World

A Prudent Internationalist for Ambassador to Afghanistan

Soldiers assigned to First Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, Illinois Army National Guard, conduct security as part of an advise and assistance mission in southeastern Afghanistan, September 17, 2019. (Master Sergeant Alejandro Licea/US Army)
William Ruger, a proponent of restraint in American foreign policy, would skillfully use diplomacy to protect America’s interests.

If President Donald Trump is looking for someone to help him responsibly end the longest of our endless wars, he could not send anyone better than William Ruger as his next ambassador to Afghanistan. Ruger is a warrior, a scholar, and a seasoned institution-builder who would bring vigor and a fresh perspective on America’s role in the world to our embassy in Kabul.

Ruger is among the leading proponents of restraint in American foreign policy. Restraint is not isolationism, as it is sometimes caricatured; it is a different form of internationalism that advocates prudent engagement with the rest of the world using less American hard power and more soft power, such as diplomacy, free trade, and the shining moral example of our way of life.

Make no mistake: Ruger is no dove. He is a U.S. Naval Reserve Intelligence Officer who served a tour as a “dirt sailor” in Afghanistan. He believes, like Teddy Roosevelt, that America should walk softly but carry a big stick. But unlike many other Republicans for whom the big stick is the tool of first resort for protecting America’s interests abroad, Ruger would also carry a bigger diplomatic toolbox with him abroad.

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A heroic 19-year effort by our men and women in uniform, Ruger among them, has brought neither a stable peace nor an effective democratic government to Afghanistan. Recognizing that, the American public overwhelmingly supports the efforts of Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, to negotiate an exit agreement with the Taliban. The current administration hopes to foster a new period in which Afghans across the political spectrum will have to come together to sort out their differences and take the lead in setting their country’s future course.

Ruger would be a great American partner to help the Afghans forge their new political order. As a scholar and a former professor, he is well versed in the great works of military history and political theory, from Thucydides to Hayek. He would bring to the job a diplomatic style less that of a proconsul and more that of a tutor.

As during the Vietnam era, we have over the least 20 years sent too many diplomats of the “ugly American” type abroad. With the best of intentions, but also a heavy hand, they have not won us as many friends as we need. In a land where the designs of the British and Soviet empires were foiled, Ruger would not stubbornly cling to failed policies simply because we lack the courage to find a better way. He would instead execute the full range of diplomatic strategies to protect American interests.

What would Ruger’s diplomacy look like? One clue comes from how he has marshaled the ample resources of the Charles Koch Foundation to help build a broad, bipartisan coalition in favor of a more restrained U.S. foreign policy. Unlike many right-of-center foundations that view the best way to advance American interests as to send in the troops first (with no clear plan for getting them out again), the Charles Koch Foundation, which I have been affiliated with, has sought to broaden the debate about American internationalism and promote more effective ways to advance our interests.

I mean “broaden” in two senses: The range of instruments of American diplomacy is broader than we think; and making the case for better diplomacy can bring together a broader spectrum of American opinion behind it.

At a time of polarization and division in American politics, Ruger seeks to steer the conversation about American foreign policy toward restraint. He is not only a man with good ideas but one with a knack for bringing together a diverse group of people to implement them. In short, he possesses the essence of diplomatic skill.

Ruger believes deeply in both freedom and responsibility. At a time when many worry that freedom has come to mean simply the right to do your own thing, Ruger embodies the classical-liberal notion that with rights come obligations as well. The most important of these duties is to be a responsible citizen who in return for enjoying the blessings of liberty will also serve our country, whether in uniform protecting them, as an agent of philanthropy deepening them, or as a representative of the U.S. government exemplifying them to the rest of the world.

I have known Will Ruger a long time, not only as a colleague but also as a friend. I deeply admire his intellect, but even more I respect his integrity. I can think of no one better suited to be our next ambassador to Afghanistan. Americans could be proud to have our country’s interests represented so well.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to disclose the author’s prior affiliation with the Koch Foundation.

Michael C. Desch is Packey J. Dee Professor of International Affairs at the University of Notre Dame and Brian and Jeannelle Brady Director of its International Security Center.

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