Security Studies Program Seminar
Dead Center: The Demise of Liberal Internationalism in the United States
April 15, 2009
- Where is the grand strategy (GS) of the Obama administration heading? It's an effort to reclaim ambitions and objectives guiding American foreign policy prior to Bush admin – trying to return to Liberal Internationalism (LI) that was in train from FDR through Clinton
- Three traditional planks of LI have been:
- Projection of American power abroad
- “Embeddedness” of that power in international institutions (multi-lateralism)
- free trade
- But probably won’t happen because too much change inside and outside the US to return to that strategy that was unique to domestic and international conditions of the Cold War.
- LI rested on a bipartisan compact between moderate Democrats and Republicans – on those three planks – and that compact has now come undone.
- Universalization of LI on those three planks is unlikely to happen – Princeton Project on National Security arguing for universalization of the western order while we still have the time (though they assume we will lose our primacy materially, we can still try to preserve our order ideologically if the Russians, Chinese, and Indians take their seat at the table in our order, which then becomes their order)
Thoughts on Obama:
- He's an Insurgent – won election because able to mobilize grassroots Democratic revolution to overturn the party establishment – surprise was beating Clinton, not McCain
- went out into country, mobilized younger voters and others, organized on populist revolution, people who weren't part of Dem. machine
- doing this again at home – going on TV to win Am. confidence on stimulus and economy
- Going Abroad – knew he wouldn't get policy wins so he didn't try (i.e. stimulus package for Germans, combat troops in NATO), so focused on public diplomacy -- the communication to people to win confidence – gone over heads of governing elites
- This strategy comes from Obama, has not been in DC long
- Obama “got it” early on – strategy a fine line between American leadership and listening to others (not coming from Jones or Clinton) – maybe parallel to Eisenhower as last “hands-on strategist”
- Insurgency happening because we live in a period of great political polarization – domestically and abroad
- US pretty divided – Obama can't cover up with dinners and being nice to Republicans
- No bipartisanship because Republicans and Democrats simply don’t agree – no ideological common ground
- This is the biggest gap in approval ratings between democrats and republicans in modern American history
- Republican party clustered on far right – moderates gone, lost in 2006/08 elections – now a very ideologically coherent
- Democrats very incoherent – moderate caucus in center, leftist caucus – divided geographically (Midwest moderates and liberal west/Northeast) – very few occupy the ideological center
- if did venn diagram, very little overlap between parties (in the house especially, less so but still in senate)
- This divide makes very difficult to restore LI
- very different electoral map than when LI came to be post WWII
Roots of Liberal Internationalism (LI) politically and geopolitically
- American Grand Strategy before Pearl Harbor – a strategic mess from 1789-1941
- very difficult to get coherent steady policy
- parties rep different regions and thus had very different political/geopolitical interests
- north: anti-free trade to protect manufacturing and pro-defense spending
- south: pro-free trade to sell agriculture, and anti-defense spending (much more afraid of American Government than French or British Government) – didn't want large, powerful federal govt. military
- After 1855 – Democrats in south, Republicans in north – remains picture of electoral map until Roosevelt comes along
- checkmate/oscillation geopolitically from 1890s to1940s
- when republicans in charge, go imperial – war w/ Spain
- when democrats in charge (Wilson) – cooperate (League of Nations) and disarm, etc – Wilson couldn't sell the League to Senate (due to Republican opposition)
- then, 3 Presidents with lowest common denominator – isolationism
- Roosevelt changes things – could do this because
- A major threat and southerners backed defense spending and
- North having industrialized now, no longer interested in tariffs
- percent of votes bipartisan foreign policy votes rise post 1930s
- bases open in south, post-war boom that reduces ideological cleavages
- leads to substantial increase in the “moderate block”
- divides between democrats and republicans over Soviet threat fairly minimal from '48-'72
- Bargain struck between Democrats and Republicans
- reason to put politics aside – support NATO, international institutions, need allies to achieve our objectives
- Bipartisanship declines precipitously in 1990s post-cold war and Republicans take house in '94
- Terrorism not play as much a threat as the Soviet Union did
- regions become more homogenous – NE, West coast, largely Democrats -- Republicans occupy L-shaped area from mountain west and south to Atlantic
- harder to build coalitions – not same incentive for parties to tack to the center
- part of problem is gerrymandering, population movement, post-war led to declining economy makes it harder to cut across class and social cleavage
- decline of moderate block in congress – not just change in geopolitical environment but also change domestically
- with decline in Economy, bipartisan consensus on Free Trade has cracked --
- the era in which US is minder/engine behind global economy has come to an end
- hard to defend free trade when jobs in manufacturing/industrial states are declining
- would be surprised if Obama pushes hard on free trade – Doha, etc.
