Vindicating Realist Internationalism

The lighthearted equation between a particular nationalism and the counsels of Providence is morally indefensible, for it is that very sin of pride against which the Greek tragedians and the Biblical prophets have warned rulers and ruled. That equation is also politically pernicious, for it is liable to engender the distortion in judgment which, in the blindness of crusading frenzy, destroys nations and civilizations – in the name of moral principle, ideal, or God himself. — Hans J. Morgenthau, Politics Among Nations1

In their recent Survival article ‘Misplaced Restraint: The Quincy Coalition Versus Liberal Internationalism’, it was very kind of Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry to give the ‘coalition’ arguing for restraint in US foreign and security policy the name of Quincy. I accept the compliment with thanks, both on behalf of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft (of which I am a member) and on behalf of John Quincy Adams – the early-nineteenth-century American secretary of state and president who was one of the greatest critics of American ideological nationalism and foreign adventurism, and of the link between them. Of course, Ikenberry and Deudney did not actually mean it as a compliment. Rather, their essay is a sustained attempt at creating guilt by association; to suggest that everyone in this ‘Quincy coalition’ or ‘restraint school’ shares the same ideology, and that this ideology in turn is similar or identical to that of Donald Trump.

An army of straw men

They should know from their own side of the debate that this picture is false. They too, as liberal internationalists, have been part of a de facto coalition in support of US hegemony and interventionism that contains groups with clashing domestic agendas and some differences on foreign policy, including neoconservatives, religious fundamentalists and unabashed American imperialists. Since we agree fully with other members of the ‘Quincy coalition’ in opposing US global hegemony through military dominance and intervention, and in calling for the United States to concentrate its efforts and resources at home, we are proud to have our name given to this grouping. As with Ikenberry and Deudney in their coalition, however, this does not mean that members of the Quincy Institute necessarily agree with our allies on domestic policy, or even on all aspects of foreign policy.

The coalition that opposed the Vietnam War stretched from Reinhold Niebuhr and senator J. William Fulbright to the radical-left Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). They disagreed profoundly on many things, and some of them had very worrying domestic agendas. That, however, is beside the point as far as the Vietnam War was concerned. They all agreed that the US military intervention in Vietnam was a disastrous mistake with criminal consequences – and they were right. The members of the Quincy Institute and our allies are all agreed in opposing US military interventionism and ‘nation-building’ – and what has happened in Iraq, Libya and now Afghanistan has proved us right.

In this essay, I am writing on behalf of my fellow members of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Except on the specific issues of US hegemony and Western military intervention, I cannot speak for the other elements of the so-called coalition any more than Niebuhr or George Kennan could speak on behalf of the SDS. The Quincy Institute can agree with the Cato Institute on military intervention without agreeing with their domestic libertarian agenda. Deudney and Ikenberry’s suggestion of ideological uniformity in the ‘Quincy coalition’ is therefore deeply mistaken.

Read the full article in Survival.

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