February 28, 2005

Realism, Liberalism, Classicalism, Neo-ism:
Bush's Foreign Policy Ideology

Much has been made of Bush's foreign policy perspective. Most of the observations are either irrelevant or incorrect, which is more due to the abstract, hoity-toity nature of foreign policy academia than anything else.

All political views flow from philosophy. Domestic politics are hopelessly bogged down by both the status quo and the insanely annoying theory of positivism. Without getting into either at all, the effect is simple: domestic politics are measured more by one's actions and rhetoric than one's philosophy reasoning for them. If you support welfare because capitalism is evil then you would be no more left than somebody who supports it out of religious ideals, unless you supported MORE welfare - more action. In reality, the Christian welfare state and the anarcho-communist social critique are worlds apart because of such distinct philosophical views.

In foreign policy, the ideologies go by your philosophy less than your actions. Unfortunately, idiotic Democrats and total jerks like Hannity and Gibson haven't the foggiest idea what a philosophy is - let alone how to do identify. This isn't to say they're stupid in general, just that a lot of people try to speak intelligently on a subject they clearly didn't bother to research first.

Stupid Republicans' View of Foreign Policy: Good leaders act tough, don't back down, tell the world who is the boss, and don't stand for any monkey business. It doesn't so much matter why, as long as they're tough. Bad leaders are wimpy and slimy and will sink to any low to hate America and worship Europe.

Stupid Democrats' View of Foreign Policy: Good leaders value compromise and never go to war except when totally unavoidable, and make sure they always listen to foreign viewpoints - or at least the foreign viewpoints Democrats like. Bad leaders are arrogant and don't listen to others.

The Way It Really Works: Foreign policy is actually a little more complex but still pretty easy to grasp. Instead of looking at whether leaders are 'tough' or 'diplomatic' you should look to their justifications and perspectives. While in the broadest sense there is some connection from realist to tough and liberalist to diplomatic, this is a pretty sorry link - there's no reason realists couldn't be slimy cowards or liberalists couldn't be tough cowboys.

Here's a quiz on SelectSmart authored by myself. It's rough and short, but it ought to be fairly accurate:
Foreign Policy Philosophy Selector

The simple way to explain the distinction between realists and liberalists (I'm excluding Marxists, who are widely discredited and hardly worth discussing) is Hobbes versus Locke.

Hobbes, author of Leviathan, said famously that life in the state of nature is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" without a state to protect you. In the state of nature, a euphemism for the time before states while anarchy reigned, people are selfish, mean, short-sighted, greedy and will do whatever they want for themselves. They do not have any rights, moral or legal, and do whatever they want for the here and now - without regard for their own futures or the interests of others. Since there is no overarching government or state to rule us all, chaos reigns.

Hobbes solved the chaotic state of nature with the Leviathan, an all-powerful ruler. Realists don't solve the anarchy of the world. They argue (somewhat correctly) that there is no "international 911" to call for help - and that any attempt to create one is likely to result in failure. Since everybody is selfish and short-sighted, we have to be tougher and meaner to protect ourselves. This is why some like to shorthand realists for tough guys - but Hobbes himself was proud to be a coward. Realist doesn't mean tough. It means watching out for survival, without morality, compassion or prosperity. It means trying to keep an edge, trying to gain relative strength against all others. It means back-stabbing anyone if you have to and making friends with anybody you need to. It means a constant life-or-death struggle without ethics, reason or fairness.

Locke, author of Second Treatise on Government, argued that the pre-government state of nature had moral rights, liberty and generally happiness. It is the lack of impartial justice that ruins the state of nature and necessitates a government among us. People are basically good, smart and of roughly equal capabilities. Perfecting the implementation of justice is the key to smoothing out the problems. He was a strong believer in liberty, and an early proponent of democracy - unlike Hobbes who argued against democracy in the strongest possible terms and had no use for liberty in the slightest form.

In foreign policy, the Lockean view is that we can appeal to the better nature of other states and come to a solution to many conflicts before they boil over into conflict. Lockean views also emphasize commerce and more open trade, as well as increased communication between countries. In more advanced forms, group security arrangements attempt to create the International 911 that would better protect countries from invasion and attack. Liberalists do not have to be weak - and they are not the same thing at all as Democrats or modern-day US 'liberals.'

Now, I could go on and on and explain more about each. I'm trying to trim it down a little to make it easier to read.

The simple way to explain the distinction between classicals and neos is to ask one question: "do institutions shape actors or do actors shape institutions?" It might be hard to answer this one, or at least to pick one side decisively. It comes to the root of your philosophy.

Classicals believe that the nature of a state ('actor') is intrinsic. No matter what 'institutions' (UN, WTO, NATO) you place in, around or near a state it will continue to do and be what it is naturally. For the classical realist, this means that a state will always seek only its own survival and relative power. Whether there is no UN or a strong UN, each state will behave the same way, seeking its own interest. More controversially, democracies, dictatorships and communist states all behave the same way, a realist believes, so there's little point in worrying about the domestic nature of a state. For the classical liberalist, this all means that a free state will usually behave ethically and appropriately while an unfree state will usually behave unethically and inappropriately. The undemocratic, unfree states cannot be changed by the UN or NATO. Institutions should still exist, but free states should only include other free states, since the unfree states cannot act in the interests of liberty.

Neos believe that the nature of a state-actor is pretty flexible. Placing good institutions near or on a state can make it adopt certain behavior, while the like of institutions often allows it to degrade into worse behavior. For neo-realists this means that the structure of world politics causes conflict, not the nature of states. Neo-realists say that we can encourage peace through a variety of institutional and structural changes, especially a bipolar world. The creation of pseudo-empires, like in the Cold War, can make a bipolar world where two powers control their minor and major allies and work together to avoid confrontation. The structure is the cause of conflict or peace. To neo-liberalists, this means that an unfree state becomes better by surrounding it with good institutions like the UN, WTO, NATO and so forth. It becomes better from the influence, communication and ideas and tries to emulate the other members. Therefore the classical liberalist strategy of excluding non-democracies is counter-productive because we should be including unfree states to change them.

Most people fall somewhere in between classical and neo, but the realist-liberalist continuum is a little more polarizing. Personally I am a liberalist and I gravitate much more to the classical line (institutions only matter if they communicate with the populace, not the leaders of a country). There are other manifestations and sections of foreign policy - most infamously the neocons.

The neocons are liberalist in their belief that morality girds foreign policy and that democracy and freedom are the fundamentals of that morality. They are realist in their embracing of anti-democratic allies. They are classical in their sweeping belief that the nature of states is the biggest sign of their loyalties and actions. The neocons have a complex perspective, but ultimately it comes down to classical liberalism with a not-insignificant dash of realism thrown in.

So what is Bush? It's hard to say, since politicians and diplomats have to be careful about their comments. One thing is clear: Bush is no realist. Bush is a liberalist, pushing the case for greater democracy and freedom as a precursor to security and prosperity. He has weak neo credentials in that he does not use institutions to shepherd along dictators and tyrants, but instead calls them out, in classical fashion, as irreconcilably tyrannical. There's a lot of studying to be done and there are many criticisms to be made when it comes to President Bush's foreign policy, but let no person call him a realist in the foreign policy sense.


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