TCS Daily

Promoting Democracy Abroad: a Debate Continues

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - April 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Justin Logan has penned this reply to my piece on the shape and nature of a libertarian foreign policy. While I think that Logan has made some interesting contributions to this debate, he does make a number of arguments with which I want to take issue.

First of all, Logan accuses me of employing the Pundit's Fallacy to make my arguments by claiming that "the key to political success is adopting one's own policy views" -- in this case, my policy views. In my piece, I identified as a libertarian-conservative with a realist outlook on foreign policy, and said that because realism is the dominant school of thought in international relations studies, it seemed to me that the "libertarian minimalist school" of foreign policy would either have to show how its outlook on foreign policy fit in with the explanatory model provided by realist theory, or they would have to challenge and supplant realist theory with an entirely different explanatory model on how international relations are conducted. Now, if libertarian minimalists do the latter, they would be taking issue with my policy views, not adopting them. Because I invite them to do so if that is where their convictions lead them, and because I lay out the rejection of realism as a specific option worth serious consideration (my own view that realist theory is persuasive notwithstanding) it is hard to see how I am committing the Pundit's Fallacy of urging libertarian minimalists to adopt my views no matter what. If anything, I appear to be doing the opposite.

Logan objects to the term "libertarian minimalists" and to its connected claim of "isolationism." He points out that when it comes to trade, diplomacy and the war on terror, libertarians are anything but isolationist. As I mentioned in my article, I don't believe that libertarian minimalism and/or isolationism represent the whole of the libertarian movement. But every movement has its isolationist wing -- whether that movement is conservative, liberal or libertarian.

And when it comes to the charge that there exists a school of libertarian isolationism, I'm afraid that there is evidence for the existence of such a school. It certainly reared its head in the past and it rears its head in the present time as well. Now, if you want to call this policy "political non-interventionism," go right ahead; the nomenclature does not matter one iota to me. If you want to claim that not all libertarians take the isolationist or political non-interventionist line, go right ahead. I agree with you completely, and speaking as a libertarian-conservative realist, I identify as one who has rejected such a line. By no means whatsoever do I claim that libertarians monolithically align themselves with the principles of isolationism or non-interventionism. What I claim, however, is what I claimed in my original article; that there is an isolationist strain in some portions of libertarian foreign policy circles that is prominent enough to encourage debate regarding its merits.

Logan argues that "Since the United States is currently unchecked in its ability to project force abroad, we do not have to worry about balancing against a rival power." But this is patently not so. In the most outstanding counterexample to Logan's claim, we continue to worry about the projection of Chinese military power -- especially with regard to the ongoing dispute with Taiwan. Our alliance with Taiwan -- and in many ways, our alliance with Japan (an alliance that entails having us extend the umbrella of nuclear defense over Japan) -- is meant in large part to balance against Chinese power. Indeed, John Mearsheimer, one of the international relations professors associated with the realist school, appears to disagree with Logan by warning in his book about the potential of China to rival the United States as a great power, and critiquing American policy as an unwitting enabler of Chinese hegemonic power.

Logan then goes into a long discussion of Iraq, and brings up a number of realists who disputed the Bush Administration's decision to wage a war for regime change in Iraq. A realist critique and analysis of the Iraq War is an interesting matter, to be sure. But I wonder why Logan restricted himself to this specific issue in his piece. I did not mention Iraq once in my article -- mostly because I wanted to keep my piece on a macro level. But with the exception of a brief review of the realist critique against the Vietnam War, Logan makes the Iraq war his single case dedicated to testing the proposition I put forth in my article.

