Wednesday, July 09, 2008


In 2000, George W. Bush ran as if he, too, was going to be part of the consensus. If anything, he was going to be a little less eager to intervene overseas than his father or Bill Clinton, but no one expected major changes, certainly not with Colin Powell as Secretary of State.

After September 11, however, Bush confounded his critics and supporters alike in the foreign policy establishment by embracing a foreign policy that had been developed by dissenting neo-conservatives in Washington.

Taken as a whole, it represented a break with 60 years of American foreign policy:
  • stridently nationalist rather than internationalist,
  • contemptuous of international law,
  • clothed in the language of American exceptionalism but in fact embracing 19th century German Machtpolitik,
  • endowed with what one British journalist once called America's "illusion of omnipotence,"
  • and committed to a theory of geopolitics that assumed that the world could be easily shaped by the exercise of American force.

So as we head into the 2008 election, the question is whether the next American president will continue George W. Bush's foreign policy or revert to the kind of foreign policy that America followed from 1940 to 2000.

Of all the leading candidates, the only one who has embraced the neo-conservative vision is John McCain, who since 1998 has been advised by, and followed the approach of, Washington neoconservatives (Those interested in the details might up the profile of McCain I did in The New Republic last year.) In McCain's favor, he does not have the Bush administration or the typical neo-conservatives? contempt for international law. But McCain is also, as one disillusioned Bush supporter told me, a "warrior" who sees the world as a playground in which slights have to be avenged. Witness his recent flip comments about bombing Iran or his proposal to "take out" Iraqi leader Muqtada al-Sadr. So McCain is the major question mark.

On the Democratic side, I can say with some assurance that all the major candidates would attempt to build on the older internationalist foundations of American foreign policy. Their administrations would be sequels to the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations not to the George W. Bush administration

Right Web profile of John McCain

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