Grand Strategy: David Tucker Responds to His Critics

I would like to thank Paul D. Miller, David R. Henderson and Lauren Weiner for their comments on my essay on grand strategy.

Although stating general agreement, all three think I need help making my way through the terrain. Henderson says I did not go far enough; Weiner that I ignored various locales along the way; and Miller that I lost heart on one promising route merely because of some straw bogeymen. I would like to respond briefly because it is not possible to respond completely.

I went as far as I did because it did not seem reasonable to me to go further. Nothing in Henderson’s comments persuades me that my judgment was wrong. I did ignore a variety of interesting locales and the opinions of those who inhabit them, as Weiner implies. I agree that it is necessary to adapt any set of sojourning principles to those one meets along the way. To insist, as I did, on accepting a world of separate sovereigns is to acknowledge this necessity, although certainly not to explain how to adapt.

I do not agree with Miller about the straw men. Every war we have fought since and including the Civil War was fought for the sake of spreading democracy. We have had reasons of state for those wars, but we have justified them as wars for democracy. He is wrong to say that policymakers do not advocate that policy. Whatever their secret deliberations, they speak publicly of democracy. The war in Iraq, for example, was fought to establish democracy there and in the Middle East.

I will pass over Miller’s misrepresentations or misunderstandings of my arguments, confident that most readers will see them as such, to raise a more important point. Miller appears to take it for granted that democracy in individual states is compatible with the liberal international order. That this is not necessarily the case explains why one hears of a democracy deficit in the European Union and objections to American judges deferring to international law. As I noted in my essay, President Obama in Cairo touted democracy and self-determination, but told Muslims that they had to conform to the standards of the liberal international order in cases where their preferences diverged from those standards. In this light, asserting the priority of national sovereignty is also asserting the priority of democracy.

To avoid another misunderstanding, I must now unfortunately add that asserting the importance of national sovereignty is not the same thing as publicly advocating putting one’s nation first. All nations put themselves first. To publicly declare that policy is both vulgar and counterproductive. Why worry one’s friends and forewarn one’s enemies, especially if one then appears to capitulate to some of those enemies? Whatever our disagreements, perhaps Miller, Henderson, and Weiner would agree that such an approach should not be part of American grand strategy.