The rise of economic restrictions as a tool of American foreign policy is propelled by factors that will continue long after the Trump administration.
Conservative Nationalism and American Statecraft
What does conservative nationalism mean for American foreign policy, immigration, trade, and other international commitments? Colin Dueck, author of the new book, Age of Iron, discusses these questions in this edition of Liberty Law Talk.
Richard Reinsch: Today we’re talking with Colin Dueck about his new book, Age of Iron: On Conservative Nationalism. Colin is professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. He has worked as a foreign policy advisor on several Republican presidential campaigns. He’s been a consultant for the State Department and Defense Department. He’s also the author of a number of other books including Reluctant Crusaders, Hard Line, and The Obama Doctrine. Professor Dueck, welcome.
Colin Dueck: Thank you, Richard.
Richard Reinsch: So thinking about this book, Age of Iron. I thought it was an interesting title, because of what we commonly associate, another phrase, blood and iron, or iron and blood to a nationalist of sorts, German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck who said that blood and iron would displace parliaments and parliamentary procedures. The title of your book, Age of Iron, I don’t think was meant to recall that.
Colin Dueck: Well that’s right. Even though I often do ask myself what Bismarck would do in any given situation. But the term age of iron is from an ancient Greek myth that suggests that history can go down rather than up. In other words, you can have decline or decay over time. And so the reason I chose it is that I do think there was actually a kind of golden age of liberal internationalism, but that was a long time ago now, that was in the 1940s in my opinion. And so it’s been generations since that time. And so in a way, Trump, I think the Trump phenomenon is kind of an effect more than it is a cause of a number of long-term problems, or conditions including, for example, frustrations over globalization, and whether they benefit working Americans. Frustrations over military interventions that don’t seem to have successful and conclusive endings. Frustration over national sovereignty that seem to leave decision making further and further out of touch. So I think these are some of the trends that fed into the Trump phenomenon back in 2016.
Richard Reinsch: So Age of Iron in a way, just kind of thinking about your answer, you’re challenging standard ways we as Westerners, as Americans, think about the future, as you call it, Whig theory of history, or a progressive theory of history that history changes, but is always in ascent upwards in the realm of greater individualism, greater material security, greater prosperity, all of these things we associate. You’re perhaps suggesting, well, maybe that’s not the case, or if it is the case, it’s not that we’re going to necessarily proceed as we’ve done in the past. We might have to do things differently than we’ve done in the past, say 50 or 60 years. But that’s okay, and you go on to make an argument in the book for conservative nationalism. Maybe talk about that. What is conservative nationalism?
Colin Dueck: Sure. So your first point, I think you got it exactly right, which is that the liberal, or the progressive view of international relations is that it’s kind of this long-term upward trend where we sort of transcend power politics through multilateral organization, interdependence, cultural exchange, human rights promotion. And I actually think that some of the central features of world politics haven’t really changed that much over time. I mean, there has been some progress, but power politics is a reality. So just denying it in a sort of a furious way doesn’t really get us very far. In fact, it leaves us actually at the mercy of our adversaries overseas.
Richard Reinsch: What would you say is the biggest embodiment of liberal internationalism today? I mean, what are you sort of pushing against?
Colin Dueck: The biggest flaw, is that it?
Richard Reinsch: Or embodiment. Institutional representation of say liberal or progressive, and maybe I guess liberal internationalism isn’t necessarily progressive trans-nationalism but I also, I think about those in conjunction as the latter being a goal of the former, maybe.
Colin Dueck: Sure. Well I think there’s the liberal internationalist tradition and there’s some variety within it, too. There’s people that are more hawkish people and more dovish, but you have a variety of think tanks, you have journals, you have leading newspapers. I mean, for the most part kind of the center left establishment really in DC and around the country, and certainly in Western Europe, I mean these are assumptions that are just taken for granted. I think that in the Democratic party, I mean if I had to name an institutional embodiment, I would say the Democratic party is dominated by liberal internationalists. And then you have interesting debate going on where progressive’s like Bernie Sanders, they don’t really argue with the liberal element, but they think that the US should be less interventionist militarily overseas. So that’s an interesting debate that’s going on right now on the left.
But there’s really no debate over whether the core kind of left liberal progressive assumptions are true. I mean, if anything they are furiously offended by any suggestion that they’re not.
But your question, I think the second part of the question was what is conservative nationalism.
Richard Reinsch: What is conservative nationalism?
