February 24, 2000
An American Foreign Policy II
begin musing about an authentic American foreign policy for the
coming century with a possibility I would view as something of an
imperative, but which is all too often forgotten or downplayed by
commentators bemused and entranced by the capacity of a powerful
nation like the United States to bend, shape, and mold history to
its will. Donít the American people deserve a bit of a rest?
Robert Nisbet, in his marvelous little 1988 book, The
Present Age (Harper & Row) remarked that if the founders
of this republic were to be transported into the 20th
century, "the Framers would almost certainly swoon when they
learned that America has been participant in the Seventy-Five Years
War that has gone on, rarely punctuated, since 1914." We spend
more than $300 billion a year directly on military purposes, and
current proposals to make modest increases or modest reductions
simply nibble around the edges of that commitment. And that expenditure
has much more intense, though perhaps ultimately incalculable, effects
not only on our economy but on our culture.
only is our economy discernibly militarized by such spending, becoming
more hierarchical, more attuned to orders from the top than to innovation
from below, but our universities (our entire educational system,
in fact) and our popular culture have become more attuned to war
and military endeavor. As President Eisenhower warned in his Farewell
Address, "the prospect of domination of the nationís scholars
by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money
is everywhere present and is gravely to be regarded." Eisenhower
cautioned also: "Partly because of the huge costs involved,
a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual
curiosity." That was 40 years ago. If anything, the potential
for domination of a troubling portion of our national life has increased;
the interests that feed on this emphasis and expenditure have become
more firmly entrenched.
will no doubt debate for decades just what policies, accidents,
philosophical errors and plain old miscalculations led to the decline
of the Soviet threat. But we donít need to know the results of such
disputations in all their details to decide that the American taxpayers
deserve some credit and some share in the benefits that should follow
such an historic change. For decades we have paid heavily, both
in taxes and in the prospect even when conscription was not explicit
U.S. policy that we or our sons and daughters would be called on
to make the supreme sacrifice in the war against totalitarianism.
may not be in the cards for war to cease altogether; indeed, thatís
quite unlikely. But shouldnít we be looking for ways to decrease
its likelihood, and shouldnít we be seeking ways to relieve ordinary
Americans of some of the burdens placed on them in recent decades,
whether by history, their political leaders, or fate?
RETREATING BUT ADJUSTING
in communications and technology have made it unlikely that we can
retreat from engagement from the rest of the world on an economic
level and there is little reason to want to do so. As communism
has declined, as explicit socialism beat at least a rhetorical retreat
(though socialism by other names still thrives), the potential is
developing for an enormous unleashing of human creative potential.
Nobody can predict whether the next great scientific or technological
breakthrough or cute little labor-saving gadget or inspiring song will
come from somebody living in the United States, France, Bulgaria,
or Malawi. It would be silly for Americans to be deprived of the
results of any new breakthroughs made by people overseas.
we should remain open to the rest of the world on an economic and
cultural level, however, it would be wise to reduce in many areas
of the world to eliminate entirely US political and military involvement
in other countries. This should include reduction or elimination
of treaty commitments like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(author Melvyn Krauss made a powerful case for withdrawing from
NATO before the collapse of communism and the case is even more
compelling now, especially in the wake of the transformation of
NATO into something other than a defensive alliance), and drastic
reductions in our participation in multilateral international organizations
like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the United
BARRIERS TO INTERCHANGE
short, our goal over the next several years or decades, should be
to reduce tariffs and other barriers to international trade to as
close to zero as is feasible, to reduce or eliminate restrictions
on travel and immigration, to slash restrictions on the movement
of capital, and in general to promote an environment in which barriers
to personal, cultural, and economic intercourse with the rest of
the world are reduced drastically. At the same time, we should reduce
military spending, and resolve that a time will come and sooner
rather than later when it will take an overwhelmingly powerful case
to get us to use military force except to defend our own borders.
goal, in short, should be a situation where the United States has
resolved to become as free, prosperous, and civilized as possible,
and to lead the rest of the world by example rather than by military
or political intervention, or through government-to-government aid.
THIS BE ISOLATIONISM?
may call such a policy by that old bogeyman, "isolationism."
I call it renunciation of foolish policies that have done little
if anything to help the American people or the rest of the world.
apostles of interventionism and internationalism, while deriding
their opponents as retrograde, unrealistic, and parochial, have
in fact promoted a shallow, one-dimensional view of international
relations. They have seen political relations and political influences,
carried out by the agents of nation-states backed up by the coercive
power of military action, as the essence of internationalism.
international relations are much richer and more complex than that.
They are carried on also by tourists, importers and exporters, by
exchange students, by people keeping in touch with relatives in
the "old country" or writing to new friends made while
traveling on business or pleasure, by dreaded multinational companies,
and by mom-and-pop stores stocking goods made overseas. Paying more
attention to this richly textured, many-layered web of personal,
business, and cultural relationships and de-emphasizing the merely
political, the strictly power-oriented, may be an important key
to a world with some realistic hope of living in relative peace.