- G20 pledged not to go protectionist but when met in London subsequently, 17 of 20 had implemented some protectionist measures
- Not just Congress, but American Public - more polarized over foreign policy than has ever been (hasn't been seen since 19th century) – and polarization on foreign policy now greater than polarization on domestic policy
- If Obama offered the international systems of the cold war – Breton Woods, UN, NATO etc – they would not pass the Senate
- no interest in programmatic investment in liberal internationalism and free trade
- Obama will have to build domestic coalitions issue by issue - have to put together small alliances per issue rather than assume a broad moderate block to support him on these issues writ large
- divides on climate change, trade, defense all different
- will have to reach farther for Republicans as they're further on right, and will lose democrats as they're far on left too
- too hard to say Bush broke bargain – it was broken before Bush
- Clinton couldn’t get Kyoto, CTBT, ICC
- Obama will have a hard time getting 2/3 in senate because Republicans still not international institutionalists
Assumptions of Obama admin/supporters (or liberal internationalists in general)
- LI can be revived – by Obama, and he’s trying
- When it is revived, we can complete the process of building a western order (a Rawls-ian western order)
- naïve to assume the appetite is abroad for this
- it's OUR order, serves our notion of domestic and international order, even though we think transparency, democratic accountability and the like are universal
- might dislike our standards of governance (as a metric for one's standing in the world)
- system will not look like western order
- liberal democracy will be only one way
- will return to traditional notions of sovereignty, not a dilution of sovereignty (with “Responsibility to Protect” etc)
- League of Democracies – seems precisely the opposite of what we should be doing
- can't convert China, Russia, Saudi Arabia to liberal democracy – but to find a way to work with them, to strike a new bargain that is a compromise
- even if pull off in US, run into a brick wall when assuming universalization of western order will be shared by rising powers (they don't want to adjust their interests to us)
Q & A:
How do we know LI if we saw it? It seem we've scored higher now on the 3 types of LI than we had in the Cold War – haven't we risen or at least holding steady on cooperation?
Debate should be structured according to outcomes/policies – agreed. Bipartisanship is the independent variable. The difference is the coding of outcomes. I see less cooperation.
- Bush administration has not distinguished itself as a “team player” - neocon agenda, 10 stories lopped off the UN, pulling out of Kyoto, withdraw from ICC, etc
- was it an aberration? No - maybe an exaggeration (sped up history) – so saw lots of power but not a lot of cooperation
- Obama likely to drawdown Iraq and invest in institutions but not same scale as during the cold war because there's not same demand/acceptance, and I predict a decline in free trade as well
Why does Obama pursue this LI if preconditions don't change? How is this a response to foreign threat we have now? How will it play out?
- He pursues this in part because he's supposed to – surrounded by liberal internationalists -- from academia, the hill, think-tanks, etc all cut from that cloth. Still will be constrained – a “Liberal internationalism lite”
- Foreign threat – Big question – big external threat only 30-40% of the causal factor for LI – larger part is domestic sphere – even when have geopolitical incentives, have still not pursued LI. Terrorism as threat doesn't play same way as large state threat (during CW). Terrorism agenda not lend itself easily to a grand strategy of institutional engagement. Lends itself to covert ops, bureaucracy but not global engagement of the cold war era
Possible consensus on Defense spending? Stretch outs of equipment? Pullback of troops overseas to bring money back home?
Will pursue LI lite that's “cheap” - consensus on grand strategy (to what degree you can) on retrenchment. There will be some consensus on defense budget than what to do with defense. Reductions still because of budget crunch, and democrats more comfortable spending more on this post 9-11 but difference will be on when/where to send troops – will be conflict within Democratic party – a sort of Nixonian retrenchment, not necessarily isolationism.
Democrats seems to be big on pushing their security bona fides – counterinsurgency now and forever, turn state department into Lawrence of Arabias getting them out of their offices – seems to be quite the opposite of retrenchment
- doesn't momentum seem to be in another direction?
- Isn't it surprising this consensus has survived big shocks – like mess in Iraq and economic shock
We weathered the shock because Bush in office and Democrats could not change policy during his 2nd term. The security bona fides rhetoric Democrats use will likely not actually happen once we realize we're in up to our eyeballs and have to change.
What grand security strategy do you like? Obama seems to be focused on terror and nuclear weapons, and it's internationalist but not liberal – not concerned with other views. Also, role of neocons – permanent or evanescent?
- I like where Obama is coming out, somewhat surprised – League of Democracies was backed by influential democrats part of Obama campaign (Lake, Slaughter, Daalder) – and was a battle about this – idea didn't make it in upper levels because the President didn’t like it. He's likely going to say to other countries: “here's a problem, can you help me fix it?” Base international system on way to work with us on collective problems
- Neocons: like vampires, keep getting “staked” and they keep coming back. Despite accountability and market of ideas in this country yet somehow they’re still powerful and thriving.
- Why do they continue to linger around? ideologically coherent program (though surprisingly Obama admin. has been remarkably disciplined – though ideologically will be difficult)
21st century is very different from 20th century – US shrunk in power and influence in world – national boundaries vs. parts in between those national boundaries – we need to control latter, but not former
Moving toward a world more like concert of Europe – work with countries willing to work with you and stay out of domestic affairs. Getting that cooperation is not easy when US less preponderant. A number of things can't be done without institutionalized cooperation, but we'll likely get piecemeal cooperation rather the grandiose institutions post WWII. Coalitions of the willing, contact groups, etc will be key.
Are democracies still more likely to share interests in these collective problems than non-democracies (more concerned with own power)?
We overestimate the pacifying effect of democracy on foreign policy. Can make peace despite internal repression – i.e. Brazil-Argentina, and Indonesia-Malaysia
Is this stacked? Won't polarization change if Republicans continue to lose? Will rise of new power perhaps induce a new bipartisan alignment?
Was this election a realignment? Unlikely – red states just voted for a Democrat. Independents are not permanently in blue column. Youth vote and Latino vote is new and changing electoral map – Democrats have them for now and will pressure republicans to change their positioning. Obama gets that US not have the preponderant sway that it used to – so has to appeal to the electorate.
Is the multi-national nature of the US going to force the US to be more internationalist or affect policy? From US domestic pressure – e.g. Israeli vote, etc.
New elements will come from Hispanic/Latino vote – what will that do for US policy is unclear. Perhaps more concerned with domestic policy, education, welfare, etc and less on grand strategy?
Rapporteur: Sameer Lalwani
back to Wednesday Seminar Series, Spring 2009