Colin Dueck: In the American case, one of the points of the book is to point out that there are different versions internationally. So I’m not denying that there are versions of nationalism around the world that really are authoritarian. I mean, we’ve seen that over the past century, and beyond. But I think in the American case, there is a kind of core American nationalism that is benign, actually. I mean foreign policy, which is the main topic of the book, I really trace it back to George Washington in his Farewell Address where he said that the US should have no binding political commitments of a permanent nature. That it could be engaged and friendly with a wide variety of regimes, but that it should avoid those kinds of permanent alliance commitments.
Colin Dueck: And so that was really the dominant strain well into the 20th century, and it was Woodrow Wilson who broke that, or challenged it by suggesting that the US could best serve and promote its interest and its values overseas through a set of global multi-lateral binding commitments as embodied in the League of Nations. And even though he’s failed in the short term, I think he had a lot of success ideologically in the long-term, because eventually that’s where mainstream US foreign policy elite sort of landed in a more practical way with FDR and Truman in the forties. So Republicans and conservatives for their part could never really figure out exactly how to handle Wilson. I mean, they knew they didn’t like him, but they had a lot of disagreement amongst themselves, and I traced those disagreements in the different factions. There’s a more non-interventionist faction that is very skeptical of any military engagement overseas.
And then there are others that are more muscular, robust and those coalitions have formed and reformed over time, particularly when conservators are convinced if some concrete security challenge, whether it’s Soviet communism, or Al-Qaeda. But I think most conservatives, at the grassroots level, never really bought into the most ambitious Wilsonian vision for what the US should do overseas, and so eventually what you get after the frustrations of Iraq, and after Bush 43 has left office, you get this rethinking of what are we doing here? And Trump, in a way, tapped into that, and expressed at least one side of it very forcefully. And I see him as a resurgence of traditional American nationalism in foreign affairs. Not because I’m suggesting that he’s gone back and he’s possibly read these documents, but because he does have a point of view that he’s expressed pretty consistently for more than 30 years. He thinks that US allies are free-riders, that they free-ride off of the US economically, militarily, and otherwise, and that the US should assert itself, and assert its freedom of action, not only against adversaries, but actually against its own allies.
So for better or worse, that that is his point of view. And it is a more traditional American nationalist foreign policy. And it’s the most dramatic such shift, I think, since really before World War II. I mean, who doesn’t take it for granted that liberal international model should be dominant. In fact, I don’t think he has much use for it, and he says so.
Richard Reinsch: Well, let’s talk about nationalism just a little bit more here because as you know, and I certainly know people hear the word nationalism and they lose their breakfast, they get upset. There’s a fear that individual liberty will be swallowed up by a comprehensive government defining unilaterally what it means to be an American nationalist, or something like that, or pick the country. You said that’s benign just now, that nationalism in America has a benign tradition. And I wondered if we could talk more about that. In the book, you argue there’s a civic nationalism at the core here, and that’s also important because if we’re going to pursue this strategy you say was the mainstream tradition in American foreign policy thinking before Woodrow Wilson that also applies they’re acting on behalf of a certain understanding of America. I wonder if you could talk about those things.
Colin Dueck: Sure. Yeah, that’s a good point. So I do think, and I say in the book that there is a kind of civic American creed which has these classical liberal elements well beyond foreign policy, and that it is fundamental to the founding, and it’s no coincidence that Jefferson writes into the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and that’s going to have foreign policy implications as well. So there is a kind of classical liberal element in the founding from the beginning, it is a civic form of nationalism, rightly understood, and in America at its best, which much of the time I think has tried to work toward that.
Now, the implication for foreign policy is not that you have to intervene militarily all over the place, all the time. I mean, you’re hoping that eventually this order, this republican form of self government spreads, right, as the founder’s hoped, but they never dreamed that you could do this by force on all fronts at once. In fact, they took it for granted. You would have to have normal diplomatic relations, and even sometimes alliances with undemocratic regimes in order to promote US national interests so they could be quite hard nosed about that and that’s a lesson that’s useful as well.
Richard Reinsch: Thinking about just the civic nationalism component, is there a sense in which that becomes a forward doctrine, that people want to use it to project American power abroad to make other people like us? Is that so illogical?
