Monday December 14, 2015
American foreign policy is based on deep convictions. Those who shape it believe the United States is the indispensable nation that must lead the world; this leadership requires toughness; and toughness is best shown by threatening or using force. Beneath these beliefs lies the assumption that the United States knows more and sees further than other countries.
Many liberals embrace this dogma. That makes sense. It emerges from the liberal tradition, which imagines that humanity is steadily progressing toward a perfect world in which no one will go hungry, warlords will disappear, diseases will be cured, and people will cooperate for the common good.
Any true conservative would find this preposterous. Liberals have an expansive, optimistic view of what they can achieve in the world. They see themselves as a force for good and can be tempted to crash into other countries to “help” them toward “modernity.” Liberalism contains within it a sense of evangelical mission, which sometimes leads to we-know-best arrogance.
Conservatism, by contrast, is a live-and-let-live ideology. By nature it is prudent, careful, and restrained. Conservatives do not believe that any country can solve the world’s problems or is called to do so. They want to leave other nations alone, not remake them. That makes restraint in foreign affairs an essentially conservative doctrine.