To the Editor:
Robert Kagan’s superb article [“A Retreat from Power?,” July] is a wake-up call for Republicans. The GOP has a well-earned reputation for competence in the national-security field and should not squander it. Mr. Kagan is perceptive in his analysis of the disappointing tendencies among the Republicans and of the risk that the necessary critique of Clinton-ism might spill over into a more wholesale rejection of international involvement.
I am less convinced, however, of Mr. Kagan’s thesis that the philosophy of geopolitical “realism” is a major cause of Republican lapses. More persuasive is his discussion of the institutional factor—the temptations of congressional opposition. There is also the problem, as he notes, that the Republicans are still spooked by the strategy of “it’s the economy, stupid,” which Bill Clinton used in his election campaign; they think the country no longer cares about foreign policy in the post-cold-war world and are afraid, like George Bush, to advertise their interest in it. The fallacy in such reticence is that while Americans are not preoccupied with foreign affairs, at the very least they expect their President to be the master of these issues; it is part of his job-description. President Clinton’s ineptitude will be an important campaign issue in the hands of any Republican able to take advantage of it.
The 1996 campaign, I expect, will concentrate Republicans’ minds on thinking presidentially again. Aside from Patrick J. Buchanan, no leading GOP contender is playing the isolationist card. Instead, they all seem to be taking positions—on free trade, the preservation of alliances, enlarging NATO, taking a more geopolitical view of Russia, slowing the decline in our defense posture—that are more internationalist than the administration’s. Foreign aid and UN peacekeeping, the main targets of congressional assault, are hardly the core of our national security. The fact that Democrats think so is more a reflection on them than on the Republicans.
The Republicans are right to stress their rejection of Clinton’s seemingly mindless universalism and “multilateralism.” In this context, a dose of realism is appropriate—to reassure the American people that their leaders know the difference between what is important to our national interest and what is not. Only on this basis can public support for foreign engagement be rebuilt.
If a Republican is elected President in 1996, he will be in a position to champion a more self-confident American role in global leadership—and to command support for it. But even he would be wise to concentrate, once in office, on the main pillars of the international structure—maintaining our alliances, the overall balance of power, and the security of key regions—and to avoid global crusading and overcommitment.
Peter W. Rodman
Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom
To the Editor:
Robert Kagan’s article deserves the attention of the Republican leaders. As Mr. Kagan points out, the Republican record is mixed, and its spectacular successes have come not from the party’s ideology but mainly from the idiosyncratic views of President Ronald Reagan. Certainly mainstream Republican thinking has been committed, as Mr. Kagan argues, to the separation of American democracy’s moral fervor from foreign policy. Such a position fails to grasp the fact that a key element of American international power is precisely its capacity for great moral indignation. He might have added that President Clinton acts like a 1920’s Republican by redefining foreign policy as mainly trade policy and backing away from international-security challenges.
In the end, however, Mr. Kagan leaves us with only the pious hope that the 1996 elections will stir the Republicans to address their failings. Is that a serious prospect? Senator Lugar has made an active foreign policy a major issue, and Senator Dole has advanced a few assertive foreign-policy positions while chiding Clinton’s feckless international leadership. None of the several other candidates acts as though foreign policy is part of governing. Something more is needed than hope.
Can the Republican philosophy of government accommodate a truly internationalist viewpoint, combining power with American ideals? It can, but the theorist for such a position has yet to emerge. The empirical basis for the theory has long been before our eyes but unacknowledged. The dynamic global economy of the cold-war era was made possible in large part because American military power provided an umbrella in Western Europe and East Asia under which markets could thrive with lower transaction costs than ever before. Will those costs remain low if America retreats from power? Will our present prosperity continue? Hardly!
If Republicans are the party of business and economic prosperity, they must face up to the costs of international business. That means indefinitely keeping the alliance systems that prevent Germany and Japan from being left to the fate that Mr. Kagan predicts—isolated as their military ties to the United States wither, mistrusted by their neighbors, forced to seek their own security through policies that deepen that mistrust. It also means a sustained effort to expand the number of liberal democracies with market economies. As Samuel Huntington has argued, when U.S. power has been passive abroad, democracy suffers. When it has been assertive, democracy has expanded. He could have added that so, too, has the international economy.
The domestic analogue of this proposition has yet to be articulated in the Republican attack on too much government. The problem is not too much government; it is the wrong kind of government. Adam Smith clearly understood this distinction. A strong government as the uncorrupted enforcer of rules of the market and as the supplier of “public goods” is essential for free enterprise. A big government involved in allocating large amounts of wealth is the enemy of the market and prosperity. The Republican attack has been against the latter kind of government, with little emphasis on the importance of the former.
This principle is also a good guide for foreign policy. Direct economic-aid grants to governments often contribute to corruption and to the expansion of government power. Many U.S. dollars have been spent in precisely this way. Expenditures that lower the levels of war and violence contribute to international economic prosperity. U.S. dollars devoted to military support for NATO and the alliances with Japan and South Korea have paid handsome profits in the interdependent global economy. International organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the IMF, which deal with global “public-goods” issues, also contribute to international welfare; their effectiveness might be challenged, but the tasks remain.
The end of the cold war does not invalidate these propositions, as the “guns-versus-butter” concept suggests. “Butter” production is dependent on “guns” for the maintenance of order, and the two are not always interchangeable. The American security empire of the cold-war period not only contained Soviet power, it also made possible unprecedented Western economic growth, a point lost on Republicans like Buchanan and on most Democrats.
The deep irony in Mr. Kagan’s analysis is that, in their political philosophy, the Republicans have the strongest arguments for an assertive post-cold-war foreign policy based on a mix of power and idealism—but they do not use them. And, as Mr. Kagan notes, public-opinion polls suggest that most Americans are not yet ready to cast off our country’s role in using power to sustain a just international order . . . they only await leaders who will give their subliminal comprehension a public voice.
William E. Odom