Monday, October 22, 2012

Debate Prelude (Blair’s Lessons, part IV)

Tonight’s final presidential debate is focused on foreign policy. To set the stage, here are Tony Blair’s reflections on foreign policy, written in his chapter on Kosovo.
I can’t remember an incoming American president who fought a foreign policy campaign to reach the White House; or who didn’t, in the course of his administration, end up becoming preoccupied with it. The conventional wisdom among all political strategists is that to base a campaign on, or become immersed in, foreign policy is a disaster, the beginning of the end. (As I found out, to a great extent that is true.) The reason is that the public think it’s both important and at the same time very distant from their daily preoccupations. 
So at one level, the public understand the need for the big international picture. At another, to them it is round after round of summits, banquets and political chummery. It seems so remote—“What’s it got to do with us?” is the cry. What you come to realize as a leader is that although this feeling may be understandable, it is also wrong. The very nature of interdependence makes it so. Globalization pushes people together. the challenges are faced together, and the solutions—in part, at any rate—have to be found together. Therefore, it is unlikely that a challenge in continent A, if it is truly serious, will not lead to a challenge in continent B. The phrase “global community” is a cliché, but it’s also true. It’s the way we live now. 
There is another consequence of the interaction between foreign and domestic policy: the foreign policy itself has to be conducted in a different way. Global challenges require global solutions. Global solutions require global alliances. Global alliances can’t be constructed on the basis of narrow self-interest. They have to be based on shared global values.
* * *
The effect of al this is that a traditional foreign policy view, based on a narrow analysis of national interest and an indifference unless that interest is directly engaged, is flawed and out of date. I happen to think as Gladstone did that it is also immoral; but even if I didn’t, I am sure that in the early twenty-first century, it doesn’t work. 
This of course became the dominant debate over foreign policy during my time as prime minister. By the end, I am afraid, I was in a small minority when this thinking resulted in military action, but it was more widely accepted, at least in theory, when it came to the economy, the environment and other issues. It also utterly confused left and right until we ended up in the bizarre position where being in favor of the enforcement of liberal democracy was a “neoconservative” view, and non-interference in another nation’s affairs was “progressive.”
That last sentence is telling and should come to mind as the two candidates attempt to distinguish their respective positions tonight.

Also in this series:
Reforming Political Parties (Blair's Lessons, part I)
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