Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Live Blog and Open Thread: The New Internationalism

Note: The conference is now over. Check back again soon for a full video. In the meantime, you can access the segments that have aired on C-SPAN here. This morning, The American Conservative, in conjunction with The American Prospect and the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, is convening many of the best foreign policy minds to […]

Note: The conference is now over. Check back again soon for a full video. In the meantime, you can access the segments that have aired on C-SPAN here.

This morning, The American Conservative, in conjunction with The American Prospect and the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University, is convening many of the best foreign policy minds to sketch out a new foreign policy consensus, one fit to the challenges of the post-9/11, post-Afghanistan and Iraq wars world. For those unable to join the discussion in person at George Washington University, please join us on this thread, which I will updating throughout the conference. As the conference unfolds in the stream embedded above, please also join us in the comments below. For those on Twitter, please use the hashtag #newconsensus to participate in the conversation there.


8:30am Introduction: Charles L. Glaser, George Washington University Institute for Security and Conflict Studies and Daniel McCarthy, The American Conservative

8:45am Threats and Responses: How the U.S. can maintain stability in the long term without war.

  • Daniel Drezner, Washington Post and Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy
  • William S. Lind, The American Conservative
  • Matthew Duss, Center for American Progress and The American Prospect
  • Daniel Larison, The American Conservative

9:45am The Case for Restraint: Barry R. Posen, MIT Security Studies Program, author of Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy.

10:45am Break

11:15am National Security State Overreach and Reform: Reclaiming civil liberties in the aftermath of the War on Terror.

  • Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic
  • Marcy Wheeler, Emptywheel
  • Adam Serwer, MSNBC.com
  • Samuel Goldman, The American Conservative and George Washington University

12:15pm Political Realities: Prospects for realism and reform in the Republican and Democratic parties.

  • John B. Judis, The New Republic
  • Michael Cohen, Century Foundation
  • Christopher A. Preble, Cato Institute
  • Robert W. Merry, The National Interest

1:15pm Closing remarks: Maisie Allison, The American Conservative

The conversation will continue in the coming weeks thanks to our partners at Bloggingheads. Join us!

8:39: Charles Glazer opens the conference, noting that this conference “could not have come at a better time.”

8:44: TAC editor Daniel McCarthy takes the stage, declares this “a moment of profound reorientation in our country,” on the political and policy level. The past weeks have seen the foreign policy establishment hold conferences echoing their same consensus. This conference forges a new consensus that is wiser, more realistic, and better suited to the challenges of the day.

8:50: Daniel Larison introduces “Threats and Responses,” the first panel, with Dan Drezner, Matt Duss, and William S. Lind.

Larison emphasizes the need to minimize great power conflict that wrought such devastation in the 20th century, and says the United States “needs to get out of the business of regime change” in order to preserve security and stability. Read more in his primer on noninterventionism here.

8:58: Matt Duss of our neighbors and cosponsors at The American Prospect addresses ways to move forward in the Middle East. He reflects that, before recent events and discussions, he hadn’t thought it would be necessarily to say that one of the best ways of promoting stability in the Middle East is not to start new, dumb wars there. Discusses the importance of legitimacy as “one of the ultimate force multipliers.”

Duss talks about the importance of alliances and joint action in pursuing American interests like preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and how that global cooperation is on track to bear useful fruit. Notes that Iran has had plenty of opportunities to commit suicide over the years, and it has so far shown itself to act in accordance with interests. The jury is till out on whether Iran can be brought into a broader framework, but Obama deserves credit for pushing past where certain allies may be comfortable in trying to give it the chance.

9:09: Dan Drezner takes up the Asia-Pacific. As he discusses in his new book The System Worked, he notes that in the wake of the economic crisis, the global economy has been surprisingly resilient, to the point where the Fed and others are starting to be concerned about markets not being spooked enough. Geopolitics has gone much less smoothly, however. And while the U.S. exercised leadership in global economics, it has been much less sure of itself in global politics and security, reigning in some overenthusiastic allies’ reactions to the pivot to Asia, but committing to go to war over the Senkaku islands.

