Conservative foreign and national-security policies do not need remaking, rebranding or remessaging. They need not be escorted by prefixes or adjectives, nor do they need “moderating.”
Conservative foreign policy is unabashedly pro-American, unashamed of American exceptionalism, unwilling to bend its knee to international organizations, and unapologetic about the need for the fullest range of dominant military capabilities. Its diplomacy is neither unilateralist nor multilateralist, but chooses its strategies, tactics, means and methods based on a hard-headed assessment of U.S. national interests, not on theologies about process. Most especially, conservatives understand that allies are different from adversaries, and that each should be treated accordingly.
These sentiments bear repeating because the fundamental principles underlying conservative foreign and national-security policy have never been stronger, and the consequences of deviating from them have rarely been so clear. The Obama administration’s first few months already provide compelling evidence of the enormous costs of embracing the alternative worldview of the European and American left. Of course, that was equally true when the Bush administration all-too-frequently deviated from conservative precepts, especially in its failure-ridden second-term. In many ways, unfortunately, the Obama administration is a continuation of the second Bush term, only worse.
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Former President George W. Bush’s mistakes resulted from sleep-walking away from conservative values, whereas President Obama openly repudiates them, both believing in and fully understanding what he is doing. Accordingly, conservatives need engage in no “agonizing reappraisals” of their fundamental views. They need to adjust to being in opposition, but that is the purest kind of opportunity, not a burden. Mr. Obama’s wearying and unpresidential refrain of blaming his predecessor is implicitly a trap, an effort to entice us to reflexively defend the Bush administration. Instead, we should forthrightly explain where Mr. Bush went wrong, when he did, repudiating his errors as cheerily as Mr. Obama does, and then, agreeably to conservative principles, just as cheerily critiquing Mr. Obama’s even more egregious mistakes.
Defending U.S. interests is neither arrogant nor disrespectful of others, but is instead the basic task of our presidents. Despite the 2008 election, neither the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nor international terrorism, nor the challenges of geostrategic adversaries have in any way diminished.
Overseas “apology tours,” public displays of empathy and inviting the likes of Iran to Fourth of July receptions at our embassies will not alter these underlying realities. Nor will reducing national-security budgets on such key items as missile defense and advanced weapons systems (while dramatically increasing unnecessary and inevitably inflationary domestic spending) make our adversaries more amenable to sweet reason. Sadly, such gratuitous indications of self-doubt and weakness only encourage the very adversaries whose favor we are currying.
The Obama administration finds itself surprised almost daily by, among other things:
• The recalcitrant and unyielding regime in North Korea, testing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
• Iran’s persistence in pursuing precisely the same weapons programs, as well as continuing its activities as the world’s central banker for terrorism.
• Hamas’ continued refusal to renounce terrorism, acknowledge the state of Israel’s existence and abide by prior Middle East agreements (which is hardly surprising, given that doing so would require Hamas to repudiate the fundamental principles on which it was founded).
• Russia’s continued belligerent attitude toward former territories of the Soviet Union and Moscow’s generally unhelpful attitude in dealing with North Korea, Iran, the Middle East and countless other problems.
Conservatives understand that these and numerous other threats are not anomalies in an otherwise peaceful and friendly world, but manifestations of the inevitable international clash of interests and philosophies. Conflict with our interest and values is not some unfortunate exception to normality, it is normality. While harmony is desirable, it is far from inevitable, and the causes of disharmony are just as natural and human as their opposites.
Understanding the Hobbesian nature of international relations fundamentally grounds conservative foreign policy in reality. In particular, conservatives reject the idea that America’s actions are the foundation for most international discord, and that it is our deviation from international “norms” that must be “corrected” for the natural state of harmony to return.
To the contrary, in the last century, America has repeatedly sought to solve problems others have created, but which risk our own security. Left to ourselves, we would have been more than happy for the others to solve their own problems. That option, however, has not been open to us for quite some time, nor will it return in the foreseeable future, if ever.
The future of conservative national-security policy thus looks very much like its past, and, as in the past, will include considerable healthy debate among conservatives over concrete application of their principles. This is as it should be, both as sound philosophy and also because it makes for good domestic politics. The American people actually expect to be defended against international threats and adversaries, and they will undoubtedly punish any American president who does not understand and implement their strong and entirely justifiable views. That is why we may well see the future of conservative foreign policy bloom as early as 2012.
• John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the 2007 book “Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad.”