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Home/Daniel Larison/The Dangers of ‘Centrist Internationalism’

The Dangers of ‘Centrist Internationalism’

There was another part of the Postarticle I cited in my last post that I wanted to address:

“The dynamic is totally different from what I saw a decade ago” when Democratic and Republican elites were feuding over the invasion of Iraq, said Brian Katulis, a senior Middle East analyst at the Center for American Progress. Today, the focus among the foreign policy elite is on rebuilding a more muscular and more “centrist internationalism,” he said [bold mine-DL].

Every term used in that last sentence is either misleading or flat-out wrong. A more aggressive policy in Syria or anywhere else shouldn’t be described as “muscular” for a few reasons. For one thing, committing the U.S. to short-sighted and ill-conceived military interventions does nothing to enhance the strength or security of the country. Such a policy doesn’t build strength–it wastes it. Calling an aggressive policy “muscular” betrays a bias that aggressive measures are the ones that demonstrate strength, when they usually just demonstrate policymakers’ crude and clumsy approach to foreign problems. One might just as easily describe these policies as meat-headed instead.

“Centrist” is one of the most overused and abused words in our politics. The term is often used to refer to positions that are supposedly moderate, pragmatic, and relatively free of ideological bias, but here we can see that it refers to something very different. Many people that are considered to be “centrists” on the normal left-right political spectrum are frequently in favor of a much more aggressive foreign policy than the one we have now, but that doesn’t make their foreign policy a moderate or pragmatic one. In fact, this “centrism” is not really a position in between the two partisan extremes, both of which would be satisfied with a less activist and interventionist foreign policy than we have today, but represents an extreme all its own. Besides, there’s nothing moderate or pragmatic about being determined to entangle the U.S. deeper in foreign wars, and that is what this so-called “centrist” foreign policy aims to do.

Likewise, it is fairly misleading to call what is being proposed here internationalist. It shows no respect for international law. Hawkish proposals to attack Syria or carve out “safe zones” by force simply ignore that the U.S. has no right or authority to do either of these things. There appears to be scant interest in pursuing international cooperation, except insofar as it is aimed at escalating existing conflicts. One would also look in vain for working through international institutions. The only thing that is international about this “centrist internationalism” seems to be that it seeks to inflict death and destruction on people in other countries.

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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