With metronomic regularity, there is a choreographed minuet of carnage. Israel is attacked. Israel defends itself. Perfunctory affirmations of Israel’s right of self-defense are quickly followed by accusations that Israel’s military measures are disproportionate. Then come demands for a ceasefire, and the attackers replenish their arsenals.
The accusations and demands are ascribed to something fictitious, the “international community.” The word “community” connotes a certain cement of shared values and aspirations. So, what community includes Denmark and Yemen, Canada and Iran, New Zealand and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Italy and North Korea? “International community” is empty cant that bewitches the minds of earnest diplomats such as John Kerry but does not interest Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
He surely has told Kerry what he has told others: The point of Israel is that Jews shall never again, like Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, depend on the kindness of strangers. Such dependency did not work out well for Jews, so Israel exists for Jewish self-defense.
Israel’s hardheaded exercise of hard power in Gaza has instructively coincided with a dismal reverberation from the Obama administration’s most empty-headed adventure. Among the multiplying foreign-policy debacles that are completing the destruction of Barack Obama’s crumbling presidency, many are more portentous but none more emblematic than the closure of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli last weekend. The U.S. military evacuated the embassy staff while the State Department advised U.S. citizens to leave Libya “immediately.”
Today there is a torrent of redundant evidence for the Macmillan axiom. When British prime minister Harold Macmillan was asked what caused him the most trouble, he supposedly replied, “Events, dear boy, events.” He certainly used the phrase “the opposition of events.” Events, from Ukraine to Syria to Gaza, are forcing something Americans prefer not to think about, foreign policy, into their political calculations.
Having recoiled from the scandal of the Iraq War, which was begun on the basis of bad intelligence and conducted unintelligently, Americans concluded that their nation no longer has much power, defined as the ability to achieve intended effects. The correct conclusion is that America should intend more achievable effects.
Obama has given Americans a foreign policy congruent with their post-recoil preferences: America as spectator. Now, however, their sense of national diminishment, and of an increasingly ominous world, may be making them receptive to a middle course between a foreign policy of flaccidity (Obama) and grandiosity (his predecessor).
If so, a Republican presidential aspirant should articulate what George Washington University’s Henry R. Nau calls, in a book with this title, “conservative internationalism.” This would, he says, include:
the liberal internationalist goal of spreading freedom, but doing so “primarily on the borders of existing freedom, not everywhere in the world at once”;
the realists’ use of “armed diplomacy” against adversaries outside of negotiations; and
the “conservative vision of limited global governance, a decentralized world of democratic civil societies” rather than “one of centralized international institutions as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt advocated.”
The blend is conservative internationalism because “states remain separate and armed; national culture, sovereignty, defense, and patriotism are respected; civic virtue and democracy are widespread; the global economy is mostly private; and global governance is limited.”
After the shattering of the Democratic party over Vietnam in 1968, and the nomination of George McGovern in 1972, the party’s foreign-policy credentials became suspect. This was disqualifying until the end of the Cold War, and of the Soviet Union in 1991, reduced the stakes of foreign policy. Democrats elected a president in 1992.
In eleven ruinous years, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, Republicans have forfeited their foreign-policy advantage and Obama has revived suspicions that Democrats are uncomfortable with American power. There is running room for a conservative internationalist.
— George Will is a Pulitzer Prize–winning syndicated columnist. © 2014 The Washington Post