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Haass and the “Departure from History”

Jonathan Bernstein objects to Richard Haass’ domestic policy agenda:

In other words: I’m going to use my expertise on foreign affairs to tell everyone what they should be doing on domestic policy, and I’m going to pretend that my particular policy preferences are simply common sense that everyone obviously should support.

I understand Bernstein’s annoyance, but I think this misses what Haass is trying to do. If we review Haass’ domestic policy recommendations, we find that all of them from debt reduction to tax reform to immigration policy line up pretty closely with a “centrist” consensus on what the priorities of the federal government should be. I’m guessing that Haass makes these recommendations because he assumes that the agenda he’s proposing is one that already has substantial support in Washington, and he has to have something to fill the domestic reform side of his argument. The thrust of Haass’ op-ed and of his book is to insist that the U.S. stop frittering away its resources in unnecessary and prolonged foreign wars and to recognize that the U.S. is remarkably secure and free from major foreign threats. He wants the government to direct more of its resources and attention to domestic issues and to avoid new foreign entanglements, which obliges him to produce a domestic policy agenda, and so he produces a fairly conventional one that already has a lot of supporters.

Haass’ foreign policy recommendations are mostly quite sensible as far as they go. Most of these involve advising the U.S. on what not to do, but when our foreign policy debate is filled with so many awful proposals that is definitely a good thing. In his opposition to new foreign wars, he is arguing for what the vast majority of Americans wants and what best serves long-term U.S. interests.

Something else that doesn’t help Haass’ cause is his use of the phrase “departure from history” to describe the respite he identifies. This is exactly how hawkish critics perceive any attempt to introduce restraint into U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, it unwittingly echoes a common hawkish refrain that the ’90s were a “holiday from history” that ended with 9/11, which allows them to pretend that the U.S. wasn’t extremely activist overseas during the ’90s. No nation ever “departs” from history or opts out of it, and it’s wrong to describe a pause in constant foreign warfare this way.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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