To the casual observer, American foreign policy over the past 240 years can come across as sporadic at best. We’ve gone from Washingtonian noninterventionism to the territorial expansions of the nineteenth century to gearing up a massive military industrial complex for two world wars to Soviet containment to democratic nation-building to a series of non-specific military engagements with rogue terrorist groups.
Some conservatives have argued the best thing we could do as a nation would be to heed George Washington’s warning of no entangling alliances with foreign powers and stop meddling in the affairs of other nations. Other conservatives argue for a strong military presence around the globe needed to keep world peace and free markets operating. Which view is truly “conservative” and which view represents the best course of action?
Irving Kristol—the father of Neoconservatism—spoke of the challenge of developing universal foreign policy principles. Although Neocons usually get a bad rap for being war hawkish, Kristol’s observations argued for constraint and contemplation:
“Western political thought has very little to say about foreign policy. From Thucydides to our own time, political philosophy has seen foreign affairs so radically affected by contingency, fortune, and fate as to leave little room for speculative enlightenment. John Locke was fertile in suggestions for the establishment and maintenance of good government, but when it came to foreign affairs he pretty much threw up his hands: ‘What is to be done in reference to foreigners, depending much upon their actions and the variation of designs and interests, must be left in great part to the prudence of those who have this power committed to them, to be managed by the best of their skill for the advantage of the Commonwealth.’”
While the best foreign policy may change depending on how the pieces on the chess board are arranged, one thing that does not change are a nation’s national interests. And American interests are an excellent gauge for evaluating American foreign policy. What are those national interests? Bob Burch joins the conversation with Josh once more to walk through American foreign policy in part one of this two-part series.