- Democracy & Foreign Policy
The "end of the Cold War" has led to a reevaluation of U.S. foreign policy as fundamental as those that occurred after each of the world wars. Two recent books, both of them titled Exporting Democracy, make significant contributions to the current debates in Washington. They present widely differing interpretations, yet their policy prescriptions are surprisingly similar.
To Joshua Muravchik, the exportation of democracy is the way of "fulfilling America's destiny" now that the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its communist allies has been won. If the U.S. succeeds in spreading the ideal of democracy to countries such as Russia and China, Muravchik writes, "we would stand triumphant for achieving by our model and our influence the visionary goal stamped by the founding fathers on the seal of the United States: novus ordo saeculorum, a new order of the ages" (p. 227). His argument consists of two parts. First, be stresses that the United States needs to remain an active player in world affairs. Second, he maintains that the promotion of democracy should be the main objective and that active programs of educational exchange, foreign broadcasting services ("telling democracy's story"), and political aid should be developed as basic instruments of U.S. foreign policy.
The opening part of Muravchik's book consists of a vigorous rejoinder to a variety of U.S. commentators who have resurrected the old case for [End Page 127] isolationism. The importance of this section lies not only in the arguments themselves, but also in the need to raise them at all. Muravchik, a resident scholar at one of Washington's most influential think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute), has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal as "the most cogent and careful of the neoconservative writers on foreign policy." Yet much of his fire is directed not against American liberals but against isolationist conservatives. Muravchik notes that conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan's essay in The National Interest titled "America First-and Second, and Third" not only evoked the name of the neutralist organization that sought to keep America out of the war against Hitler's Germany, it also reflected the substance of those America First arguments of the early 1940s. Buchanan called for America to withdraw from Europe and Asia, arguing that "the Monroe Doctrine should be made again the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy."
The reduction in tension between the superpowers obviously has made it possible and desirable to cut arms budgets and reduce some of America's overseas commitments. But as Muravchik warns, it is impractical as well as undesirable for America to return to its pre-World War II isolationism. In an age of nuclear missiles, fax machines, and jet travel, America cannot remain unaffected by events beyond the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It is in America's interests to act as a stabilizing force. The decline of Soviet power has created new sources of uncertainty that America cannot afford to ignore. In Central Europe, for example, small and weak countries are once again riven by ethnic conflicts and vulnerable to the larger powers on their eastern and western flanks.
In the past, waves of American isolationism have all too often been followed by crises and subsequently by hectic, exaggerated interventions. One of the main architects of the CIA's unsuccessful effort to overthrow Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba by the operation at the Bay of Pigs had, early in his career, been a supporter of the America First movement. Steady, long-term international commitments are more effective than oscillations between neglect and interference in foreign countries' affairs.
While the case against isolationism is timely and important, the second part of Muravchik's argument is subject to criticism. He weakens the case for "exporting democracy" by overstating it. He contrasts the foreign affairs school that stresses "realism" and deals in concepts such as "balance of power" (a school associated with Walter...