Straw Men at the Foreign Policy Initiative

Newly in the minority, conservative heavyweights Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol have started up a new advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), to combat the specter of isolationism they see looming in the United States. The problem is, the worldview that they have set out to oppose is just that — a specter. According to the comments of another of the group’s co-founders, Dan Senor, to FP’s Laura Rozen, the Foreign Policy Initiative’s mission seems to be relying on a whole bunch of straw men:

“We believe America is the indispensable nation, as President Clinton said,” Senor, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Foreign Policy. “And we believe it’s the exactly wrong time to demote America’s role in the world. And we are seeing an emerging bipartisan consensus on a range of issues from cutting the defense budget to a minimalist approach in Afghanistan to the importance of currying favor with the Russian government at the expense of democratic allies Ukraine and Georgia. We think there needs to be consensus on the other side of these issues.” [emphasis mine]

They’re right — America is an “indispensable nation.” What’s disturbing about this critique is the suggestion that, by engaging in more multilateral efforts, by emphasizing diplomacy over confrontation, the United States is somehow “demoting” its role. Foreign affairs is not a zero-sum game — just the opposite, in fact. By enhancing relationships and improving cooperation between countries, everybody wins; America’s role — not as bully, but as leading partner — is validated, its alliances are strengthened, and its objectives are more easily achieved. In my eyes, this is a promotion of America’s role in the world.

As for the “emerging bipartisan consensus” that Senor alludes to, I’m not exactly sure what government he is observing. The Obama Administration actually plans on increasing the defense budget (and Republicans are certainly on board for this as well), and the President’s Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy being unveiled this morning certainly does not curtail current U.S. presence in the former. And again, the beauty of a more open foreign policy is that the United States can both replace saber-rattling with Russia with rapprochement and retain good relations with its democratic neighbors.

A good foreign policy think tank from the minority is a very healthy part of American democracy; hopefully FPI will begin by contesting policies that actually exist.

(image from flickr user Ian Haycox under a Creative Commons license)