Kelley Vlahos spoke with the Quincy Institute’s Andrew Bacevich and Trita Parsi about the institute’s statement of principles:

TAC: Quincy’s principles—and thus it’s name—are rooted in the mission of “responsible statecraft.” Can you give me a sense of what that means in practical terms, and why you settled on this phrasing for the institute?

AB: With the end of the Cold War, policy elites succumbed to an extraordinary bout of hubris, perhaps best expressed in the claim that history had designated the United States as its “indispensable nation.” Hubris bred recklessness and irresponsibility, with the Iraq war of 2003 as Exhibit A. We see “responsible statecraft” as the necessary antidote. Its abiding qualities are realism, restraint, prudence, and vigorous engagement. While the QI is not anti-military, we are wary of war except when all other alternatives have been exhausted. We are acutely conscious of war’s tendency to produce unintended consequences and to exact unexpectedly high costs.

One of the things that unites virtually all critics of the last thirty years of U.S. foreign policy is our recognition that responsible statecraft is something that our government has not practiced much of since the collapse of the Soviet Union. If responsible statecraft is what we need and have been missing, we have suffered from a surplus of reckless militarism. Instead of practicing responsible statecraft in the form of diplomacy, cooperation, and strengthening international relationships, our government came to define more and more of its engagement with the world in terms of sanctions, regime and force. This has meant dictating terms to weaker states and attacking them when they don’t yield, treating allies like vassals to be ordered about and punished when they don’t fall in line, reflexively imposing sanctions for the sake of “doing something,” and launching unwinnable wars that wouldn’t make the U.S. more secure even if they could be won. The cost of this futile hyperactivity has been great for the U.S. in thousands of lost lives, tens of thousands of wounded veterans, and trillions of wasted dollars, and the cost has been even more severe and lasting for many of the countries that have “benefited” from our “leadership.”

David Klion has also written a good introductory profile of the institute for The Nation:

Parsi, Clifton, and Wertheim are all representative of a generation of experts who have built their careers in the long aftermath of 9/11 and for whom witnessing the subsequent failure of bipartisan national security policy has been formative. Clifton says he has spoken with academics who have watched their anti-interventionist dissertation advisees move to Washington and embrace the Blob’s logic or stay in academia and maintain their skepticism, “as if there wasn’t a home for those views in Washington.” Quincy, he hopes, will be that home.

Twenty years ago, hawks could talk in earnest about “benevolent global hegemony” and not be laughed out of the room. After at least twenty years of following the recommendations of the people that coined that phrase, very few people can talk about it without grimacing in disgust. The purpose of the Quincy Institute is to provide the government and the public with an alternative that rejects the militarism, do-somethingism, and arrogance of the last few decades and embraces a sane and humane foreign policy guided by justice. That is the conduct of relations with the rest of the world that President Washington advised, and we could do a lot worse than to return to the principles he laid out for us. We have done a lot worse, and we’ve been doing a lot worse for practically my entire lifetime. The Quincy Institute offers a start to begin doing better.

The Quincy Institute’s principles are worth reading in full. I will just comment on a couple of them here. They say:

The United States should engage with the world, and the essence of engagement is peaceful cooperation among peoples.

For this reason, the United States must cherish peace and pursue it through the vigorous practice of diplomacy.

One would think that this should be an uncontroversial statement, but it is a measure of how warped our foreign policy has become that it sounds radical. No one would seriously argue that the U.S. has cherished peace in a long time. Our foreign policy debates revolve around whether and how to attack other countries, and in most cases the U.S. has no legitimate reason to launch these attacks. Our political leaders and commentators are quick to demand that the U.S. take sides in foreign conflicts, but there is virtually no interest in doing the work of conflict prevention. Cherishing peace doesn’t mean leaving the world to its own devices, but instead requires steady, consistent diplomatic engagement. The U.S. should put itself in a position where it can be a credible and respected mediator rather than one more party to a multi-sided conflict.

Relatedly, another principle is the abhorrence of war:

The use of armed force, while sometimes necessary, does not constitute engagement in the world.

Force ends human life, displaces people, devastates communities, and damages the environment. In these ways, it prevents genuine engagement. Any resort to force should occur only as a last resort. The U.S. military exists to defend the people and territory of the United States, not to act as a global police force. The United States should reject preventive wars and military intervention to overthrow regimes that do not threaten the United States. Wars of these kinds not only are counterproductive; they are wrong in principle.

All of this seems obvious enough, but things have deteriorated so much over the last few decades that declaring opposition to preventive war as wrong in principle is a major break with how U.S. foreign policy has been conducted in this century. It used to be taken for granted that preventive (i.e., aggressive, illegal) warfare was anathema, and now it is routinely debated and considered as just one of so many options. The U.S. has been engaged in hostilities for so long in so many places that we have lost our horror of war and what it does to human beings, to nations, and to the world. We need to relearn that war is a great evil and the cause of many other evils, and we should treat it with the loathing and dread that it deserves. If we did, we would refuse to start or join wars, and we would fight wars only when all other options were truly exhausted and it was a last resort. If we want to have a less militarized and more peaceful foreign policy, we must have true abhorrence for war.

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