Rethinking the Moral Agenda within American Foreign Policy: Lessons from Niebuhr, Huntington, and the Japanese Experience
Sukys, Paul Andrew, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table
Introduction: Dissonance and American Foreign Policy
When Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay in 1853, the Japanese people suffered a cultural shock that was roughly the equivalent of the shock that the American people suffered on 9/11. (1) Of course, there are dramatic and significant differences. The events of 9/11 were much more violent, more sudden, and certainly more tragic. Nevertheless, both events signaled a profound change in the sociopolitical, economic, and philosophical environment of each nation. In each case, from the perspective of those who lived through the events, the entire global scene was thrown out of balance, and they were faced with a landscape that was unfamiliar and threatening. The noted political theorist, Thomas Barnett, has identified this experience with a single phrase. He calls it a system perturbation, that is, an event that, in an instant, destroys the old paradigm and replaces it with one that embodies a newer and more accurate representation of global reality. (2)
One of the key difficulties with any new global paradigm is that it appears to make no sense. Unlike the clear-cut rule set that was evident before the event (in the case of the Japanese people that would have been the feudal reign of the Tokugawa regime and for the Americans it was the paradigm of the Cold War), the New World Order seems to consist of situations and events that are as frightening and confusing as they are strange and unpredictable. For the Japanese people it meant facing foreign invaders with technology, financial resources, and military power that far outstripped anything they had ever witnessed before. In the case of the Americans, it meant facing a world filled with shadowy groups of violent terrorists, old allies who suddenly appeared as enemies, a foreign policy dedicated to preventative war rather than diplomacy, and an uneasy sense that things were spiraling out of control. The goal of this paper is to invite debate on how to reformulate American foreign policy and return it to a coherent and productive path that will support its allies, revitalize its military, and reassure its own citizenry.
A Statement of the Problem
The problem is easy to state: American foreign policy suffers from a sharp disconnect between rhetoric (what policy makers say they are doing) and action (what those policy makers and their agents actually do). This schizophrenic disconnect manifests itself in bizarre behavior that is remarkably inconsistent with American ideals. Thus, on the one hand, we have an American president arguing that the United States overthrew the government of Iraq to rid that nation of a repressive regime that terrorized its own citizens, while, on the other hand, we witness alleged incidents of brutality and cruelty on the part of the American forces sworn to protect those same citizens. How did this disconnect emerge? The root of the problem can be found in the history of American foreign policy. Since the end of the First World War, the strategy of the United States in global affairs has undergone several leaps. Nevertheless, for the last 100 years, beginning with the international vision of Woodrow Wilson and culminating in the present neoconservative agenda, the grand strategy of American foreign policy has been grounded in a single constant: the American belief in universal moral values that apply to all people at all times under all circumstances. (3) These universal values include (1) a belief that each individual has innate worth; (2) a dedication to the idea that human beings must be free to pursue their destinies; (3) a contention that the best way to preserve those rights is through a democratic process, and (4) a conviction that those who have benefited from the democratic process have a duty to see that other people have the opportunity to enjoy that process as well. To express this problem another way, for 100 years American foreign policy has been guided not by common sense or by national self-interest, but by morality. Unfortunately, the American pursuit of a moral foreign policy has led to unforeseen and undesirable consequences, not the least of which has been its involvement in Iraq.
This paper challenges the reader to consider whether the United States should continue to follow its current moralistic foreign policy or adopt, instead, a realistic foreign policy that allows its leaders to defend the vital interests of the United States in a way that is prudent and well-informed, and which contemplates the idea that the best course of action may be to reduce its presence on the international scene in all but the most fundamental and inescapable ways. This central proposal emerges from three sources: (1) the ethical theories of Reinhold Niebuhr and Max Weber, (2) the political philosophy of Realpolitik as originally conceived by Machiavelli, articulated by Theodore Roosevelt, and practiced by Japan and (3) the civilizational new world order envisioned by Samuel Huntington. To develop a foreign policy based on these sources, the following two propositions are offered and elaborated upon for the remainder of this paper:
Proposition One: Attempting to construct a global strategy based on moral principles that are best left to individuals creates a disconnect in U. S. foreign policy between American rhetoric and American action that inevitably confuses national leaders and bewilders the people to such an extent that it is impossible for the leaders to make strategic decisions without committing serious errors, endangering lives, and disillusioning a majority of the citizenry.