Colin Dueck: It certainly has been used that way and it can be a problem. So when you have this tradition that says that we have our own civic creed, and we really believe it, and it says that all men are created equal, it might create the impression, for example, that you then have an obligation to spread democracy, for example, in a country that isn’t particularly ready for it. I mean, so we’ve seen this more than once. I mean one of the lessons that some drew in the United States after the end of the Cold War is that the experience of Eastern Europe could be transferred to other parts of the world, like the Middle East.
As it turns out, Iraq for example, was not as ready for democracy as Poland. So if every foreign policy debate is just an attempt to project ourselves, or what we think it means to be an American onto other countries, that can actually be misleading. It’s not always very helpful, because you can get yourself into trouble when you’re talking about other parts of the world that are just very different in terms of their own political cultures. So I think it’s useful to always be very careful. We want to stick to our core principles. We have our own civic traditions, but what that means for a foreign policy is something we need to be very careful about.
Richard Reinsch: You referenced George Washington as being a great representative, and our first president acting on behalf of American nationalism, and you referenced the Farewell Address and that phrase entangling alliances, avoid entangling alliances. Also, though, throughout the 19th century, and I’m just sort of thinking about your argument here, there’s also, though, a growing sense of American national power and one way that expresses itself as the continent is ours, the famous manifest destiny understanding. I guess one question for you is, how does conservative nationalism deal with hubris, or arrogance, or assertions of power on behalf of this growing 19th century reservoir of power America had, which has now made us this incredible nation? How does one deal with that? So I guess I’m also thinking what is a statesman trying to achieve with foreign policy, or an American statesman, I should say, particularly.
Colin Dueck: Well, so, right. I think that’s right. In the 19th century, there is this growing sense of American power. And so as US statesmen are sticking to this model of no entangling alliances, they are at the same time expanding American influence, and trade dramatically. They’re expanding American territory across the continent. They are debating with each other what is right and what is appropriate. I mean, in fact, factions at that time often hurled the most violent nations against one another.
So, apparently this isn’t entirely new to our era, but if you look at the Mexican war and other cases, both sides typically thought of themselves as being more true to the original tradition, but the overall pattern in 1800s is clearly an expansion of American power. And I think that in the end though, Washington’s foreign policy model continues to reign right into the 20th century. Now your question was about arrogance or hubris, are you thinking about at that time, or today?
Richard Reinsch: Well, in any anytime really, I mean, but in particular because I think Washington, while I admire his statecraft, but Washington has a pretty weak country, and he’s got a lot of difficulty. So one can see circumstantially the need to be a great steward of that, and to be very protective and humble in how you approach the world. But what do you do in your post-Civil War Woodrow Wilson, you’ve got this industrial capitalist state which Woodrow Wilson possessed that could be marshaled into a war machine. Challenges like that. Challenges post-World War II you face international communism, international aggression, you’ve got an incredibly weak Europe that you’ve got to rebuild. I mean, all these sorts of things coming to play as well here and I guess what I’m asking you is, is there a philosophical core here to what you’re describing that would help us think about the use of power?
Colin Dueck: Right. And so I think for conservatives throughout the 20th century, there was a constant wrestling with, on the one hand you don’t want to go all the way that Wilson has gone in arguing for this kind of dramatic handing over of US sovereignty. I mean, that was something all Republicans agreed during the Treaty of Versailles debate, even though Henry Cabot Lodge on the one hand is pretty hawkish against the Germans, agrees that the League of Nations goes too far. So the core principle there is it is not appropriate to hand over US national sovereignty to this multilateral organization. It should be the United States that preserves the right to choose war or peace for its own interests, and for the security and prosperity of the citizens. Now, over time eventually most conservatives, most Republicans become convinced of the need to act energetically overseas in more of a long-term way during the Cold War.
And that’s one of the stories I tell in the book, is that it was that visceral anti-communism that sort of cemented conservative nationalists like let’s say a Senator Barry Goldwater, who didn’t have much use really for liberal foreign policy projects, but he was a staunch cold warrior. So that allowed for a coalition to form, right, for decades, which also continued successfully under Reagan. But then, after the end of the Cold War, the question becomes, what next? I mean, the Soviet Union’s collapsed, and so for many conservatives, the question is, why are we still doing this?
And that’s where the point about arrogance or hubris comes in, because I think now looking back on it, it has to be admitted that there was a kind of hubris. And I think it was very sincere. And I think it was well intentioned, but the idea that history had kind of ended, that democracy and human rights would just continue to spread, that this could be done at low cost. The globalization of free trade would benefit everybody and be seen by everyone as mutually beneficial. If you look at George Bush’s, I’m talking about Bush 43 here, if you look at his 2005 Second Inaugural, he talks about the defeat of tyranny worldwide. It’s very ambitious, and I don’t doubt that he-
Richard Reinsch: It’s a Wilsonian address.
