Back when I was in college taking a year-long course in American diplomatic history, I had a year-long argument with the professor teaching the course, a man who was one of the world’s experts on the subject. Then, as now, I was no respecter of personages.
The professor had come to the conclusion that the United States did not have a foreign policy. My own view was (and is) that America has a foreign policy and, using the diction I’d use today rather than the way I’d have put it back then, the policy is an emergent phenomenon of the major forces in American foreign policy thought: mercantilism, missionary internationalism, populism, and libertarian isolationism (AKA Hamiltonianism, Wilsonianism, Jacksonianism, and Jeffersonianism).
This emergent policy has a number of components but included among them are open borders facilitated by ensuring that our neighbors are weak. This is a policy that has been pretty successful for the last two hundred years or so. I’ve argued against it for the last forty and IMO the policy is beginning to look a little shopworn at his point.
Consider the case of Cuba in the light of this policy. We don’t really care whether Cuba is communist or dominated by a dictator or spreads instability in other countries in the hemisphere (that’s actually something of a feature rather than a bug) or outside of the hemisphere or makes its people miserable. We’ll avoid trading with Cuba (a few cavils from Hamiltonians notwithstanding) but we won’t stop others from doing so nor will we overthrow the tyrant (a few sporadic actions from Jacksonians and complaints from Wilsonians notwithstanding). We’ll even encourage emigration from Cuba (which provides a safety valve for the Castro tyranny). We’ll accept it as long as Cuba is weak.
But if Cuba shows signs of becoming strong (as it did during the Cuban missile crisis almost 45 years ago) then it’s a threat and we’ll act forcefully to correct the situation.
Things have changed quite a bit since the first quarter of the 19th century. They’ve changed quite a bit in the last 45 years. China and Iran are closer to us today than Mexico was in 1850 and little farther away than Cuba was in 1962. We’re pursuing the same policies although our notions of where our borders lie and who our neighbors are has changed to include the entire globe.
There are really only two strategies available for a course correction. We can rely more heavily on international institutions than we have historically. They seem slender twigs for our support, they’ve done little recently to encourage confidence, and in all honesty our diffidence towards them hasn’t helped a great deal. And make no mistake: our views on civil liberties, property, and the role of government are outliers. If we embrace internationalism we will willy-nilly become more like the rest of the world and that means greater abridgements of our freedoms than the wildest critics of the Patriot Act have attributed to it.
The other alternative would appear to be what Steve Sailer has called “libertarianism in one country”.
The way things look right now we don’t seem to have the energy or attention span to spread our own notions of what consitutes a good way of life to every corner of the globe.
You might want to consider these ruminations in the light of a couple of things. First, there are the demonstrations of and on behalf of illegal aliens that have taken place in Los Angeles and elsewhere recently. Second, there’s Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, eloquently and agonistically written about by Marcus Cicero at Winds of Change this morning.