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Politics : Foreign Affairs Discussion Group

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To: Sun Tzu who wrote (281495)11/27/2020 7:48:40 AM
From: Sun Tzu  Read Replies (1) of 281500
A well reasoned article that calls for a more honest and pragmatic national security and foreign policy strategy without abandoning American leadership and ideals. I'll be very happy if it ever happens.


The United States was fashioned not from a territory or tribe but from a set of ideas. The Founders proclaimed the values of liberty and equality. They established the supremacy of “We the People.” Although their worldview incorporated racist and sexist elements—the legacy of which continues to roil American society today—they also anticipated progress toward “a more perfect union.” Establishing a state based on ideas was itself exceptional.

Crucially, the Founders believed not just in individual rights but in the common good. They were not small-d democrats but rather small-r republicans. They embraced the notion of interdependence—that human beings have shared interests and need institutions to pursue those interests, and that liberty can be preserved only through such institutions. They believed that a good society is the product of active citizenship combined with responsible and virtuous leadership. And they viewed these truths as universal—the United States was not coming into existence to rise and fall as other powers had, but rather to transform the world.

The United States cannot expect to lead if it is offering only pragmatism, and not aspiration.The current moment calls for a new form of patriotism—for citizens of all political stripes to embrace a sense of national pride based on America’s founding ideas...It will also require a renewed belief in the power of American values in the world.

I can imagine two types of readers rolling their eyes. One group will ask why we should make values a priority at all, rather than simply securing our interests. But as the late John McCain once noted, “It is foolish to view reason and idealism as incompatible or to consider our power and wealth as encumbered by the demands of justice, morality, and conscience.” A place for values in the conduct of foreign policy is built into the character of a country founded on ideas. It is also essential to our interests, because freer, less corrupt, more open societies are less likely to threaten America’s way of life. Moreover, the U.S. cannot expect to lead if it is offering only pragmatism, and not aspiration. It can’t necessarily outbid China, which has much more cash to spend abroad, but it can out-persuade and out-inspire.

The other group will call out the many times that the United States has not acted on its asserted ideals. The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr reminds us why this will always be so: “Hypocrisy and pretension are the inevitable concomitants of the engagement between morals and politics,” he wrote, adding, “They do not arise where no effort is made to bring the power impulse of politics under the control of conscience.” American leaders after Trump do not need to make categorical claims that place values above every other consideration. They should be more honest and more precise, but no less proud. Values have been a genuine consideration in the weighing of interests, and the U.S. has tried far more than other great powers to take them into account. This is rare and impressive enough. Proceeding from this basis, a new American exceptionalism can more consistently, if more modestly, secure a place for values in the conduct of foreign policy.
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