Proposition Two: To deal with this disconnect, American foreign policy makers must adopt a new American Prime Directive that recognizes that certain irreconcilable differences exist now (and will always exist) between and among different civilizations, and that, Western Civilization, in general, and the United States, in particular, should adopt a strategy of noninterventionism (or limited engagement or, perhaps, disengagement) that empowers it to protect its own citizens, to develop energy independence, and to build a network of diplomatic, economic, and military alliances with those nation-states that are culturally compatible and willing to operate within the established rules of global cooperation.
These propositions form the focal point of the study. However, they are not simply stated and accepted at face value. Rather, they are presented as questions that must be investigated, tested, and then, should they pass the investigative and testing stages, restated as conclusions. The propositions can be reformulated and reduced to two fundamental questions: "How did the political disconnect between national and individual morality emerge?" and "How can this disconnect be replaced by a new American Prime Directive based on Realpolitik?"
Proposition One, Part 1: The Historical Roots of American Foreign Policy
American foreign policy cannot be studied in a vacuum, but must be seen, instead, on a continuum that leads from its initial stages in the expansionist environment of 19th century, through the war torn twentieth century, and into the present era of globalization. The first proposition is offered in this spirit:
Proposition One: Attempting to construct a global strategy based on moral principles that are best left to individuals creates a disconnect in U. S. foreign policy between American rhetoric and American action that inevitably confuses national leaders and bewilders the people to such an extent that it is impossible for the leaders to make strategic decisions without committing serious errors, endangering lives, and disillusioning a majority of the citizenry. When the first leaders of the United States constructed a foreign policy they were aware of three factors: (1) that the Western Hemisphere was a place of great wealth; (2) that certain European powers coveted that wealth and, in fact, had a foothold in the hemisphere; and (3) that, even though the United States in its infancy was a relatively weak nation, it would eventually control a good portion of the North American continent and the oceans that surround it. (4) Even more significant was the fact that American foreign policy makers at the time (at least until around 1912 or so) had no difficulty articulating those factors as their central political strategy. (5) The first 125 years of American foreign policy can, thus, be seen as an era of territorial expansion based on principles of Realpolitik. (6)
The term Realpolitik has different meanings in different settings, but in this context, it refers to the belief that, in politics at least, certain laws govern trends and events in history with almost, but not quite, the same precision that the laws of physics follow in the natural world. The laws of Realpolitik, as we will use them here, include four principles: (1) the global order is best described as an anarchical system; (7) (2) nation-states are the central actors on the international scene; (8) (3) nation-states are primarily motivated by outside influences, rather than domestic politics (9) and (4) the leaders of those nation-states always seek rational, comprehensible, and relatively predictable ways to maintain or extend their own power base. (10) American policy makers, who followed the principles of Realpolitik without necessarily saying so, realized that, in order to make the United States competitive in the global marketplace, they had to make the Western Hemisphere safe and secure for investment, development, and trade. Thus, we can see the 19th century as a series of expansive moves that gradually added land and water rights to the American economic arsenal. (11) A summary of that expansion looks like this: (1) in 1803, the Americans negotiated the Louisiana Purchase from France; (2) the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1819; (3) in 1845 Texas was annexed by the Americans; (4) Oregon was ceded to the United States by Britain in 1846; (5) in 1848, California was ceded to the Americans by Mexico; and (6) in 1898 Spain declared Cuba independent, transferred control of Puerto Rica and Guam to America, and sold the Philippines to the Americans for $20 million. (12) Even though the rallying cry for the Spanish-American War, the last expansionist war in the 19th century, was "Remember the Maine" it was clear to the "man and woman in the streets," that they were "remembering the Maine" for economic and expansionist reasons.
This fact is clear from the speeches of the day. A case in point is Theodore Roosevelt who, after becoming president in 1901, clearly delineated American foreign policy in the language of Realpolitik. It must be remembered, however, that Realpolitik did not originate with the Americans. In fact, it probably originated with the Greeks. It can certainly be seen within the pages of Plato's Republic and was placed, at least implicitly, within the Just War theory as proposed by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Nevertheless, the theory clearly reached fruition within the pages of Machiavelli's The …
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Publication information: Article title: Rethinking the Moral Agenda within American Foreign Policy: Lessons from Niebuhr, Huntington, and the Japanese Experience. Contributors: Sukys, Paul Andrew - Author. Journal title: Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Publication date: Spring 2008. Page number: Not available. © 2008 Forum on Public Policy. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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