Colin Dueck: It’s Wilsonian. It is absolutely a Wilsonian statement. And I don’t doubt his sincerity. He’s an honorable man and he meant it, but it was overly confident, and Trump for all of the strangeness of the Trump phenomenon, I think one of the things Trump tapped into was a reaction to all of that. Looking back on the last quarter century to say, we’ve been very optimistic now for 25 years, 30 years about what globalization, free-trade, multilateral organization, military intervention would get us. Maybe we’ve been too optimistic, and we need to take a step back, and find some sort of more solid basis, or correction for this. And I do think for a lot of voters that that actually really resonated.
Richard Reinsch: And I want to talk more about the Trump phenomenon, and what Trump currently represents. I did want to just briefly, because Woodrow Wilson is such an important figure in your book, and a parting of the waters you argue, but also before him we have Teddy Roosevelt, and you point to him as a good example of conservative nationalism, and maybe people don’t know so much about Roosevelt’s foreign policy thinking, or his conservative nationalism, maybe they’ve heard quotes, things like that. Maybe delve more into what separates those two men on this question.
Colin Dueck: And by the way, I wouldn’t deny that over time Teddy Roosevelt on domestic affairs really does move in a progressive way. By the time he’s running in 1912 as a third party candidate, I mean he has split off from obviously pretty far from any kind of mainstream conservative view, but he’s a fascinating character, and he’s charming, and he’s an excellent foreign policy president, really. And the reason I say that is he understood that there were limits, at the time, on what the public would tolerate. He also understood that the US had national interests. Wilson, by contrast, hated to talk about US interests. He claimed that the US only acted selflessly and that that’s what made it exceptional, which I think is a misunderstanding of American history. Wilson was also bent on collective security, as opposed to what he called or criticized as special alliances. So Teddy Roosevelt believed you had to promote balances of power overseas, for example, between Germany and France, between Russia and Japan.
He tried to do his best in his own limited way in the opening years of the 20th century when the US was not, for the most part, interested in playing that kind of forward role. But he did a very good job in preserving and expanding US interests in Central America, at sea, overseas, and he was an impressive figure. Wilson, I think, is much more idealistic in the worst sense. I mean, he’s unrealistic in the sense that Wilson wants to sort of teach or scold other countries into following interests that they do not view as their own, and that is just not how international relations works. So I think in that sense, there were important differences between TR and Woodrow Wilson.
Richard Reinsch: So Wilson would be ignoring not only conservative nationalism and the pursuit of an abstraction, but also, I mean, and obviously just ignoring realist foreign policy thinking as well. Assuming realism is a valid or viable way to think about foreign policy. I mean, he’s really progressing so to speak on his own here. And I guess it was his famous idea of World War I being not just in pursuit of a balance of power pushing Germany back, but something grand, universal like democracy. This is sort of where you can then see how conflicts don’t end, resources are constantly thrown in, factions form internally in the United States, bitter factions which tie themselves forward against the foreign policy, et cetera. All these things you can see start to come into play with that type of an approach.
Colin Dueck: Right. I mean, he had a way of handling stuff in foreign policy that tended to drive, Wilson did, that tended to drive his Republican critics insane, because in fact he started this in cases like Mexico in his first term, and then he applied the same model to Germany, and the model was this, and I think it’s a common pattern with liberal international threat up to the present. You begin by laying out some universal abstraction, and tie your country’s credibility to it. That’s step one. Then step two, you refuse to do anything about it meaningfully. So you create a gap between the stated moral commitment or legal commitment, and then the material cost that you’re willing to sustain, which makes you ridiculous in the eyes of other countries, and it creates problems with credibility and perception.
And then finally third, you eventually agonizingly have to close the gap. This was something Wilson did over and over, and it’s a mistake that TR avoided. TR’s model was very different. He said, as everyone knows, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” Which means you don’t make commitments that you can’t keep in the first place. And then at the same time, you maintain the power, for example, the Naval power, the Navy, to back up those commitments. I mean that is just common sense. So that’s an important difference in the tradition that’s set by Wilson on the one hand, and TR on the other.
