Misreading Reagan's Legacy: A Truly Conservative Foreign Policy

Courtesy Reuters

William Kristol and Robert Kagan's vision of a Pax Americana helps further the ever unsettled debate over America's role in the post -Cold War world ("Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy," July/August 1996). But in attempting a conservative policy with a "moral clarity," they have offered an approach that is low on strategic clarity, and not very conservative to boot.

Kristol and Kagan are on target when they assert that conservatives need a foreign policy vision to achieve a lasting political realignment; no American political movement worth its name can succeed solely on domestic issues. Critics like us are sympathetic to their overriding purpose: to find an inspirational vision to sustain support for American engagement in world affairs.

Unlike some cheap-hawk conservatives, the authors advocate a much higher defense bill to make America a hegemonic power. They rightly worry that deep cuts in the military are putting the United States on the path to decline, and they understand that it is downright silly to propose, as the Clinton administration has, grand strategies of enlarging the world's democracies and becoming a global peacekeeper without embarking on a military buildup.


But Kristol and Kagan's vision of American foreign policy is without limits or constraints. It is somewhat confusing to discover that the government that runs too much of America runs too little of the world. It is fine with us if leaders use American power and influence to accomplish traditional foreign policy tasks like deterring aggression, defeating enemy nations, shoring up alliances, and expanding free trade. But we wonder what limits Kristol and Kagan would impose on their global democratic enterprise -- one that ultimately would have the U.S. government engineering the domestic transformation of nations around the globe.

The authors, dodge the central foreign policy question facing America in the post-Cold War era: how to develop an internationalist foreign policy disciplined by a framework for selectivity and discrimination. This has been the central question since the Soviet Union

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