I found both things with which I agreed and things with which I disagreed in Gideon Rose’s meandering piece at Foreign Affairs, “Foreign Policy for Pragmatists”. I found this passage, about the events on January 6, thought-provoking:
Was the riot a political protest that got out of hand? An attempted putsch? A heroic defense of the republic against satanic pedophiles? It was all of these and more, because the event was streaming on several platforms simultaneously—not just the conventional tv networks but also the inner mental channels of the deluded rioters. This was history as tragedy and farce combined; the casualties included a woman who was reportedly trampled to death while carrying a flag saying “Don’t Tread on Me.”
The most persuasive reading of the day is as immersive theater, and not just because the marchers came in costume. It played like a mass live production of Euripides’s Bacchae, the tale of a mysterious cult leader who wreaks vengeance on a city that disrespects him by whipping its citizens into a frenzied nihilistic rampage. Some men just want to watch the world burn. And some crowds just like the way it hurts.
The riot’s practical implications are deeply disturbing. But its theoretical implications are more so. For example, one leading proponent of the big lie in question, Peter Navarro, was a crucial architect of the Trump administration’s trade policy. It will be interesting to see how mainstream scholarship on international political economy incorporates conspiracy theorizing into the heart of its analysis.
but I think his conclusion is a gross misreading of American history, recent history in particular:
The Biden administration, in short, does not face a tragic choice of pessimism, optimism, or just winging it. Instead of embracing realism or liberalism, it can choose pragmatism, the true American ideology. The key is to draw on diverse theoretical traditions to develop plausible scenarios of many alternative futures, design and track multiple indicators to see which of those scenarios is becoming more likely, and follow the evidence honestly where it goes.
Wilsonianism, the missionary impulse to spread your philosophy, whether democracy, free markets, or women’s rights to other countries, has dominated foreign policy thought in both Republicans and Democrats for some time. You can find it in Bush’s prosecution of the Iraq War and in Obama’s actions in Syria. It’s only pragmatic to the extent that you consider the acceptance of those beliefs in other countries as a) possible and b) in the U. S. interest. Pragmatic in terms of domestic politics? Perhaps. Pragmatic as foreign policy? That’s not credible.
Additionally, I don’t see American foreign policy as transient and changeable as he does. Quite to the contrary I think it’s been remarkably constant over the years, especially when compared with other major powers. China, Germany, France, and the UK aren’t pursuing the same goals as they were 80 years ago. We are.
Quite to the contrary I see American foreign policy as an emergent phenomenon, composed of the competing forces in American politics, optimistic and pessimistic, pragmatic and idealistic.
Consequently, I see it as highly unlikely that the Biden Administration will learn much from history or that it will be transformative in our foreign policy. It will be buffeted by those forces to form its own synthesis, just as every previous administration has.