Tuesday, March 28, 2006

National Security: Wilsonianism vs. Jacksonianism

In my last post I alluded to an ongoing debate in conservative circles about US foreign policy. Here I will address this topic more directly.

One side of the debate roughly agrees with President Bush’s Wilsonian approach of tightly linking democracy with US national security. This branch argues that democratic societies are more transparent and more stable than other types of societies. There is an understanding that the US may not always agree with the policies espoused by other democratic governments, it can deal with them on a more stable, low-risk basis. Therefore, it is imperative that democratic reforms be loudly championed around the world.

The other side of the debate does not disagree with the concept that democratic societies are generally more desirable both economically and security-wise than other governing forms. There seems to be general agreement that the development of democratic societies is a worthy and desirable goal that should be pursued. However, there is general disagreement on how imperative this pursuit is to US security. This more Jacksonian approach suggests that national security is a more immediate concern that should take priority over long-term nation building. Many in this camp also disagree with the Bush administration’s methods of pursuing worldwide democracy.

The Wilsonian corps have a lot going for their argument. In the aftermath of the Danish Cartoon kerfuffle, even Danish-based toy maker Lego has found itself targeted by jihadists. Henrik Bering states the case here that autocratic leaders have collaborated with radical Islamists to inflate the cartoon crisis and work it to their ends. They have different motives, but both are served by inciting the radical elements of their populations. Under the Wilsonian creed, this type of thing would be less possible or less dangerous if democratic governments replaced the autocratic ones.

It’s difficult to understand how this argument can be made with a straight face in light of the Hamas landslide victory in Palestine (see here) and the recent case upholding the constitutionality of the death penalty for the crime of apostasy from Islam in Afghanistan (see here). These are “democratic” societies, but it is clear that at least in the case of the Palestinians, their threat to our national security is as great as ever. It is also clear that, as noted by Andrew McCarthy, the Afghan constitution would not restrain full reign by the Taliban.

The Jacksonians are more pragmatic. While there are isolated pockets of conservatives reporting good news from Iraq (see here), many erstwhile supporters (even notable ones, like Peggy Noonan) are wondering what we are accomplishing (see here). The Jacksonians argue that the two goals of national security and spreading democracy should be decoupled because both are important, but only one—national security—is urgent. Conservative luminaries Francis Fukuyama and Adam Garfinkle expertly argue this case here. They also take issue with the narrow methodology currently applied to democracy promotion.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Bush administration is paying any attention to the Jacksonians. The President has recently waxed very evangelical in support of his Wilsonian vision (see here). That is the prerogative of the person holding that office. But at least the debate is underway. However, those that live in the lunacy of seething hatred are excluded from this reasoned debate. As noted in my last post, for the good of our country they need to abandon their jihad and join in the debate in a rational manner. This issue is too important to exclude major groups from the discussion.

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