He introduces the issue of Iraq by stating that "Yousefzadeh clearly implies that realist orthodoxy finds his and President Bush's side of the current foreign policy debate preferable to that of libertarians." I don't know where I "implied" any such thing in my article. I did say that "I believe that when it comes to acting within the international system, the United States has to run an activist and internationalist foreign policy," but that analysis does not lead to any kind of endorsement of the Bush Administration's foreign policy and is quite more ecumenical than Logan appears to give it credit for. Indeed, whatever my opinions of the Bush Administration's foreign policy, as a realist I would make pretty much the same analysis no matter what Administration was running the country, and no matter which party occupied the White House. Realist theory, it should be remembered, de-emphasizes the nature of the government and/or the ideological inclinations and specific characteristics of the governors of a nation-state, and instead posits that nation-state interests are roughly the same no matter what kind of government a nation-state has and no matter who is in charge. So my analysis does not lead to the conclusion that realist theory somehow favors the Bush Administration's foreign policy. If the Bush Administration executes certain policies that may have been predicted by realist theory, it might serve as a validation of realism's predictive power, but that is an entirely different matter altogether.

Incidentally, Logan appears to ignore my oft-expressed belief (and commensurate critique) that in crafting its foreign policy, the Bush Administration oftentimes goes against the lessons of realism. In this article, for example, I critiqued President Bush's oft-expressed belief that the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East would be a good thing because democracies "encourage the peaceful pursuit of a better life" -- a statement closely associated with another of the President's beliefs; that the spread of democracies would mean the lessening of war and conflict. As I argue in my article, there is a powerful and compelling realist critique of the President's position -- a critique that is most notable in Christopher Layne's "Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace". Layne demonstrates that despite popular beliefs to the contrary, democracies have come close to going to war with one another several times in recent history, and the prospect for war between democracies remains worrisome because a democracy could backslide, and because democracies could misread each other's intentions and go to war with one another based on a miscalculation. Additionally, I have offered an alternative -- and more realist -- argument in favor of democracy promotion; one that posits that despite the valid and sober concerns expressed in the Layne piece, democracy promotion could be valuable because while it does not offer perfect transparency, it does give us greater transparency between nation-states, which could reduce the potential for miscalculations and a resulting war.

So despite Logan's claim to the contrary, the issue of democracy-promotion debunks the theory that "realist orthodoxy finds . . . President Bush's side of the current foreign policy debate preferable." While democracy promotion may ultimately satisfy some basic security concerns, all of the President's pronouncements on the issue are much more from a neo-Wilsonian perspective than a realist perspective. It is difficult, then, to understand how Logan ascribes to me the position that he does.

It is also difficult to understand why Logan believes that I am issuing the government "a blank check to pursue an 'activist foreign policy' in order to 'maximize [its] own power.'" I am not issuing the government any such "blank check." I am saying that if one accepts the premise that we live in a Hobbesian world where the maximization of nation-state power is an imperative then "it would behoove nation-states to run an activist foreign policy in order to maximize their own power." The international system makes this an imperative. Not me. It is solely because of what I perceive as the imperatives of the international system that "I believe that when it comes to acting within the international system, the United States has to run an activist and internationalist foreign policy," but this implies no "blank check" and it would not be so that the government could maximize its power. In realist theory, the maximization of power is achieved by the nation-state in the international sphere, not the government. There is a difference and nomenclature matters here.

And relatedly, what this has to do with how a state "that is infinitely powerful abroad [would] act at home" is a puzzlement. First of all, no state is "infinitely powerful." Secondly, even if a state is powerful abroad that does not at all mean or imply that it need be non-libertarian at home. The United States is perfectly capable of both projecting power on an awesome scale abroad through far-reaching and penetrating diplomacy and the effective display of military strength while at the same time keeping the domestic regulatory state in check, cutting taxes, safeguarding civil liberties, encouraging economic liberty and refraining from overbearing nannyism in social and cultural affairs. There is absolutely nothing preventing the United States -- or for that matter, any other great power -- from doing so, and if it does not do so, people like Justin Logan will have to do a lot better to show that correlation constitutes causation.

Having made these points and expressed my areas of disagreement with Justin Logan, I appreciate his response and applaud his sincere and serious desire to further the debate and the time he devoted to crafting his critique of my position. I hope and trust that this debate will be furthered and continued by other participants. It strikes me as being an important one to have.

The author is a lawyer and TCS contributor. Find more of his writing here.


TCS Daily Archives