- Reply to Barry Blechman
The field of policy history has blossomed over the past few decades. The Journal of Policy History and the Policy History Conference have become exciting arenas for conversations, dialogue, and debates across disciplinary lines about the evolution of domestic and foreign policy. One of the most rewarding aspects of being part of this development has been to watch what started as a small cohort of mavericks in the profession turn into a vibrant community.
An important component to successful interdisciplinary scholarship, if the field is to work, is for scholars to take other disciplines on their own terms. Early in the development of the field, conversations too often revolved around historians dismissing social scientists for just presenting "abstract, timeless models" and flat, ahistorical theories, while social scientists dismissed historians for "just telling stories" and not providing theories and analysis.
Unfortunately, old habits die hard. That seems to be the case with Blechman's comments on Arsenal of Democracy. Mr. Blechman has had a very accomplished career as a policymaker. Blechman, who has a Ph.D. in international relations, was the founder and president of the DFI International, Inc., a research and consulting company in Washington. In addition to his writing and teaching, he has served on numerous boards, commissions, and advisory groups, such as the Project for a New American Century's Commission to Assess the Ballistic Threat to the United States (chaired by Donald Rumsfeld) and the Defense Policy Board (an advisory committee to the Department of Defense) under President George W. Bush from 2003 to 2007. He also founded and has led a nonpartisan think tank in Washington.
Let me begin with just a brief description of what my book is about. Based on research in twenty-three archival collections and a reading of the secondary literature on most of the major national security issues in this period, the book begins with an analysis of how President Franklin Roosevelt formed a powerful political coalition around the ideas and policies of liberal internationalism in the 1930s and 1940s.
While the coalition remained in place following the war and was responsible for the creation of the Cold War national security apparatus, the strength [End Page 378] of the conservative opposition was much stronger in the 1940s and 1950s than much of the historiography suggested. Conservatives used national security as an issue around which to build their strength. An influential group of Republicans promoted the ideas of conservative internationalism to shed the image of isolationism and enable the party to challenge Democrats on national security. The emergence of conservative internationalism was an extremely significant development in the politics of national security and to the history of modern conservatism.
The cohort that emerged within the GOP after World War II pushed an agenda that helped the party challenge liberal internationalism—a pillar of the New Deal Order—and to fight off charges of isolationism. Within the consensus over anticommunism and containment, these Republicans found wedge issues through which to distinguish themselves from the Democrats. They placed more emphasis on fighting anticommunism in Asia over Europe; they called for military leaders to gain a bigger role in dictating national security strategy; they called for more aggressive investigations of alleged communist spies in the United States; and they claimed that the nation could be hawkish without requiring excessive sacrifice from citizens.
The ability of this faction to influence the Republican agenda opened up a partisan battle over national security that continues to this day. Conservatives effectively jettisoned any effort to really stand for antigovernment principles when they embraced an expansive national security state. The seeds of "Big Government Conservatism," as it was called during the presidency of George W. Bush, were planted.
The book moves through the 1950s and 1960s as national security became a fiercely contested political issue, with both parties competing to show who would be tougher against communism, culminating with President Johnson's decision to escalate America's involvement in Vietnam. After tracing the fragility and vulnerabilities of liberal internationalism during its heyday, the book then moves on to examine some of the challenges that conservatives faced after the 1970s. Rather than a...