Richard Reinsch: Now you talk about in the book it was in liberal internationalism that it did work. It worked post-World War II. It worked during the Cold War in American interests. But it required a whole structure of institutions, ideas, politics. It didn’t just go of its own. It had to be created primarily by the United States. Talk about that, because I think that’s an important way for us to then to transition into whatever it is we’re in now.
Colin Dueck: Right. So I think that the two democratic party presidents of the forties, so FDR and Truman, on foreign policy, I mean they each made mistakes. For example, FDR was far too optimistic about the possibilities for cooperation with the Soviet Union, but in a lot of ways, they both got more right than wrong. And Truman in particular, I think, led a very useful effort in the end to counteract Soviet power in the months and years immediately following World War II. So that required the creation of a new set of institutions that meant overseas you had new alliances, which clearly broke George Washington’s original methods. I mean, the United States decided in the forties it would abandon that tradition. That was a dramatic shift. Now you’re forming long-term alliances with countries in Europe, Asia, eventually the Middle East, the Americas. So that is a dramatic shift.
You’re setting up bases and diplomatic commitments overseas. You’ve joined this new institution called the United Nations, and FDR and Truman were much more practical, or hard-nosed and adaptable than Wilson in recognizing valid concerns and conceding to Republican sometimes on those concerns. So they had more success in building support from at least one wing of the Republican party. And I think on balance, they did a lot of good and then that continues with Eisenhower in the fifties and then into the sixties where I think the liberals really hit kind of a brick wall was in Vietnam. And in my opinion, they never really recovered.
I think that the liberal internationalist model and the Democratic party splintered and fragmented in Vietnam. And actually I think every Democratic party president since, whether it’s Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama, has been very much preoccupied with bridging internal differences within the Democratic party between the establishment on foreign policy, and then the base of their own party, which is really to this day is antiwar based on the reaction of Vietnam. So there are set of assumptions that have taken hold among Democrats since the late sixties and seventies, but I don’t think have ever really been shaken. And then at the same time we get added to that this just increased emphasis over time on the idea that the world will be a safer, better place as long as you just keep adding an unlimited number of multilateral treaties and institutions, which is not necessarily realistic.
Richard Reinsch: Now you argue in the book, many have argued, liberal internationalism, or certain liberal thinking in the Cold War leads us into Vietnam, and of course we know a lot of resources are put into that conflict. But I think it’s crucial here to think about something that other foreign policy scholars have noted, a few bring this up, that we never talk about, that we stopped talking America’s commitments in terms of victory, and in terms of what it meant for the United States of America to actually win wars. They became something else. Ongoing, continuous policing actions, to use the phrase in Vietnam, things like this. This is a part of liberal internationalism and that school of thought and where it leads with the projection of force, or is this just a part of the Cold War containment strategy?
Colin Dueck: Well, yeah. It’s an important point. You have in Vietnam, it’s worth pointing out that, for example, Goldwater had argued in ’64 against Johnson that the US, if anything, should be more forthright in countering communism with Vietnam. And of course he was attacked by LBJ as a warmonger, and then the next thing that happened in ’65 was that LBJ led the US into Vietnam, although in a much more indirect and kind of stealthy way than Goldwater would have preferred. So there was a way in which the US approached Vietnam, partly for domestic political reasons under LBJ as a sort of halfhearted effort at first deliberately, and that is not necessarily the most likely to produce military success. I mean, to this day you’ll still get a lively debate over whether meaningful success was possible in Vietnam. But I think that a responsible president could have either put forward the full effort early to try to achieve that success, or admitted that it wasn’t going to happen and then act accordingly.
So we’ve seen that pattern over and over of halfhearted interventions. I would give credit to Bush 41. I think in 1990-91 the first Gulf war, he handled that quite well. But then you get a series of interventions in the nineties whether it’s Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and then you have Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Libya in the past 20 years, and it’s a frustrating pattern, and that’s no doubt part of what Trump and his supporters were responding to as well. I mean, Trump used to say it regularly, “we don’t win anymore.” So what is the purpose of lengthy, inconclusive military engagements? It’s a popular concern often from people who have family and friends that have served overseas. What’s the plan? When does this end?
