Return of the Liberal Interventionists

When Chris Preble and I released “Failed States and Flawed Logic,” the Dean of the Wilson School at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, offered what I thought was a pretty cutting critique. While admitting that “Rhetorically, the distinctions between these positions…are relatively easy to elide,” Slaughter criticized Chris and me thus:

Preble and Logan lump together such unlikely bedfellows as Robert Kaplan, Niall Ferguson, Frank Fukuyama, Steve Krasner, Gerald Helman and Steve Ratner, David Laitin and James Fearon, Sebastian Mallaby, Max Boot, Tony Lake and the entire Clinton foreign policy team as neo-colonialists — all perceiving the principal threat to the U.S. as failed states and the optimal solution as a new era of colonialism, with far more altruistic motives and international supervision. Preble and Logan in turn worry that all of this is a justification for a massive nation-building enterprise that will ignore sovereignty and usher an extraordinarily costly and difficult era in which the U.S. will take on the task of turning all “bad” or weak states into mature democracies to ensure our safety, using military and non-military means.

I thought this was a pretty good point. After all, there’s got to be some daylight between, say, Max Boot, an open advocate of American Empire, and, say, Anthony Lake, no? 

Well, crack open the op-ed page of the Washington Post this morning, and you get this from Brookings’ Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald M. Payne, on what to do in Sudan. Get ready:

It’s time to get tough with Sudan again.

After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it. (Emphasis mine.)

All of a sudden, I’m not so sure any more that Slaughter’s critique holds all too well. 

The real difference between the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and the liberal interventionists on the other side of the aisle seems to be that for Bush’s interventions, there’s at least a plausible, not to say persuasive, case that American interests are at stake. 

In the case of the Dems’ preferred guerre du jour, there’s simply no national interest justification; the case for war, in this case, is made in the hazy language of international law and in contravention of the principle of sovereignty itself. (Indeed, Sudan has reportedly provided helpful cooperation in the war on terror, something that does affect the U.S. directly.) 

For liberals, as for neocons, states only get to be states when we say so, and apparently Susan Rice and Anthony Lake have taken it upon themselves to determine that Sudan’s statehood isn’t acceptable anymore.

The tendency to make all the world’s troubles our own, the ultimate disregard for the United Nations and beneath it the entire Westphalian order, the false hope in the utility of military power to solve protracted political problems…these fundamental principles are all shared by the Bush administration. Given that the WaPo op-ed’s authors are representative of the Dems’ heavy hitters on foreign policy, maybe it’s too early to get excited that Dems could bring a less militaristic foreign policy, should they grab the reins from the Republicans. The wars they’ll start will just be further detached from genuine U.S. interests.