaries that must be countered. These include state competitors (China and Russia), rogue states like North Korea, and jihadi terrorists. To deal with the latter, the author chides Mr. Obama for half-hearted approaches, and suggests these implacable foes require solutions that are “appropriately Carthaginian.” One wonders how far Dueck would really take that historical analogy — enslave Muslims or salt their lands?
Based on the description of Dueck’s “conservative American realism” in the review, it is debatable whether the proposed strategy qualifies as either conservative or realist. It would appear to commit the U.S. in too many places to bear burdens that our allies and clients should be taking on for themselves, and it does so out of a misguided concern that the U.S. has not been activist enough during the Obama presidency. I don’t know what Dueck means by “appropriately Carthaginian” solutions, but the implication that the U.S. should be seeking to ruin and dominate other nations in such a fashion is disturbing in itself. It is not at all clear that the U.S. should be doing more “reassure” allies and clients. Most of them are already too dependent on the U.S. for their security and should be expected to do more to provide for themselves, and their endless demands for “reassurance” are attempts to get the U.S. to give them extra support they don’t need or that the U.S. has no interest in giving them. The U.S. currently has too many commitments overseas and hardly needs to expand the presence that it already has.
Dueck places great emphasis on applying coercive measures against various states, but there doesn’t seem to much attention paid to the costs that applying these measures can have on the U.S. and its allies. Imposing costs and intensifying pressure on other states aren’t ends in themselves, and they have proven time and again to be ineffective tools for changing the behavior of recalcitrant and hostile regimes. Coercive measures can backfire and can have effects that their advocates don’t anticipate, and they can provoke the targeted state to pursue more hostile and dangerous policies than there would have been otherwise. Dueck’s interest in relying on coercive measures seems to be little more than a reaction against the perceived laxity of the Obama administration, which has itself been too reliant on imposing sanctions as an all-purpose response to the undesirable behavior of other governments. If Obama failed to apply enough pressure, Dueck’s thinking appears to be that more pressure must be the answer. Missing from all of this is any explanation of why the U.S. needs to be cajoling and pressuring these states in the first place. To what end?
Dueck also wants to throw more money at the military by insisting on setting the military budget at 4% of GDP. As Hoffman notes, tying the military budget to an arbitrary figure like this represents the absence of strategy:
The basis for this amount appears aspirational, and I have previously written on why such general goals are astrategic if not tied to specific requirements and threats. More importantly, details about how he would employ the additional $170 billion per year in defense spending are lacking.
If one wants huge increases in military spending and the pursuit of pointlessly confrontational policies against both major authoritarian powers, Dueck’s book would appear to offer the desired guidance. What it has to do with either realism or conservatism remains a mystery.