While the U.S. still has a tremendous preponderance of power, but its supporters have been devastated by the fallout from the economic crisis.

9:22: William S. Lind argues that more important than any particular foreign policy theory, it is necessary to be guided by where war itself is going.


The definition of winning a “4th generation war” is whether you leave a state behind. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, that test has been failed. From there, non-state forces only grow and spread, taking down even more states. Most important conflict not between states, but between order and disorder.


9:35: Daniel Larison asks the panel: Is there anything constructive the U.S. can do in Iraq?

Matt Duss suggests that because Iraq’s primary problems are political, and the U.S. couldn’t influence Iraqi politics with tens of thousands of troops in the country, there’s little reason to think the U.S. can change them now.

Daniel Drezner says the most important thing is to eliminate the “moral hazard” factor in Middle East policy where the United States becomes the responder of first resort for any crisis. Important to point out to Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors that they will be far more affected than the U.S. ever will. Matt Duss calls it an important point.

Drezner contends that Lind’s characterization of the widespread breakup of the state is not borne out by most countries, even in the Middle East in countries like Iran and Israel.

Audience member challenges whether the conference is not internationalist, but provincialist, debating competing nation states. Drezner argues that would take a dramatic reworking of how people think. Europe is a particular example of people recently drawing back from supra-national identities.

9:55: Barry R. Posen introduces “The Case for Restraint.” Posen says United States grand strategy has been dominated by a view of “liberal hegemony,” whereby just about anything that happens anywhere in the world comes under U.S. purview. That seems a bad method of prioritizing actions and interests.

Posen notes that the U.S. allies that claim to be frightened by global events have not responded by increasing their own military capabilities considerably. Moreover, those allies frequently behave as “reckless drivers,” provoking other countries with the confidence that the United States will back them up. When it comes to allies, the United States doesn’t have too little credibility, but too much.

The U.S. doesn’t understand nationalism, which is a much bigger factor in global politics than academics traditionally allow.

If conflict with other large powers ever comes to a head, the United States will have to have real allies, not the free riding sort we have been cultivating, to meet that challenge.

The U.S. should not be hesitant to remove military forces when it makes strategic sense, and allies should get used to the idea that U.S. forces come and go. The Marine Corps base in Okinawa is the perfect place to start the planned reductions in the Marine Corps, as it is unclear what their purpose in Japan is, as opposed to planes and ships.

Posen summarizes: the U.S. is entering a new phase in foreign policy, where it will be confronting greating scarcity in security resources. That is a product of political changes, which have undercut support for continued liberal hegemony.

Addressing the future of states in the context of sub-state forces and identifies, Posen projects the future of Iraq as a collection of sub-state groups.

Posen wrote his book after seeing a debate on grand strategy descend into a debate on small tactics within the liberal hegemony framework. Today, however, arguments for restraint can no longer be dismissed with stock accusations of “neoisolationism.” There is tumult in the political sphere now, as the American people have discovered the costs of the past generation’s grand strategy.

11:20: The next panel will cover “National Security State Overreach and Reform,” with Conor Friedersdorf, Marcy Wheeler, Adam Serwer, and Samuel Goldman.

11:26: Marcy Wheeler says that the government doubled down on seeing the Internet as an extension of hard power, rather than outreach. She argues that this came as a response to cybersecurity threats, but was sold under the guise of combating terrorism because the state couldn’t persuade the public about cybersecurity. Terrorism and the idea of an enemy among us turned out to be much more potent. The United States’s resiliency is an underrated

11:38: Adam Serwer of MSNBC notes that a year after Snowden’s first disclosures, NSA reform has yet to pass despite the support of powerful members of Congress. “Partisanship is not enough” to pass a legislative agenda.


