Home/Daniel Larison/“Neocentrism”: Another Name for the Failed Bipartisan Consensus on Foreign Policy

“Neocentrism”: Another Name for the Failed Bipartisan Consensus on Foreign Policy

Jonathan Schanzer proposes a modified neoconservative policy under the unappealing label of “neocentrist”:

What is neocentrism, exactly? It’s just starting to take form. It will embrace America’s power, but not abuse it. It might reject aspects of neoconservatism, but not the important moral commitments or valid views of global dangers that gave rise to that movement. It will reject aspects of the Obama Doctrine, but not the need for a somber accounting of the potential costs of putting boots on the ground or getting embroiled in expensive foreign conflicts. And above all, it will reject the growing isolationist wings of both parties, which seek to retreat from the world’s problems and renounce American exceptionalism in the process.

Since it is difficult to identify what “the Obama Doctrine” is at any given time, and since “Obama Doctrine” means extremely different things to different groups, this doesn’t tell us very much. Because Schanzer doesn’t describe which “aspects of neoconservatism” a so-called neocentrist foreign policy would reject, neocentrism could be just another clunky name for the same failed ideology. Neoconservatives consistently exaggerate some foreign threats and invent others, so it’s not clear which “valid views of global dangers” Schanzer means. Based on the limited description offered here, Obama’s foreign policy could almost qualify as “neocentrist” if the label weren’t being invented mainly to berate Obama for not being hawkish enough.

If “neocentrism” will avoid the abuse of American power, it would be useful for Schanzer to explain what he thinks its proper use is. It is likely that anyone inclined to endorse “neocentrism” has a radically different understanding of what constitutes abuse of power from most Americans today, because the former believe that the exercise of that power, especially hard power, is almost always efficacious and legitimate. “Neocentrism” appears to be nothing more than the old “centrist” foreign policy identified with McCain and Lieberman in the past, which was defined by its reflexive hawkishness and also by the contempt that “centrists” of both parties had for the views of most Americans. If that’s right, neocentrism doesn’t need to be invented, because we have already been living with its failures for more than a decade. It certainly isn’t a solution to anything that ails U.S. foreign policy. It is just another rehashed bipartisan version of the ideas that have propelled the U.S. into one unnecessary conflict after another.

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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