Voice

Country First

After a turbulent decade abroad, the Republican Party turns inward.

Neoconservative foreign policy is dead -- or so I infer from the first Republican presidential debate, held June 13 in New Hampshire. None of the seven candidates talked about the moral purposes of American power. Quite the contrary: Those who addressed the current bombing campaign in Libya opposed it as a distraction from "national interests." Those who talked about the war in Afghanistan spoke of getting out rather than winning. And none showed any eagerness to talk about foreign policy at all; the subject absorbed a bit under 10 percent of the two-hour debate.

How times have changed! Fifteen years ago, William Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs titled "Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy." They chided the conservatives of the day for embracing a "tepid consensus" on foreign policy consisting chiefly of Kissingerian realism, and proposed in its stead President Ronald Reagan's policy of "military supremacy and moral confidence." They argued that the end of the Cold War era had left America with unrivaled power; rather than retreating from a destiny thrust upon it by history, America should accept its new role as the "benevolent global hegemon." They concluded that the United States should marshal its military, diplomatic, economic, and, yes, moral force in order not only to preserve the global order but to make it more like our own: more democratic, more committed to free markets.

Kristol and Kagan wrote that "Republicans are surely the genuine heirs to the Reagan tradition." And in the 2000 election cycle, they found their candidate in the person of Sen. John McCain, an ardent proponent of democracy promotion abroad and a champion of American intervention in the Balkans. Gov. George W. Bush, by contrast, positioned himself as the realist advocate of a foreign policy of "interests" rather than "values." The terrorist attacks of 9/11, of course, changed all that: In his 2002 national security strategy, Bush called for the United States to preserve its position of military supremacy and spoke of using that strength, as well as diplomacy, to forge "a balance of power that favors freedom." In seeking to reshape the Middle East through regime change and democracy promotion over the next few years, Bush became the leader Kristol and Kagan had sought.

In 2008, John McCain returned to don the neo-Reaganite mantle. In the first of his debates with Sen. Barack Obama, McCain positioned himself as not only a military veteran who knew how to use American power but also a moralist who believed in using force to stop genocide, was prepared to stand up for democratic Georgia against autocratic Russia, and had called for "a league of democracies" to advance the cause of liberty. (It is worth noting that Obama criticized George Bush's recklessness, but not his, or McCain's, idealism.)

And who is the John McCain of 2012? No one. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy appears to have exhausted itself after only a decade. There are two extremely large and obvious reasons for this shift. First, the policy was given a good shot, and didn't exactly work out  as planned. America wasn't greeted as a benevolent hegemon in Iraq or pretty much anywhere else, and regime change proved to be an extremely crude instrument for the shaping of a better world order. Reeling from the epic bender of the Bush years, the American public is in the midst of a foreign-policy hangover. The first question about the world from the New Hampshire audience was "Osama bin Laden is dead. We've been in Afghanistan for 10 years. Isn't it time to bring our combat troops home from Afghanistan?" The second was, Can't we start closing our military bases around the world? Can't we, in short, have less?

And of course the wish for less is also a consequence of the economy. The United States had a surplus to play with in the late 1990s; now it has a massive deficit, with prospects of worse. The hegemonic burden has become unaffordable. Why do we need all those bases? How can we keep spending $120 billion a year in Afghanistan? During the other 90 percent of the debate, the candidates described government spending under the Obama administration in apocalyptic terms; few of them said so, but it was plain that a foreign policy of national interests narrowly understood was also a matter of economic necessity.

Back in the 1990s, the larger neoconservative project went under the name "national greatness conservatism." Kristol, along with David Brooks and others, inveighed against the purely negative conservatism of the libertarians and in favor of the muscular activism of a Teddy Roosevelt. But eight years of Bush seems to have depleted that doctrine as well; even centrists like Gov. Mitt Romney talk about the federal government as a necessary evil. If government is a threat to our freedom and economy at home, how can we view it as a benevolent force abroad?

And this, in turn, forces a question: Are Republicans really the heirs to the Reaganite foreign-policy vision? So far, the party line on strong defense has held; that's the one part of government that's good, not bad. But how long can that giant exception last? How long, that is, before conservatives acknowledge the reality that defense spending consumes a massively larger fraction of the budget than welfare spending, foreign aid, and all the other convenient bugbears? If small-government conservatism really has decisively defeated national-greatness conservatism, then its advocates may turn against the whole apparatus of the neo-Reaganite foreign policy.