11:49: Conor Friedersdorf argues that it is time to stop waiting for a presidential candidate who will keep his promises on reforming the national security state. Instead, and unexpectedly, getting a better Congress may be reform’s best chance, replacing one bad representative at a time (Cantor being bumped out by an NSA critic is one example).

12:01: Moderator Sam Goldman asks the panel to clarify the proposed NSA reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, and its shortcomings. Marcy Wheeler explains that the bill purports to “end bulk collection,” while defining that term so broadly as to defeat almost any possible restriction on actual NSA activities. She calls the way it has been characterized by the surveillance communities “an act of incredible bad faith.”

12:24: Robert W. Merry of The National Interest convenes the ultimate panel of the day to examine the political realities of realism and reform, with Christopher Preble of Cato, Michael Cohen of the Century Foundation, and John Judis of The New Republic.

12:32: John Judis finds it plausible that the world is most secure when there is one (maybe two) big dogs on top to maintain stability, that it is important to have one large power exercising leadership. The question is how. He articulates two approaches, the first is the neoconservative/liberal interventionist approach, remaking the world in our image, the second is balancing. The challenge of balancing is that a country can find itself necessarily supporting unpalatable regimes at times.

As for politics, foreign policy proceeds along two paths, the elite and the popular. That’s generally ok, but not when it comes to matters of war and peace.

12:36: Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute explains the American public’s relative indifference to foreign policy compared to domestic issues as an outcome of the lowered stakes for the existential security of the United States. However, foreign policy in recent years has seen an surge in interest. He remembers being surprised by the overwhelming public response against the proposed intervention in Syria a year ago.

Neoconservatives and liberal interventionists have a simple response to the public’s lack of enthusiasm for global action: a lack of “leadership.” If only real leaders went before the American public, they could rally them to an interventionist cause. Preble finds that implausible, especially in the context of how much difficulty FDR had in trying to rally the American people to engagement in World War II before Pearl Harbor.

Preble also notes that the U.S. spends more on its military today in real terms than during the Cold War.

12:46: Michael Cohen of the Century Foundation sees a broad base of opposition to active foreign policy engagement, cutting across parties, and a desire to focus more on domestic affairs. There is broad agreement between elites and the public that the number one foreign policy issue is terrorism, whereas the public overwhelmingly places protecting American jobs in second place, while elites see it as a much lower priority.

Much of the resistance to foreign policy activism is driven by domestic economic problems, including the economic cost of the Iraq war. When people like Robert Kagan decry the desire by Americans to turn homeward, they fail to recognize how much their policies and rhetoric has driven that backlash.

12:57: Robert Merry notes that public opinion has turned dramatically against interventions, but the elites largely have yet to change their thinking substantially. He asks: what synthesis might come out of that conflict?

John Judis notes some desire in the public to knock off bad guys and “do something,” even if they turn against specific actions. Preble notes how strongly the public lashed out against Syrian intervention as the deciding factor in stopping Obama from enforcing his “red line.” Michael Cohen says that Obama deserves a lot of credit for being willing to back down from his ramp-up to use force.

1:07: Michael Brendan Dougherty of The Week (and TAC alum) asks the panel how the public’s foreign policy preferences might be expressed in presidential elections, if Congress hit the brakes on Obama’s push to strike Syria. Cohen notes that the end of the Cold War was a boon for Democrats, as it pushed foreign policy out of presidential politics; foreign policy normally doesn’t play much of a factor in presidential politics if there is not an active current conflict. Preble notes that most of the time there hasn’t been much of a difference between the candidates.

Michael Cohen notes how, with Syria, virtually no one was advocating putting troops on the ground, but the public was so worried about getting overly entangled in another Mideast war that they rose up in dramatic opposition to what was in context a relatively modest proposed action.

1:20: Maisie Allison closed by reflecting on the importance of the new internationalism consensus, making the case for prudence and restraint.


That’s it! Thank you for joining us for this discussion, and please stay tuned to The American Conservative in the weeks to come as we continue the conversation in a series of Bloggingheads videos.