Brent Scowcroft’s and Richard Armitage’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton confirms that nearly all of the U.S foreign policy establishment is now aligned with the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party. But since most Americans disapprove of the past generation’s U.S. foreign policy, endorsements from well-known Republicans are a mixed blessing for her and Democrats. This near-unanimity has a clarifying effect: if you like the way America’s power has been used in the world, you have a home among Democrats. If you don’t like it, no one with national power or the prospect of gaining it today represents you. You had better look elsewhere.
The foreign policy establishment’s endorsements make clear that the differences between its three factions—liberal internationalists, neoconservatives, and “realists:—are mere distinctions in a line of progressive policy the establishment of both parties have pursued since Woodrow Wilson.
The liberal internationalists—e.g., Nicholas Burns of Harvard’s Kennedy School, formerly Condoleezza Rice’s undersecretary of State—are Democratic Party wheel-horses as well as the establishment’s core. Scowcroft and Armitage, the “realist” wing’s most prominent current representatives and who were stalwarts of the first and second Bush administrations, respectively, bring to the Democratic nominee the endorsement of these administrations and of their faction. As for the neocons, whose first generation was involved with Ronald Reagan and whose second deeply influenced Bush II, no one doubts that were foreign policy the only issue, The Wall Street Journal would have endorsed Hillary long ago. Max Boot, the daily foreign policy correspondent for Commentary, endorsed Hillary Clinton in May.
Hillary’s Smart Because She Listens to Me
But around what are these establishmentarians circling their wagons? Far less Hillary Clinton than the desire to continue U.S. foreign policy much as it has been. Scowcroft, who co-wrote George H.W. Bush’s book of foreign policy, cited as reasons why she should be president merely that Clinton “helped broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, assembled a global coalition to impose a sanctions regime on Iran, and played a crucial role in persuading Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program”—words as weak and unpersuasive as her own descriptions her non-achievements.
The core of his endorsement, however is that she “brings deep expertise in international affairs, and a sophisticated understanding of the world,” and that she has “longstanding relationships with a wide array of world leaders” who can count on her being who she is. Read that backward: What Clinton and I, Scowcroft, have been doing defines what is expert and sophisticated in international affairs. The leaders of many nations are happy with that. So should you be.
What if you are not, if you suspect that this inbred establishment’s ignorant, highfalutin’ incompetence will give more incentive for the Muslim world’s scum to export its horrors to America, that its tendency to make bigger commitments than it is prepared or even intends to redeem will lead us to war in the Pacific and embarrassment in Eurasia, that its conception of internationalism is leading us to follow Old Europe in forsaking our cultural integrity, our very civilization? To whom do you look then?
Unfortunately, right now, there is no one. As I predicted in these pages, throughout the primary season, Republican establishment candidates uttered empty words about increasing American power without a vision of how it should be used to our advantage. As I have also explained here, Donald Trump’s foreign policy is on another planet.
We Should Mind Our Own Business—Hard
But the foreign policy establishment’s near-unanimous commitment to continue doing things as they have been done in the past generation should stimulate us all to understand how necessary it is for American foreign policy to reflect a wholesale rejection of the assumptions that have governed it for a century, and to return to the principles by which the men on Mount Rushmore actually did make America great and respected among nations.
Learning those principles requires only taking Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt at their word. Living as we Americans want to live, while “cultivating peace and harmony with all nations” as George Washington counseled us, requires maintaining complete independence and autonomy.
This means distinguishing what is other nations’ business from what is ours, and minding our own, aggressively if need be. The chief objective of our public life should be to maintain our identity as a people dedicated to the Declaration of Independence’s propositions, meaning we will admit to permanent residence among us only persons who share that dedication. Pursuing our peace requires respecting the peace of others. But when others trouble our peace, it is incumbent on us to secure that peace by war—as decisive, terrible, and swift as we can make it.
War so dreadfully engages all our lives in so many ways that it is to be undertaken only as the Constitution prescribes, by vote of the people’s elected representatives. War by its very nature requires a total commitment to victory. In international affairs as in all others, any departure from a strict, jealous balance between ends and means amounts to forsaking sobriety.
The above is foreign to the mindset of those vying for the presidency of the United States in 2016, Scowcroft, Armitage, and the rest of the former and aspiring officials who swarm around the candidates. Nevertheless, “we the people” have it in our power to demand better, and to show proper contempt for the worse.
Correction: This article initially stated that Commentary endorsed Hillary Clinton. That was incorrect, as the magazine does not endorse candidates.