Richard Reinsch: And also in that regard, thinking about just the mindset here, you referenced the term in the book, “the blob,” and the blob being sort of this moniker to describe the foreign policy establishment in America that is sort of there, which suggests there’s a group-think. There’s a reluctance to criticize, or to look back on say the past century of foreign policy in America, and evaluate what’s happened. There’s sort of this ongoing acceptance of deployment of American soldiers abroad in numerous places without regard to what it actually does for the country at home. I mean, that’s sort of what, when I hear the term the blob, that’s what comes to mind. Do you find there being merit in that in writing a book on conservative nationalism? I take it, you mean to, in great respect, challenge foreign policy thinking in America, or give it a jolt?
Colin Dueck: Well, one of the things that I’ve actually… I had some serious concerns about candidate Trump when he first came on the scene, and I still do have some concerns. I lay these out in the book, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking first order questions. I teach students at George Mason foreign policy, and if a student asks me, “Why do we have alliances overseas?” I don’t respond by saying to them, “What an outrageous question. Get out of the room.” It’s a perfectly legitimate question for a US citizen to ask, why do we need these alliances? My own view is that we’re on balance safer, and more secure, and more prosperous by having allies than, for example, if we were to dismantle all the alliances, I mean, that’s my own view.
However, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for President Trump, or any American, to just ask that question, and if the blob, to put it bluntly, can’t answer that question convincingly, we have a problem. And I think a lot of Americans in both parties right now are asking, why do we do these sorts of things? What’s the reason? You have to be able to present the argument in a sensible way, in a common sense way that connects to people’s concerns. And so I think that where there has been a kind of problem with the blob is, for example, to treat those questions as just outrageous, or out of the line. That’s not appropriate.
Richard Reinsch: And we saw a lot of that, I mean just even the idea Trump suggested during the campaign that NATO partners contribute their agreed upon GDP percentage contributions to their defense budgets. That question seemed to go too far, to even suggest that as if he was questioning NATO or something like that, which struck me as a very weak sort of approach to this whole thing, particularly when NATO was created to thwart the Soviet Union who no longer exists.
And so the question obviously becomes, well, why does NATO really need to exist? And of course the current French president, Emmanuel Macron, seems to be suggesting the same thing as he calls for a European Integrated Force. Do you see a displacement happening? A new age? Do you see signs of a new age of foreign policy thinking in America, or conservative nationalism, or is there actually still great continuity with what’s existed in the post Cold War period in American thought?
Colin Dueck: So I would say what Trump has done is to kind of blow the lid off the top in the sense that there are questions now that have been asked that you can’t just put those back in the box and pretend that they haven’t been asked. So for example, when he said that NATO was obsolete, once you have a successful presidential candidate who, at some point, said that NATO is obsolete, you can’t pretend that was never said. Europeans continue to know that president Trump said that at one point, and they worry about it. Macron does, others do as well. So I think what you’re going to get is you may have the next president, whether it’s Democrat or Republican, you may have somebody who’s more conventional in terms of their style and their approach, but there is going to be a long-term shift in the sense of maybe a new willingness to look at some first order questions or assumptions and ask how these serve the interest of US citizens.
I’ll give you an example. I’m struck by how many progressives are actually questioning very basic assumptions about the military overseas. And so you have this odd alliance between some on the right, and some on the left where particularly younger, it seems to me, particularly younger Americans who just don’t have that memory of the Cold War. In fact, for many of them, 9/11 was when they were small children. But what they’ve experienced is Iraq and Afghanistan, which doesn’t give them much positive to go on, and they are often more skeptical about the use of force overseas. So I think you may have a shaking up, and we’ll have to see where it ends. I think there’s more than one way this could go. I mean you could have the sense looking back on it that Trump rearranged things in a way that lasted.
I think in the case of NATO, Trump supporters actually for the most part say they support NATO. So when you ask people in public opinion polls who are Republican, and who are Trump supporters and you say, “Do you oppose NATO? Do you favor dismantling NATO?” They say, “No, we support NATO.” However, they also support Trump, and they support his efforts to increase ally burden sharing, particularly on defense spending. And by the way, our European allies have long since got the message, I mean, they know that that is the US position right now, and they also know that Trump may very well be reelected. So they are trying to come to grips with this, and that is a challenge. And those countries, each have their, the Germans have their own point of view. The French have another. The French for example, kind of pride themselves on independent military capabilities. So their ideal would be a strong European Union led by France.
Richard Reinsch: Yeah, I mean they’re the only nation in continental Europe with actually an aircraft carrier.
Colin Dueck: Right. They really do have some serious expeditionary capacity.
