Why We Fight Over Foreign Policy
Why We Fight Over Foreign Policy
Do politicians deceive the public about their foreign policies? According to Henry Nau, author of Why We Fight Over Foreign Policy, world leaders do not outright lie, but instead, they can twist reality to suit their worldview. The challenges they face and the solutions to those issues are presented through the prism of their worldview. Furthermore, foreign affairs is a fast-paced field with many moving parts. Leaders, according to Nau, cannot simply “can’t see it all” and must have a set of principles that enable them to analyze problems and move forward with solutions (Nau, 2007). As a result, world leaders depend on their worldview, which is formed by their understanding, experiences, and judgment.
Nau then discusses the 2003 invasion of Iraq by providing a brief overview of three significant schools of thought in international relations: realism, liberalism, and constructivism. According to the realist viewpoint, this case is viewed as a struggle between the powerful and the weak. There is no legitimate universal authority other than that which each state determines (Nau, 2007). The liberal viewpoint views the world through institutional collaboration states aim to create more perfect unions and do not seek power for the sake of survival. Constructivist perspective sees it through the ideas and norms of what people and states believe.
As Nau points out, we compartmentalize knowledge, see the world, and solve problems through a particular worldview. Each of us has a bias that helps us see the world, and since there are many perspectives, disagreements about how to solve problems are unavoidable. In the Iraq War, the other schools of international relations have different principles and presuppositions about how to solve the problem of Saddam Hussein. When dealing with the Soviet Union, President Reagan relied on “a world view based upon the moral presupposition of right and wrong, and belief in and submission to God in the historical Judeo-Christian tradition of the United States” (Weyrich, 1995).
Since truth and facts are seen through the lens of either realist, liberal, or constructivist worldviews, this shapes the way leaders see and interacts with the world. Reagan saw the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” whereas other world leaders, such as Fidel Castro, who shared the same communist ideology, saw them favorably. To create a world that is consistent with their viewpoint, leaders must embrace risks and accept tradeoffs (Gvosdev, 2019). Each group in foreign relations comes from a different culture and history, and each sees the world and their counterparts from a different viewpoint. Conflicts frequently arise as a result of opposing worldviews.
Nau highlights this point when asking, “what if we disagree not because leaders are wicked and lie but because they come to different conclusions’’ (Nau, 2007). Leaders often come to conclusions by oversimplifying what they know because time is often of the essence. The fast-paced nature of foreign relations can lead to issues as leaders oversimplify what they know in order to suit their worldview.
Nau is correct that people look at the world through different lenses of their world, these views conflict with each other. This can result in mistrust and, in some instances, a war between countries. The article’s title is Why We Fight About Foreign Policy, and he concludes that we fight about it because of these diverging perspectives. This does not seem entirely accurate to me. People disagree about foreign policy in the United States because the country’s foreign policy may seem incoherent. For example, the invasion of Iraq was disputed on these differing viewpoints. Many well-meaning people spoke out against the war on various grounds.
Both a foreign policy hawk and a pacifist could correctly argue that invading Iraq and installing a Shia government would likely turn the new regime into a satellite state of Iran. When it became clear that they had done precisely that, the Bush administration reverted to being pro-Sunni and anti-Shia (Hersh, 2007). Situations like this have repeatedly arisen in American foreign policy, including the Yemen war. We initially supported the Houthis before pivoting back to the Saudi Coalition. The central focus of American foreign policy debates is the short-sighted and seemingly irrational decisions, not whether one is acting from a realist or liberal perspective.
Furthermore, Nau focuses far too much on perspective and worldviews and far too little on politics and elections. Before President Biden, every president campaigned on avoiding nation-building and having a more modest foreign policy. During the presidential debates in 2000, President Bush stated, “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building” (2nd Presidential Debate Between Gov. Bush and Vice President Gore, 2000). President Obama campaigned on closing the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, and President Trump promised to end the war in Afghanistan.
However, nation-building occurred, GITMO remains open, and the Afghan war continues. Presidents have nearly complete discretion over foreign policy matters and frequently use that position to rally the troops. Even Trump’s detractors applauded when he bombed Syria. Fareed Zakaria exclaimed ecstatically, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” (Walsh, 2017). Knowing the even their critics will applaud overseas military actions gives Presidents an incentive to be aggressive in foreign policy matters. The executive branch of the US government is in charge of foreign policy, and the decisions it makes are often motivated by American politics rather than by American interests abroad.
One’s worldview influences how one sees and interacts with the world. Realists believe they see the world as it truly is, with states vying for dominance. Liberals also contend that international diplomacy can be a highly effective means of bringing states together to solve problems. Constructivism holds that history, culture, and society all have a significant impact on how states interact. In international affairs, a Christian worldview is also essential. The way we see the world is critical, and we should not choose between practicing our faith and promoting the United States’ interests. Both are important and can be accomplished simultaneously.
American diplomat George Kennan writes that foreign policy is often “complex, fuzzy, and unstable” (Kennan, 2018). There are, however, parts of the government’s work where we can look for Christian meaning. First and foremost, we can serve in diplomatic positions, where decency and humanity of spirit can never fail to serve the Christian cause. Strong international relations and foreign policy help solve both political and tremendous moral issues. Both issues deserve brave Christian response and solution.
Gvosdev, N. (2019, December). Philosophy, not “Jeopardy!”: Making Foreign Policy Relevant. Retrieved from Ethics & International Affairs: https://www.ethicsandinternationalaffairs.org/2019/philosophy-not-jeopardy-makingforeign-policy-relevant/
Hersh, S. M. (2007). The redirection. Retrieved April 01, 2021, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/03/05/the-redirection
Kennan, G. F. (2018, July 16). Foreign Policy and Christian Conscience. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1959/05/foreign-policy-and-christian-conscience/304685/.
Nau, H. R. (2007, April 1). Why We Fight Over Foreign Policy. Retrieved from Hoover Institution: https://www.hoover.org/research/why-we-fight-over-foreign-policy
Weyrich, P. (1995). Virtues of a Principled Foreign Policy. The Brown Journal of World Affairs, 2(2), 49–52. Retrieved March 31, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24590063
Walsh, J. (2017, April 10). Too many of TRUMP’S Liberal critics are praising his strike on Syria. https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/too-many-of-trumps-liberal-critics-are-praising-his-strike-on-syria/.