The U.S. International Role: Conservative & Progressive

I offered my take on the current war of words and ideas over whether the U.S. should engage in more warlike action in Libya. Now, there are three essential considerations at The Atlantic.

Substituting for James Fallows, Sam Roggeveen offers here and here, with more to come, two deeply considered  posts (beneath the common sturm und drang) on the nature of international “society” and what a historically appropriate U.S. engagement in it should be.

The benefits of an international society — a law-bound international order marked by authoritative institutions and universally recognized traditions — may not be readily apparent to Americans. After all, systems of laws has little attraction for those with the resources to protect themselves in an anarchical world. But in the multipolar order to come, international society will be far more important to the U.S.

Now, realists are not necessarily against the idea of international institutions such as the UN. As I said in the previous posts, they see such bodies as a useful stage for the international power struggle — a way to manage competition. But that misses their deeper purpose, which is to tame or sublimate the power contest. In my previous post I quoted the English conservative philosopher Roger Scruton, and here he is again on the importance of constitution. It is the conservative’s desire, Scruton says,

…to see power not naked in the forum of politics, but clothed in constitution, operating always through an adequate system of law, so that it’s movement seems never barbarous or oppressive, but always controlled and inevitable, an expression of the civilized vitality through which allegiance is inspired.

In reference to Roggeveen, about calls for U.S. intervention, which are not just coming from conservatives, Andrew Sullivan offers this:

What’s striking to me is how many American conservatives actually long for the exercize of brute force or constant executive action in the face of a dramatically changing world. This they call strength – even after the debacles of Bush’s executive whims. They see the role of an American president as mastering the world, controlling events, forcing everything through the prism of post-war American hegemony. But that hegemony is over, partly because of America’s success in defeating the Soviets and China’s and India’s successes in forging a new economic order. The kind of hegemony Nixon or Reagan enjoyed was an accident of history. It will not be regained, by the laws of economics, and demography.

Roggeveen ends today’s post with the a telling and challenging insight.

Now, if there are any conservatives left reading this post, they may well be thinking that this all sounds rather … well … progressive. In my next post, I want to explain why conservatives can’t just dismiss this as a lefty CINO (conservative-in-name-only) plot.

This seemingly paradoxical union of the conservative and progressive is exactly how to understand the foreign policy of Barack Obama.

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