Tuesday, June 14, 2005

It Takes a Progressive to Have a Realistic Foreign Policy

In a response to my earlier post on Ikenberry’s views on progressive versus conservative foreign policy thinking, an anonymous commenter wrote:

I don't buy either Ikenberry's superficial presentation in this post, or the underlying superiority of the liberal order as defined as "commitment to multilateralism and rules-based relations," which again is simplistic in the extreme. Clinton wanted to build "liberal" order? I'd like to see substantive evidence of this accomplishment. And to lump FDR, Truman and Kennedy into one basket, as to foreign policy in promoting democracy abroad, is ill conceived.

In terms of the construction of the liberal order during the Clinton Administration, consider the effects that the ICTY and the ICTR have had on international criminal law or that NAFTA and the WTO have had on trade law, investment protection, and economic dispute resolution. While it is true that some institutions didn’t achieve the goals of their founders (the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference, for example), the point is that there was a concerted effort at strategically building and/or using international institutions to respond to our foreign policy needs.

Clinton's eight years in office saw more international institution building in America's interest than probably the previous thirty years combined. That is partially a function of (a) the end of the Cold War, (b) the recognition of new threats, and (c) the increased possibility of greater international cooperation with Russia and China. But these factors would have come to nothing if it were not for American leadership in building or using international institutions and supporting treaty systems (like the Convention Against Torture).

Note that some of these institutions (the WTO and NAFTA in particular) were not supported by the far left or the far right but rather by moderate Democrats and Republicans with a progressive world view. I tend to think that the extremes of both parties, while making for great headlines and fun blog posts, have historically contributed very little to America's actual foreign policy. We'll see if the current administration changes that or if it moves towards the center. And, while Ikenberry's post isn't perfect, it has an insight as to fundamental differences between conservatives and progressives. And the progressives have tended to do the heavy lifting in maintaining international security and economic stability.

FDR, Truman, and Kennedy have far more in common with each other (and with George H.W. Bush, for that matter) than with George W. Bush. FDR and Truman conceived of and/or built the UN, GATT, NATO, the ICJ, the World Bank and the IMF. Kennedy extended GATT and deftly applied the UN and the OAS in crises in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean and the world. These Presidents were not identical in ideology or execution but they are part of a continuum.

What have the conservatives got to show? To turn around the query of the anonymous commenter: I would like to see some substantive evidence of their accomplishments. Not a "democratic wave" (the critique of Ikenberry and others) and not a new world order or even a stabilized old world order. War, yes, I'll give them that. But getting to war is easy; securing peace is hard.


Blogger Kirk H. Sowell said...

This may seem to be partially a semantic issue, but my primary disagreement with Borgen's argument has to do with his use of the phrase "liberal order." Borgen seems to identify the liberal order with multinational institutions, some of which are quite illiberal, since they aim to undermine national sovereignty, and thus freedom, since a free nation expresses its will through its sovereignty.

A sovereign nation may of course bind itself through treaties, but it may just as surely refuse to do so. If the U.S. promotes national and economic freedom and underwrites the global liberal order by protecting the shipping lanes and resource access necessary for industrialized economies, then it is fulfilling its mission, however many or few treaties it signs.

Moreover, some of the institutions Borgen mentions are positively defective, and therefore cannot be used as evidence for the success of Clinton's foreign policy. I would point primarily at the United Nations and its security system, which takes the inherent defects of any collective security system and makes them worse by giving illiberal, authoritarian states a veto. The IMF and the World Bank are also widely criticized, and not just by the far right and far left.

If one wishes to criticize the Bush Administration on its failure to build a liberal global order, that case can be made, but on a different front - trade. Bush's record on free trade has been pathetic. This administration has maintained and protected the subsidized industries (i.e. sugar, ethanol) it inherited, erected trade barriers on steel which merely transferred wealth from steel consumers (lots of U.S. industries) to steel producers (one industry) while introducing inefficiency into the market, has unduly blamed China's growing trade for American economic problems, real and imagined, and has probably done as much harm as good with the bilateral free trade treaties that it has signed. Bush is now trying to make up for it with CAFTA, but a lack on focus on the long-term national interest in Congress has made even this difficult to pass.

The importance of global economic freedom to democratization is difficult to overemphasize. Not only does international trade help build an educated and propertied middle class which gives leverage to democracy movements, but the economic and technological aspects of globalization directly impact political reform in numerous ways (e.g. opposition blogs).

I don't think that Borgen would necessarily disagree with this latter point, given his positive references to the WTO and NAFTA, but I would make a different distinction than he does, between multinational arrangements which promote freedom, and those which do not.

6/14/2005 9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Given Professor Borgen's sometimes "irrational exuberance" ;-) regarding multinational institutions - and by extension the opinions they hold -- I'd be interested in his response to the following post by Eugene Volokh yesterday at Volokh.com - http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2005_06_12-2005_06_18.shtml#1118771032


"Decent Respect: Should U.S. judges and U.S. politicians follow the views of 'international opinion' on certain subjects? People who say yes often appeal to the Declaration of Independence's reference to what 'a decent respect for the opinions of mankind' requires us to do.

But, as Eugene Kontorovich, a lawprof at George Mason, points out, in an eminently readable 8-page article (emphasis added),

[The Declaration] shows that we should follow our own opinions, even when they diverge from the dominant views of Europe. Indeed, throwing off the rule of a sovereign monarch contradicted the dominant opinion of mankind. Thus the Declaration takes the view that all we owe to other nations is to explain our actions to them.

Moreover, the Declaration was specifically drafted as an appeal for arms and money. The Founders understood that these would only be forthcoming if Britain’s Continental enemies thought the Colonists were committed to the fight for the long haul. Thus the “opinions” in question are opinions about the likely perseverance of the Colonists, not the legality of their rebellion. And the “mankind” in question is France and Spain.
If the Declaration reveals anything about the relevance of foreign law to constitutional interpretation . . . it suggests that the Founders’ interest in the “opinions of mankind” did not involve their opinions on the legality of American actions. . . ."

Well put — and in retrospect obvious, though it's the sort of obvious that people often miss, as I'm afraid I had until I read Kontorovich's piece.

(Of course, respect for foreign opinion may still be practically useful, both to win over foreigners and perhaps even to help us consider whether we might be mistaken in our own views. The point here is simply that the Declaration of Independence can't be soundly used as an argument that the Framers believed that such respect requires us to adhere -- or even to seriously consider -- international views about the legality of our actions.)"

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