By Henry Nau, Professor, George Washington University
In a recent talk promoting his new book at the Heritage Foundation, Henry Nau, who served on the NSC staff during the Reagan Administration explained his concept of "conservative internationalism."
Nau sees conservative internationalism as a bridge between the foreign policy traditions of "realism" and "liberal internationalism." Nau believes that realism and liberal internationalism have produced a historical cycle of U.S. overreach and withdrawal in world affairs that has cost us dearly in blood and treasure. He warned that we are repeating that cycle today as the Obama administration withdraws from Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the Bush administration's overreach.
The solution, he says, is to approach the world like Jefferson, Polk, Truman and Reagan did--with a dose of realism and a more prudent internationalism. This approach has the same goal as the liberal internationalists--the spread of freedom in the world--but it approaches that goal with a more realistic appraisal of what is possible.
Nau's approach is interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. He is correct about the historical cycle of overreach and withdrawal dating back to the First World War. This cycle, however, was not caused by "realism," but by domestic political reaction to "liberal internationalism." It was, after...