Today's conservatives seem to want to return to the party's origins -- thus the popularity of the Tea Party label. Thomas Jefferson, the first Republican president, also deeply distrusted what he called the "central" government, and opposed a standing army, a diplomatic service, and, above all, warfare, as instruments for the aggrandizement of the state and thus the diminishment of personal liberty (though he proved quite willing both to threaten and to wage war if the circumstances required it). The Republicans became the party of bellicosity only at the end of the 19th century, under Presidents William McKinley and Roosevelt, when their business base recognized the economic value of foreign conquest -- and when it had forsaken its small-government principles. When the GOP again began to define itself against activist government, as it did in the face of the New Deal, its partisans also turned decisively away from engagement with the world.

Maybe it's too soon to say that the Republican Party has committed itself to genuine small-government conservatism: Certainly Romney and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the most politically seasoned of the current candidates and the ones most likely to be nominated, favor increasing the defense budget even as they cut everything else to ribbons. Kristol has half-seriously suggested a ticket of Rep. Paul Ryan, the zealous budget-cutter, and Marco Rubio, the freshman Florida senator, who apparently favors "more decisive action in Libya." But the contradiction between seeking the smallest and least active federal government possible, and a muscular foreign policy can't be sustained over time. That's why the GOP has traditionally embraced one or the other, but not both.

Is it the Democrats, then, who are the natural heirs to the doctrine of benevolent global hegemony? Probably not, if only because the hegemonic era is now behind us, presumably forever. In part for that very reason, and partly also in reaction to Bush's unilateralism, this administration is prepared to lead, if not from behind, then at least from the side, giving both authority and responsibility to allies. The Obama national security strategy does not insist upon unrivaled military superiority. And Obama is a cautious figure, acutely aware of the limits of the possible. So no, today's Democratic Party will probably not become the home for disappointed foreign-policy neoconservatives.

But the Democrats do believe in government -- maybe too much. They believe that government serves deeply moral purposes. And they believe that the same government that has an obligation to help people at home has an obligation to do so elsewhere in the world as well.

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Terms of Engagement

Game of Thrones

Morocco is the Arab world's last chance to prove that monarchs can reform their countries without getting thrown out of them.

Is reform possible in the Arab world? Is there, that is, a fourth path beyond revolution, repression, and the wholesale bribery deployed by the wealthy Gulf states? If peaceful evolution is possible anywhere, it is in Morocco. And we won't have to wait more than a week or two for the first clues about which way Morocco will go.

The Arab Spring reached Morocco on Feb. 20, when over 100,000 demonstrators, mostly educated young people, took to the streets in 53 cities to demand change. King Mohammed VI, 47, one of the generation of allegedly progressive young rulers in the region, allowed the protests to unfold unimpeded. The demonstrations continued, and on March 9 the king took the extraordinary step of appearing on television to promise constitutional reforms which, if actually implemented, would place real restraints on his powers.

This is precisely how those of us who wrote in years past about democratization in the Arab World imagined that change would one day come: pressure from below -- and outside -- would lead to reform from above. That was the premise behind President George W. Bush's "Freedom Agenda," and calls for the United States and other Western states to support indigenous reform movements in the region. But that premise turned out to be wrong. Leaders like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and King Hamad bin Khalifa in Bahrain recognized that real reform jeopardized their rule; they were prepared to open the valves just wide enough to let off steam, and then jam them shut the moment citizens began to imagine that they could actually shape their own destiny.

And that, in turn, is why the choices in the Middle East have dwindled to revolution, repression, and bribery. Since no leader has been prepared to even begin to go down a path that could lead to his downfall, citizens have realized that real reform requires regime change. They've succeeded in Egypt and Tunisia; been checked, so far, by overwhelming violence in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain; and remained silent in Saudi Arabia. Only in Jordan and Morocco, both ruled by new generation monarchs, has there been meaningful hope for liberalization. And Jordan's King Abdullah has been far vaguer about the path of change than has Mohammed VI.

In his March 9 speech, the king promised "comprehensive reforms." The prime minister would henceforth be chosen by the winning party, not by the palace. The parliament would gain "new powers that enable it to discharge its representative, legislative, and regulatory mission." The judiciary, currently run by the Judicial Supreme Council under the control of the king, would be granted "the status of an independent power." New mechanisms would be established to strengthen political parties, now widely deemed moribund. And the king announced that he was impaneling a committee of legal scholars to produce a draft constitution not by some remote future date, but by June.