Richard Reinsch: Question here that I wanted to raise is the degree to which the future, and you write this in the book, our future is going to be oriented, though, by great power competitions with other nations. China immediately emerges. Russia comes to mind. India, not necessarily an antagonistic relationship, but a country that we want to further some interrelationship with, the need to have relationships with nations in the Asian sphere to counteract or buffer China. This seems to be the future of American foreign policy. In a way, if that’s true, then the conservative nationalists thinking comes back of necessity, I think.
Colin Dueck: Yes. I think that’s right. I mean, and actually the administration has identified that. So national security strategy, the national defense strategy of the Trump administration make this very clear that this is how they view it. And I think they’re right to view it that way. It’s an interesting shift from really Clinton, Bush, and Obama all said, and you can go back and look at the documents, they all said in their own national security strategies that the assumption was that the great powers of the world, including Russia and China, would eventually converge on a kind of a market democratic model, a liberal model. And the hope was that you could nudge that forward, for example, by trading with them, and diplomacizing them with them. And I think this is another area where that just didn’t work out. I mean, it was a kind of gigantic gamble, particularly in relations to China, and the gamble did not succeed.
So now we have a wealthier China, much wealthier China, more powerful, but it’s not any more democratic. In fact, in some ways it’s more authoritarian now than it was 10 years ago. So we’re dealing with now a very powerful China that doesn’t want to play by our rules. And to the administration’s credit, they have recognized this, and said that they understand that reality, and they’re trying to push back against China commercially, as well as diplomatically. So I do give the administration credit on that. And then you have Russia, similarly, Vladimir Putin has no intention of playing by our rules. He leads a great power, which is Russia, and in its own way it is a major power, and it is not any more democratic than it was 20 years ago. Probably less so.
And we have to deal with these challenges that are very real. And then you have Asian powers like Japan and India, which are worth taking very seriously as major democratic Asian powers that have their own armed forces, and their own role in the world. And the Japanese under Shinzo Abe are, to some extent, reasserting themselves. And I mean that as a compliment actually. I think we need them. We need the Japanese to play more of a role in the world. The EU is a bit of an anomaly, because the EU feels squeezed by this new reality.
Is the EU a great power? Is it sort of the Holy Roman Empire of the 21st century? What exactly is it? There are deep questions as to whether it can cohere on these matters of high politics. So I think you have the United States, China, Russia, India, Japan, but then the Europeans are sort of caught, particularly the Germans, in their own mind, they are sort of caught between these competing powers and they feel torn, not only for strategic reasons, but actually for economic ones as well.
Richard Reinsch: As I was reading your book, there’s this thought that the hopes for the post-1989 were all perhaps expressed succinctly by president George H.W. Bush of sort of open minds, open markets, open borders, this sort of thing of growing together as a new world order, that famous speech, that this didn’t happen. That in many respects, China, Russia, other countries didn’t become like us, and I think the evidence is really staring us in the face. So if that’s true, then how does America readjust and recalibrate? And it seems to me that process has started, and we’re in it right now.
Colin Dueck: Exactly. And so, I mean there were certainly some great gains for the US from the end of the Cold War, and there were democratic consolidations that happened, and that have lasted in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, parts of Latin America, parts of East Asia. But these bigger powers, Russia and China, it did not work out as planned. And there’s also been backsliding, other cases like Venezuela. So we’re dealing with a world where if we look at it honestly, we have to admit that we may not have the luxury anymore of picking and choosing, for example, in every case, whether we can only ally with other democracies. I mean with China, just to take an example, if we were to say that we only work with democracies, and counteract in China, we could be shooting ourselves in the foot, because we might need the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese, under their own system, are very worried about China just as we are.
And even though they don’t live in a liberal democracy, we should work with them. And as a matter of fact, there seems to be, I mean, for all practical purposes, I think there’s agreement on that. So it is odd to see how often you get this line of argument, for example, from Democrats outside of the administration saying that the administration has betrayed American values by conducting diplomacy with undemocratic regimes. And yet we know perfectly well that we’re going to have to, and not only that, we know that Obama and Clinton did in a case like Vietnam, and that it made sense to do so. So there is a kind of an odd quality to some of those critiques.
Richard Reinsch: It sounds like in certain respects, you think about Jeanne Kirkpatrick’s famous essay defending Reagan’s foreign policy during the Cold War, and aligning with authoritarian governments against communism as well. So, Colin Dueck, thank you so much for coming on the program today to discuss Age of Iron: On Conservative Nationalism. I appreciate it.
Colin Dueck: Thank you.