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The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal for America Paperback – June, 2004
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About the Author
Peter Schwartz is the founding editor and publisher of The Intellectual Activist and the author of Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty. He is the editor and contributing editor of Ayn Rand’s Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. Mr. Schwartz is a former chairman of the board of the Ayn Rand Institute.
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In his book, A Foreign Policy of Self-Interest: A Moral Ideal For America, Peter Schwartz identifies the current self-sacrificing trends of American foreign policy and presents an appeal for the adoption of a new kind of foreign policy; the unmitigated pursuit of rational self-interest. In this work, Schwartz challenges the conventional wisdom with an uncompromising and ruthlessly candid assessment of the current state of US foreign policy. Insisting that the only moral purpose of government is the defense of individual liberty, he logically deduces that likewise, the only end of a moral foreign policy is the defense of a nation's freedom, and he contends that the only doctrine that can ensure the preservation of America's freedom is the steadfast dedication to the pursuit of self-interest on the international stage.
However, this book is not a call for America to intervene in any and every conflict in the world, to send troops anywhere we please to achieve any objective we conceive, or even to hasten the democratization of the third world. It is an urgent appeal for American leaders to discontinue the shamefully self-defeating practices currently perpetrated in the guise of diplomacy. It is a combination of potency and temperance, best exemplified in Teddy Roosevelt's words of wisdom, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." It is a plea for the end of self-sacrifice, self-doubt and insecurity in international relations.
In the Iraq war, for instance, instead of admitting with moral confidence that we sought to overthrow Saddam Hussein for the protection of Americans, we pretended that the altruistic liberation of the Iraqi people was the chief motive behind the invasion. We wasted valuable time before the war placating the United Nations, pleading for a moral sanction from an organization consisting of dictators and theocrats. We enacted dangerously constraining rules of engagement over our troops on the battlefield, all in the hope that world opinion would turn favorable for us.
The terrorist threat against Western civilization continues to grow, and can not be defeated with half-measures, compromises or diplomacy. America has nothing to gain by negotiating with dictators and international villains. As Schwartz observes in negotiations with North Korea, "We are offering the North Koreans something that is ours- our wealth; in return, they are offering us something that is also ours- the right to be free from nuclear attack. We lose while the North Koreans gain. If that is a trade, then so is every stick-up, under which the victim `trades' his money for his life."
Using this example, Schwartz demonstrates that diplomacy is an inappropriate means of negotiating with dictatorships, and that the only proper means of dealing with them is with ostracism. We should allow these nations to stand or fall on their own. He continues, "We should stop sanctioning our own destroyers. We should stop helping them pretend they are moral, civilized nations. If they threaten us, the only message they merit is the same one that any domestic criminal ought to receive from the police: drop your weapons or be overwhelmed by force."
Contrary to what the American left would have you believe, Schwartz insists that there is nothing evil about considering only our own interests when acting internationally. On the contrary, the only evil that can and usually is committed in American foreign policy is the sacrifice of American interests for dubious or imaginary benefits, including distributing foreign aid, fearing collateral damage in battle or bowing down before the wishes of the United Nations. We should never be ashamed to admit that we will consistently defend our interests and refuse to sacrifice them. As for the enemies of America, Schwartz warns "They need not like us, only fear us."
Entailed in Schwartz's criticism of such self-sacrificial actions as distributing billions of dollars of foreign aid to Iranians or Egyptians, or apologizing when China forces down and dismantles a US spy plane that was in international air space, is a rejection of the usefulness of what political theorist Joseph Nye identifies as "soft power." This is the benevolent use of political or military power, the motive being the winning of the hearts and minds of the international community. Schwartz attaches no inherent value to world opinion or to multilateralism, and his policy outlook is completely consistent with unilateralism. It is a foreign policy guided by principles, not by the spur of the moment, "seat of the pants" expediency, nor by the number of its adherents.
A foreign policy founded on principles instead of more "practical" considerations is certain to make some readers uncomfortable. Though the alleged dichotomy between principles and pragmatism will quickly be pointed out by political scientists that subscribe to the realpolitik school of thought, Schwartz shows that this argument has no merit by singling out a series of foreign policy decisions that had no principled foundation, no moral justification, nothing but concrete-bound range of the moment expediency- and ended in an inevitable and utter disaster. This prime example of the abject failure of policy without principle is the Vietnam War.