The king's speech provoked every possible degree of optimism and pessimism from Moroccans and Morocco experts. Tahar ben Jelloun, the country's leading novelist, told me that he viewed the speech as "historic -- the first time the monarchy has laid out a vision of reform." If the changes the king proposed are in fact adopted, ben Jelloun says, Morocco's next elections will be "totally free," and will lead to the appointment of a prime minister with the same broad powers enjoyed by the prime minister of France (a less-than-encouraging analogy, given the way President Nicolas Sarkozy runs roughshod over his own government).

Of course, what was once touted as the new generation in the Arab world, whether the young kings of Jordan and Morocco or second-generation autocrats like Bashar al-Assad of Syria, have almost always disappointed the hopes they've raised. Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, says, "Mohammed has promised substantive reforms time and again, and has always portrayed himself as a modernizing reformer and democratizer. But he's never lived up to that; it's been largely cosmetic." Hamid sees the king's speech as more of the same.

Early reports on the draft constitutional reforms suggest that they will both empower the prime minister and curtail the king's sacred status. The new dispensation may make meaningful inroads on King Mohammed's absolute powers without achieving real democracy. As Lahcen Achy, a scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, recently wrote, "the changes will not lead to a parliamentary constitution in Morocco, but they will introduce the separation of powers and reduce the king's all-powerful role in government."

This is precisely the kind of incremental change-from-above that democracy promoters long hoped for. But Western reformers are no longer the only outside players in this game. Saudi Arabia, which feels profoundly threatened by the forces unleashed by the Arab Spring, has increasingly become a regional autocracy promoter, for example using its dominant position in the Gulf Cooperation Council to dispatch troops to Bahrain to bolster a fellow monarch beset by popular revolt. And last month, the GCC extended membership invitations to Jordan and Morocco, countries that are not in the Gulf and do not, like the other members, have oil. Rather, like Bahrain, they are Sunni monarchies wobbling before mass protest. The Saudis apparently hope to turn the GCC into a club of kings, much as Bourbon France, Russia, and Austria formed the Holy Alliance early in the 19th century to counteract the spread of democracy in the Americas and Europe.

Above all, the Saudis worry about the growing influence of Shiite Iran. But they fear democracy both because it could destabilize Sunni rulers in the region and because it undermines their own legitimacy. "A peaceful democratic transition in Morocco," as Anouar Boukhars, a Morocco scholar at McDaniel College in Maryland, recently wrote, would "provide a powerful model that the monarchies of the Gulf might potentially be forced to follow."

It's not clear how, when, or under what circumstances Morocco would join the GCC, which has no formal accession policy. But the fact is that Morocco needs Saudi and Gulf money. The rising cost of food and fuel, which helped stoke the protests across the region, has forced Morocco to increase subsidies and raise wages, increasing the deficit and undermining an already weak economy. Morocco is engaged in a rivalry with Algeria -- which does have oil -- over the vast desert hinterland of Western Sahara, which it insists on retaining as a colony despite the lack of legitimate historical or cultural ties. Saudi Arabia has helped finance Morocco's military purchases and its investment in the region. The GCC invitation can thus be understood as an offer to deepen ties in exchange for increased Saudi influence over Morocco's foreign and perhaps also domestic policies.

That does not mean that the GCC will be sending troops into Morocco to quell protests, or even that the Saudis will warn the king against handing off real powers to a prime minister. But they might lean on their fellow monarch to slow-walk his planned reforms -- and Mohammed, or more conservative forces around him, might be happy enough to have the pretext to do so. In short, hopes for genuine reform in Morocco are jeopardized not only by the king's own ambivalence but by pressures from the outside.

The West does not have to merely watch this drama unfold. At the recent G8 meeting in Deauville, as I noted in my column last week, the leaders of the major industrial nations, along with the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, offered a package of debt relief, aid, trade, and investment to Arab countries. Much of this assistance is to be directed to Egypt and Tunisia, the two countries where protest led to political revolution (though the Saudis themselves have offered $4 million to Egypt). The goal of all this assistance is to encourage and sustain the movement towards democracy. Evolutionary movement to this end should count as well. If the new constitution really does put Morocco on the path to democracy, then the country should be included in that most-favored club -- so long as the king actually implements the changes he's sponsored.

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