The Breakfast Table

Hoping for a Good Foreign Policy Fight


This is interesting. For the first couple days of this week, we’ve been peas in a pod, agreeing on most things. Indeed over the past few years, I’ve agreed with most of the things you’ve been writing. But now we see the Bush foreign policy doctrine with different eyes. I wonder if Phase 2 of the war on terror is going to bring out a full-blown, highly passionate foreign policy debate in this country. I wonder if the Iraq issue will create militant pro-war and anti-war camps. (If so, I’ve got bad news for you: You’re going to be anguished in the middle, at least at first.)

I sometimes try to explain to college-age kids what it was like to be in Washington when the funding-for-the-Contras debate was going strong. To them, it’s unrecognizable. If you came of age since, say, 1985, you’ve never really seen a vicious debate over foreign policy. You might actually fall for the crap about the Cold War being a period of clarity in American politics.

I half hope we get into a foreign policy tussle. Domestic policy debates are dominated by bogus studies and counterstudies and all those damn economists. Spare me a lifetime of stimulus packages. Foreign policy debates are actually about core values. And as Teddy Roosevelt said in his “Strenuous Life” speech (why do I keep coming back to him?), nations reveal their ideals to themselves by the way they conduct their foreign policy.

Two last things for today. George Bush has in fact boldly challenged the Republican Party. Look at how the congressional Republicans behaved until Bush came along. They were happy to pull out of just about every foreign commitment you could name, and they were unthinkingly hostile to any positive government action. Their broad global vision was limited to the question: Is the budget balanced? The party had fallen into a corporatist slough. Bush has lifted it up. In fact, he has changed his party almost as much as Clinton changed his. And if Bush follows the logic of his argument, he will indeed radically boost our foreign aid spending. If you get into nation building, you’ve got to get in with both feet.

Finally, you say that Iran and Iraq never actually target Americans. I guess I’d say: 1) Saddam did try to kill George H.W. Bush. 2) He does host terrorist training bases where they learn to hijack planes. 3) He declares himself a great enemy of the United States. 4) He is working on weapons of mass destruction that would be highly effective in killing Americans. 5) Even if he is only interested in using nuclear weapons to incinerate Tel Aviv, that’s enough for me. I still want to see him destroyed before he does.

It might also not be a bad idea to recognize that some ideologies are intrinsically menacing to liberty and security, and that radical Islam is one such ideology.