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To a degree, new Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain deserves praise for holding a series of hearings on “Global Challenges and the U.S. National Security Strategy.” Heaven knows signs abound that today’s strategy could use intensive scrutiny. Kudos to the Arizona Republican, too, for urging “a strategy-driven [defense] budget, not budget-driven strategy.” The worst approach a wealthy country like the United States can take to safeguarding its security and prosperity would be to put some arbitrary level of expenditures in the driver’s seat.  (See “sequester.”)

Unfortunately, McCain’s hearings so far have epitomized everything that’s seriously wrong with the way Washington debates foreign policy. Chiefly, it limits the participants to representatives of the mainstream liberal and conservative wings of modern American internationalism. In other words, it seeks the views only of figures who strongly support – and in many cases, have carried out – a doctrine holding that the nation’s safety and well-being literally are inseparable from the safety and well-being of every corner of the world. As I’ve written for many years, the only important differences between liberal and conservative internationalists have concerned the tactics best suited to achieve these limitless internationalist goals in any particular set of circumstances.

Doubt me? Just look at the witness list. Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, and a few former senior military officers (whose job doesn’t include developing strategies, only carrying out their military dimensions).  More important, read through their various statements.

I’m not saying that none of these figures has anything useful to contribute to the debate. Certainly their experiences and views are all worth considering. In addition, Kissinger has written some exceptionally thoughtful histories and analyses of American foreign policy. (Although he’s also indulged in much confusing and contradictory quasi-internationalism, as I recently noted here.) Shultz, for his part, engaged in an intriguing debate with then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the 1980s about when the nation should use military force to accomplish goals. (Although, as I’ve written, the debate focused heavily on tactics, and both participants made thoroughly contradictory points about setting realistic foreign policy goals).

The point is that the merits of what might be called liberal and conservative foreign policy universalism are constantly argued in Congress and in the Mainstream Media. One set of more fundamental alternatives has been presented in my own writings over the years. Many others worth thinking about are available also. If McCain – and the rest of the foreign policy establishment – really believe that new foreign policy approaches are needed, it’s high time they paid them heed. But if the establishmentarians simply think that their own version of internationalism should be substituted for the one prevailing today, they should drop the pretense of seeking innovation.