Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Partisans Reviewed

The current issue of The National Interest has a very interesting symposium that addresses many of the topics we've been discussing lately. Grover Norquist is one of the symposiasts, and while I had known that he was a realist, I had never before seen him write as an analyst--rather than as a tax-reduction advocate and Republican partisan. His remarks are well worth reading. A taste: here Norquist reinforces a point that Jim Antle has recently made on this blog:

While there were reasons to believe that America might benefit from rethinking its policy vis-à-vis Iraq, all such debate within the Republican Party was shut down for the bulk of 2006 in order to avoid advantaging the Democrats in the November elections. Partisan loyalty has created a stickiness in moving to—or even suggesting—different strategies. On the Democratic side, there is more attention paid to how to damage Bush and the Republicans than to what the United States should and should not be doing in Mesopotamia and its environs.

The blind partisan loyalty of the bases of both political parties is not conducive to creating a serious foreign policy.

From there, Norquist notes how media polarization has affected this trend and the role that lobbies have played: national ethnic lobbies advancing their own interests, military contracting lobbies out for themselves, etc. No lobby exists, and perhaps no interest group can possibly exist, that concerns itself strictly with a realistic foreign policy.

(Norquist also makes the claim that there is "no national lobby for a strong military," because contractors' lobbies put individual companies above the military's need for "new planes, ships, and tanks." This is a curious statement, since obviously there are companies whose interest is precisely in the building of new planes, ships, and tanks, often new planes, ships, and tanks that the military itself does not want. Norquist has fallen into slogan-think here: the cause of military "strength," as conventionally understood, is not underserved by lobbyists; rather, the cause of military prudence is friendless. More tanks, planes, and ships do not necessarily amount to a sounder foreign policy--on the contrary, an abundance of such things encourages the Madeleine Albright mentality which asks "Why have a military if we're not going to use it?")

Although Norquist ends on a hopeful note, looking forward to the day when think tanks are once again concerned with the public interest and not with partisan politics, his penultimate paragraph suggests what might have to happen before we get a serious foreign-policy discussion in this country:

The present partisan stalemate is unlikely to change until one party breaks through and becomes dominant, as the FDR coalition did after 1934. This will free the majority party to create a position devoid of the extreme fringes currently needed to compete in the evenly matched partisan fight. The party out of power will have the time and focus to think not only about foreign policy in the abstract but also to confront and challenge the ruling party’s approach to the world.

Unfortunately, that majority party will probably be the Democrats, the way things are going now. And I don't share Norquist's confidence that even with both parties secure in majority and minority status we would get a realistic reconsideration of our warmaking and diplomacy. But one can always hope.

1 comment:

diafani said...

The Democrats have been historically the party of overt War and intervention. GB2's innovation was to usurp that role, in contrast to Reagan's covert wars.
Maybe I should say Cheney...