Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Democracy and American Grand Strategy in Asia: The Realist Principles Behind an Enduring Idealism

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Democracy and American Grand Strategy in Asia: The Realist Principles Behind an Enduring Idealism

Article excerpt

Keywords: democracy promotion, US foreign policy, China, Japan, India, ASEAN.

MICHAEL J. GREEN is Senior Advisor and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Associate Professor of International Relations at Georgetown University.

At the time of writing, DANIEL TWINING was the Fulbright/Oxford Scholar at Oxford University and a Transatlantic Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Has democracy promotion been discredited as a central theme of American foreign policy after the US experience in Iraq? Many American critics and friends overseas appear to believe so. So do many American elites and parts of the broader public. Polling by the German Marshall Fund of the United States demonstrates that the American public's support for promoting democracy overseas has fallen from 52 per cent in 2005 to only 37 per cent in 2007. (1) Opinion-shapers like Fareed Zakaria and Francis Fukuyama argue that the United States must move from promoting democratic elections to pursuing a more realistic statecraft that privileges hard American interests over a softer-edged idealism. (2) American presidential candidates pledge, if elected, to run more "competent" foreign policies than the current administration, a far cry from the ambition of "ending tyranny in this world" which President George W. Bush declared as America's mission in his second inaugural address. (3) Hillary Clinton has declared the construction of a stable "Muslim democracy" in Afghanistan to be perhaps too great a challenge, (4) while Congressional Democrats issued a foreign policy manifesto before the 2006 elections that did not include the word "democracy". (5) If real, these trends have important implications for American foreign policy in Asia, where China's growing influence, premised partly on its model of a more traditionally "Asian" authoritarian modernity, challenges the United States' predominant position. A move away from ideational objectives in US foreign policy in Asia could also change the content and character of newly strengthened relations with the region's traditional democracies, particularly Japan and India.

From a historical perspective, however, the American foreign policy elite's intellectual malaise over the infusion of US statecraft with democratic values today appears to repeat a pattern evident since the beginning of the last century. In this reading, realist critics have emerged whenever the United States has encountered challenges abroad from illiberal adversaries, exposing American presidents to criticism that their attempts to export American ideals have undermined national security. E.H. Carr emerged as a critic of Wilsonian idealism in the 1930s, as fascist regimes established themselves in a world President Woodrow Wilson had pledged to "make safe for democracy". (6) Hans Morgenthau rose to intellectual prominence in the early years of the Cold War to define "interest in terms of power", in a repudiation of President Franklin Roosevelt's idealistic belief that the United States and the Soviet Union could be partners, not adversaries, in managing the post-World War II order. (7) The realism of President Richard Nixon and National

Security Advisor Henry Kissinger was the counterpoint to John F. Kennedy's "pay any price, bear any burden" idealism, which they blamed for propelling the United States into the morass of Vietnam. Today, fuelled by setbacks to American democracy promotion in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Georgia and elsewhere--and by the geopolitical challenge to US interests posed by rising autocracies in China, Russia and Iran--American elites and the broader public appear less certain about the value of infusing American foreign policy with moral principle.

The Argument

It would be wrong, however, to believe that the ideational approach of American foreign policy will diminish, particularly in Asia. This is true for three reasons. …

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