The Alternative to Empire

In the October print issue of the Prospect, James Lindsay reviewed two new books offering alternative progressive foreign policy visions -- Michael Lind's The American Way of Strategy and Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman's Ethical Realism. Today, those books' authors reply to Lindsay. Lind's response is below. See Lieven and Hulsman's response here.


James M. Lindsay thinks that George W. Bush's foreign policy may be as good as, or better than, the alternatives put forth by me and by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman: “Both books catalogue the administration's missteps, and both would have the next president pursue a far less ambitious foreign policy. It is not clear, however, that it would be a better one." (Emphasis added.)

Really? It is not clear that the more modest foreign policy that I propose, one based on traditional liberal internationalism, policed by great-power concerts in which the United States would take a leading part, would be a better one than the foreign policy of George W. Bush? Really, Dr. Lindsay?

This is the same James Lindsay who, with his frequent co-author Ivo H. Daalder, published a New York Times op-ed on May 10, 2003 arguing that "the real debate [in America] is not whether to have an empire, but what kind.” (The American people seem to have been left out of this debate.) And this is the same James Lindsay who, once more with Daalder, in Newsday on December 15, 2003 denounced Americans calling for a withdrawal from Iraq: "Whatever We Do, We Can't Cut and Run."

Indeed, this is the second time in three years that James M. Lindsay has attacked me in print for being too critical of George W. Bush and neoconservatism. In their 2003 book America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, Lindsay and Daalder, careful to pull their punches when politely criticizing Bush, dismissed me and others who pointed out the roots of the Bush doctrine in neoconservatism. According to Lindsay and Daalder, neoconservatives had little influence, and there were only two neocons in or around the administration anyway -- Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, praised by Lindsay and Daalder as admirable “democratic imperialists.” Seven months before they published their attack on my critique of neoconservatism in America Unbound, Lindsay and Daalder teamed up with the neocons William Kristol, Eliot Cohen, and Max Boot to endorse the Bush administration's post-invasion reconstruction policy in Iraq in a public letter of March 28, 2003, organized by the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC). And now three years later, this PNAC Democrat, asked by The American Prospect to review my book The American Way of Strategy, derides and dismisses it.

He would, wouldn't he? After all, The American Way of Strategy: U.S. Foreign Policy and the American Way of Life is, among other things, an argument for the contemporary relevance of the tough-minded liberal internationalism of Franklin Roosevelt and his Cold War liberal successors. Lindsay rejects this great tradition in favor of the rival and now-dying 1990s school of neoliberalism, which he calls “Clintonian liberal internationalism,” but which is more accurately described as the ideology of the Democratic Party's neocon-friendly Lieberman wing.

Lindsay and Daalder, to repeat, agree with neoconservatives that the question “is not whether to have an empire, but what kind.” Unlike neoconservatives, neoliberals want the United States to use multinational institutions to disguise the reality of U.S. world domination (neocons at least are honest). In The American Way of Strategy, I reject the profoundly un-American idea of an American global “empire” of any kind in favor of Franklin Roosevelt's realistic vision of a post-imperial system of sovereign states policed not by a hegemonic U.S. but by a concert of great powers, whose members do not have to be democratic as long as they share a commitment to peace, including peace from terrorism.

Rejecting the sensible Rooseveltian tradition, Lindsay sides with neoconservatives who want an "alliance of democracies" including India, Brazil, and South Africa that ostracizes China, Russia, and most of the states of the Middle East and Central Asia (including U.S. allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). But on many international issues, new democracies, like our traditional European and Asian allies, agree with Beijing and Moscow, not us.

Neoliberals and neocons alike claim implausibly that there cannot be world peace until all countries are “market democracies,” to use the fashionable term of the 1990s. Realistic Rooseveltian liberals considered earlier versions of this argument to be, in the words of Dean Acheson, “messianic globaloney.” The fundamental norms of the post-1945 liberal international order established by FDR and his successors are national self-determination (which by implication incorporates a ban on genocide) and nonaggression, not human rights, democracy, and trade, which should all be promoted by exhortation rather than coercion. Neither Truman's Point Four program nor Kennedy's Alliance for Progress limited U.S. foreign aid to democracies. Lindsay is therefore deriding the pragmatic idealism of Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson when he sneers at the “'I've got mine' peace that Lind envisions, whose main attribute is the absence of cross-border conflict.”

Like his endorsement of American “empire,” Lindsay's free-market fundamentalism is indistinguishable from that of the mainstream Republican right. With shocking dishonesty Lindsay inverts my argument that there should be free trade in industries other than those necessary for national security into its exact opposite: “a dressed-up version of old-fashioned protectionism (and just as unlikely to work).” Does Lindsay really agree with crackpot libertarians that we should allow global market forces to erode the U.S. defense industrial base, if the only alternative were a degree of protection or subsidy?

The affinity between neoliberalism and neoconservatism is clearest in the appalling way that Lindsay minimizes the cost of the U.S. hegemony strategy under George W. Bush: “Indeed, the remarkable thing about America's current moment at the top of the geopolitical heap is that it has placed rather light demands on our economy and society. Even Iraq, with its $400 billion price tag and its bloody human toll, has not derailed the American economy or required most Americans to make any sacrifice at all.” I suspect that most Americans will agree with me that almost half a trillion dollars, more than 2,700 American soldiers killed, and more than ten thousand maimed are not "rather light demands on our economy and society."

Like the neocons who call for “national greatness conservatism,” Lindsay complains that among his fellow Americans “there is a hunger for a smaller foreign policy that would allow the United States to do less and make others do more.” Believe it or not, James M. Lindsay thinks this would be a bad thing, compared to the foreign policy of George W. Bush. I disagree.

Michael Lind is the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

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