Fifty-five thousand Americans lost their lives in a war that Washington inched into in complete pragmatic fashion. America had no national interests at stake, no commitment to any specific action, no definite objectives. What began with supplies shipments and visits from advisors escalated into air cover and ground troop deployment, followed by yet more air cover and ground troops. Without principles, our soldiers were sent for no real reason, except perhaps self-sacrifice. Not only were they intellectually unarmed without principles to guide them as they bravely entered Southeast Asia, but without a plan or strategy, our leaders deprived them of the ability to win. With our leaders unwilling to declare war or commit to the tactics that would achieve victory for the United States, Schwartz writes:
"Ultimately, finding itself engaged in a real war but unwilling to allow the military to take the steps necessary to win it, Washington had to withdraw ignominiously. This pragmatic pattern of irresolution and ineffectualness characterizes virtually all our military conflicts since World War II. It invites our enemies, long after their hope achieving victory on the battlefield has vanished, to continue their fight- as they are doing now in Afghanistan and Iraq. It tells them that they need not fear us."
Herein lies the urgent necessity for developing a principled foreign policy, founded on the pursuit of self-interest. It is the only means of maintaining America's freedom. It is the only way to defeat the terrorists, physically and in spirit, who wish to destroy us. It is the unwillingness to compromise our objectives or to appease our enemies that we need in order to preserve our nation. America desperately needs a principled foreign policy of self-interest--nothing could be more practical.
What this Book Covers
* The nature and purpose of foreign policy
* Moral basis of current and past policy
* The moral foundations of a practical policy
* Why Pragmatism is impractical
* All illustrated with specific examples
This book is a well-written and clearly and forcefully argued. But even if you disagree with Schwartz's analysis, you'll will come away with a deeper and clearer understanding of how morality drives policy, in principle and in day to day events. You'll also gain a vivid insight into just how shockingly suicidal our current policy is, how it undermines our security and actually strengthens and emboldens terrorist-sponsoring states. Be prepared to be depressed, things are worse than you think.
This brief book (actually a pamphlet of 60 pages if you omit the notes and other stuff) advocates a foreign policy of self-interest and applies it to today's events, most notably the war against terror. Although I'm not a big fan of Mr. Schwartz's work, this pamphlet is moderately interesting (if for no other reason that Rand is mentioned only a couple of times.)
There is much here that a paleoconservative or paleolibertarian can agree with. American foreign policy should be based on U.S. self-interest and many of the "do-gooder" interventions of the U.S. (such as Haiti and Serbia) can't be justified on this standard. In addition, Mr. Schwartz argues that the U.S. should not be the world's policeman. He also reminds us that, contrary to certain neocons, not everyone believes in freedom or finds democracy "liberating." At the same time, Mr. Schwartz not only supports the U.S. intervention in Iraq, but also an ambitious "indoctrination" campaign. According to Mr. Schwartz, we must force Iraqi schools to teach the ideas of "Adam Smith and John Locke and Thomas Jefferson." That such an attempt to brainwash Moslems into accepting Western ideas might lead to resentment in the Muslim world doesn't seem to concern Mr. Schwartz. Maybe we can hold these reeducation sessions in mosques so they hate us even more. (Incidentally, these three authors were all theists and therefore "mystics." Shouldn't Ayn Rand be taught to the Iraqis?) In this respect, I was disappointed that Mr. Schwartz didn't discuss the argument, which has become the "party line" in Official Objectivist circles, that the U.S. should target civilians to break the will of the populace.
Like much Objectivist analysis, Schwartz's approach it is quite rationalistic for a supposedly hardheaded empirical philosophy. The U.S. and Israel are always good, whereas their opponents are bad. While many paleos are unfairly anti-American, Mr. Schwartz veers in the opposite direction. The U.S. apparently never gives anyone reason to dislike it. In addition, our adversaries are always guided by ideological motives. Islam is evil because it is tribal and mystical (except when it provides Mr. Schwartz with an opportunity to attack Christianity - Objectivism's real enemy - by arguing that Islam isn't so bad in comparison.) If Moslems don't like us, it has nothing to do with some might perceive as excessive U.S. meddling in the Middle East but rather their ideology. If the U.S. blunders in foreign policy, the reason must be "altruism," not a failure to understand the situation.
Mr. Schwartz's book is of moderate interest and, in any event, it's nice to see someone associated with the ARI write something that doesn't parrot what that Rand said.