Monday, March 12, 2007

The Foreign Policy Trap

A Lazy Post - Matt Yglesias

I think Yglesias sort of gets it through his reprinting of Tony Smith's article on current foreign policy doctrine and the presidential race. They both note how difficult it is to produce a workable foreign policy doctrine. The myriad of competing interests in the U.S. alone make it a headache. But, and here's where I think Yglesias only sort of gets it, the problem is not with how difficult it is to produce a foreign policy doctrine but how difficult it is to get such a doctrine to work for more than a couple of years. Domestic politics tends to move slowly and so a domestic policy can last for a decade without need for serious revision. But foreign politics tends to move far more quickly. Simply put, a foreign policy doctrine cannot adapt quickly enough to remain relevant.
The solution I think, if there is a solution, is not to have a foreign policy doctrine but a foreign policy attitude. What a doctrine does is inform, if not dictate, the shape of the policy when, more often than not, good policy is shaped by events on the ground, so to speak. An attitude simply puts forth a direction for that policy to move in. Democracy-promotion is a reasonable example of this idea as one can promote democracy through their foreign policy without subjecting that policy to a series of required actions. The one instance where military action is required would not mean that military action is required in every instance. This is not to say that we should all bow before the alter of Realpolitik. Instead, it simply means that we must not rely solely on theory to determine our responses in foreign affairs.