Saturday, March 21, 2009

Reaganites Discover Nixon's Virtues

Kim Holmes at the Heritage Foundation:
Once upon a time, American liberals loved to hate foreign-policy realists. Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger - the uber-realists of their day - were the betes noires of the left. In the liberal view, stability and Realpolitik were the source of everything wrong with U.S. foreign policy.

No more. In an ideological shift that should make Mr. Nixon turn over in his grave, liberal internationalism is making peace with its erstwhile intellectual enemy, the tradition of realism in U.S. foreign policy. Liberals and realists are joining hands to forge a new vision of American leadership that President Obama may be tempted to embrace.
Why would Holmes think RN would be upset by this development? After all, it was he who went to China, dramatically improved relations with the Soviet Union, ended U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and balanced our unstinting support for Israel with a new acceptance of the legitimate interests of its neighbors. If RN were rolling over in his grave because President Obama is being tempted to make friendly gestures toward our current antagonists such as Iran, it would presumably be because Holmes and the Heritage Foundation feel that tough old 37 would think 44 was too soft. That's ironic, since at the time, the Goldwater/Reaganites who would soon found Heritage -- as well as their own tactical partners, the nascent neocons -- all feared that it was the vigilantly anti-communist Nixon who had gone soft. Pentagon hawks were so worried that they were actually spying on him.

Holmes sees a coalition forming between liberals (who would've been interventionists in the Kennedy era but now think America's world-changing days are behind her) and Brent Scowcroft-style realists intent on making sure the U.S. doesn't overextend itself on moralistic or otherwise misguided adventures such as Iraq.

Holmes is hopeful that Obama will find a Nixonian middle way:
He seems to sense a need to impose some limits on the inherent pessimism of the new liberal-realist fusion. A vision of America riding off into the sunset of geopolitical decline does not square with his message of hope and change. Americans may not want the U.S. to be the world's policeman, but they also still believe their country has a transformative role to play in the world.
Of course that was precisely Richard Nixon's view and legacy. It is good that the heirs of his often mistrustful conservative friends have come to appreciate it.

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