October 30, 2000
In Praise of Broken Promises
There is a difference between Bush and Gore
time ago I read a pamphlet put out by the British Libertarian
Alliance arguing for a British Bill of Rights, the subtitle
was "Why broken promises are better than no promises at all".
I wasnít convinced of the case for a judicially enforced Bill of
Rights, and still
I remain agnostic, but it did have a good subtitle. It is commonly
accepted that there is no real difference between the two candidates,
the rhetoric masking a fundamental agreement on substance, and this
is often a case made in Britain about the Conservative
Party and Europe.
I think that this is mistaken. This election is important because
on the issue of foreign affairs the people are being offered a choice,
even if only rhetorical, but the rhetorical difference is all important.
what has George W Bush been
saying on foreign
policy? Heís no isolationist, and I donít think that we should
pretend that he is or act with anything but surprise if he acts
like one in office. So what is he? Despite his legendary inability
to remember the head of state of Uzbekistan or the monetary unit
of the Cook Islands (or more of an embarrassment his description
of Greeks as Grecians) dubya does have a lot to say on foreign policy.
And considering how slowly thinking moves on this subject, a lot
of it is (relatively) radical. The basic principle behind Bushís
foreign policy is that of the National Interest. This may not sound
that great, after all politicians are always going on about how
electing them into the footnotes of history will make the nation
great, but it will be a radical break from Clintonian policy, a
policy that both Gore
and Mrs Clinton
both still applaud. The idea that foreign aid should not go to the
trendiest cause or the most powerful lobby, but to the countries
that are strategically important, is not getting rid of foreign
aid but at least using it for something half way useful for America.
READINESS IS A STEP FORWARD
that the troops should be removed from Kosovo and Bosnia may
be to prepare them for another war, and it may never be carried
out, but it is still a recognition that the presence in the former
Yugoslavia is damaging to military readiness. In Albert Gore Jrís
words it is "irresponsible" to keep the troops in Yugoslavia,
whatever your plans for them. The fact that most Democrats do not
recognise this means that Bush has to say very little to have a
less insane policy, and Bush has said it. If America is to go into
needless wars, it is better that the troops are at least prepared
for it rather than degraded. I also happen to think that Bush is
less likely to get the West into these needless wars, but the point
still stands Ė the American military should not be degraded at whim.
The fact that Albert Gore or his allies just cannot see this shows
just how desperately they need to be replaced.
OF NATIONAL INTEREST
what of this national interest? The proponents of this "doctrine"
are a motley bunch, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, Richard Perle
and even Norman
Podhoretz. The idea that attaching primary importance to the
national interest can or should be a doctrine is a sign of how bad
things have got, what else is the purpose of national security but
to secure the nation? The idea that one should interfere in other
countries because the media happens to be there would in a more
enlightened time just be considered the ranting of a lunatic. Today
the lunatics have taken over the asylum. But what of the dissident
faction that put forward what used to be treated as blatantly obvious?
They are not exactly united, and some of them, like the Pod, should
not really be taken at face value. But among Star Warriors like
Richard Perle, there are also characters like Colin Powell, who
was a sceptic on Yugoslav action. They are not isolationists, but
they are patriots. That is important. And it is more important that
these people are around Bush.
wasnít always an isolationist. There was one time that I was as
internationalist as anyone. How did I find my way to good sense?
There was the strong dose of free market liberalism, which often
takes over right wing Labourites who leave, and the application
of this generally laissez faire attitude to social and international
questions was fairly inevitable. But the main impetus was the discovery
of a school of thought in international relations, realism, a field
that I still plough. This school of thought, which is briefly the
belief that the way to a more peaceful world are nations acting
in their own interests, rather than crusading in wars to end all
wars. The theorists of this school donít exactly read like a pantheon
of isolationist heroes, George
Kennan, Henry Kissinger and Reinhold
Niebuhr the Protestant theologian. However the ultimate logic
of their views, which was admittedly rarely followed, was that most
engagement (government engagement, not trade) was pointless. Why
should UK peacekeepers be in Sierra Leone, what vital interest is
in Africa? Security guarantees for people like Estonia and Slovakia
are foolhardy if they are on the border with Russia. Why go to war
for Israel? Although I would defend arming the Mujahadeen and the
overthrow of Allende, even Star Wars, because we were fighting a
hostile and ambitious power, after that hostile power is gone, what
is left for the realists but keeping a beady eye on your borders
and sea lanes? Now Colin Powell or Richard Perle do not take their
rhetoric, or Bushís rhetoric, to its logical conclusion, but it
is there. Non-interventionism is best argued from the point of national
interest. They may not be spouting that argument but they are speaking
the right language.
Bush, or his advisor, said that American troops should withdraw
from the Balkans, the important thing was that it was said. The
idea that it will be done, at least in one term, is fallacious.
Of course it can be, but there are so many troops, so many allies,
and so many excuses, that there will still be American troops in
five years time. There should be a decrease in American troops,
but as I said the importance was that it was said at all. There
is now a benchmark, if the Republicans win. Instead of castigating
the government for its underlying principles on antiwar.com we can
now castigate them for not sticking to their principles. That shifts
the terms of argument considerably. We wonít have won, but we will
have chosen our own pitch to play the game.
are a number of candidates who are far better than Bush.
The Libertarians, even with the freelance assassin policy of Harry
Browne, do have a coherent non-interventionist policy. Ralph
Nader does put out a non-interventionist policy, of sorts. And
Pat Buchanan, who is so
wrong about trade and immigration,
is right on foreign policy Ė and has actually thought about it.
The media would ignore an America First policy, which should be
second nature to any self-respecting American government, if it
werenít for him. He has fought an honourable campaign. Sadly he
VOTE FOR BUSH
am a British subject, not an American citizen. I can not vote in
your elections, and you should not listen to any endorsement from
me. I have no legitimate interest, other than an academic one, in
the domestic issues. On foreign policy I have three interests, (1)
who will take us into fewer wars, (2) who will be friendly towards
Britain and (3) who will stop interfering
in Northern Ireland. On (1) and (2) dubya is undoubtedly better,
on (3) it will be Al Gore Ė I donít know whether the Kennedy clan
has noticed this yet. I have no right to say who I prefer but I
will be very happy if a certain bullying, insincere dork loses,
and loses big.
is what the Bush
web site has to say about foreign policy:
Bush believes that American foreign policy must be more than the
management of crisis. It must have a great and guiding goal: to
turn this time of American influence into generations of democratic
peace. This is accomplished by concentrating on enduring national
interests and by resisting the temptation to withdraw from the world.
As President, George W. Bush will pursue a distinctly American internationalism.
He will set priorities and stick to them to avoid drift in foreign
of both really, isnít it.