Sunday, November 28, 2010

Author Interview: Colin Dueck on Libertarian and Conservative Approaches to U.S. Foreign Policy

Colin Dueck teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, where he is associate professor of public and international affairs.  He is also the author of a new book, Hard Line:  The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy Since World War II.

On October 28, on the eve of an election that brought a new Republican majority to the House of Representatives, Dueck addressed an audience at the Heritage Foundation in Washington about his book.  In his lecture, he argued that the Republican approach to foreign policy has been remarkably consistent over the past six decades.

Dueck says in his book that “despite apparent oscillations between internationalism and isolationism, there has in fact been one overarching constant in conservative and Republican foreign policies for several decades now, namely, a hawkish and intense American nationalism.”

After his lecture, Dueck spoke briefly me about his book, about libertarian influences in conservative foreign policy making, and prospects for free trade after the election.

McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft
Dueck said he was motivated to write Hard Line as he “was reflecting on some of the changes that had taken place in U.S. and, specifically, Republican foreign policy after 9/11 -- the arguments for war in Iraq, the Bush doctrine, and so on.”

His original manuscript, he said, was 600 pages long and “started with [William] McKinley," he said.  “Then I talked to my editor,” who told him, “’This is totally out of control.’”

The first version of the book had chapters on McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt, and Henry Cabot Lodge, but, Dueck said, he “decided the story would hold together a little better with a start in World War II.”

He explained that the “main storyline is the decline of that anti-interventionist trend represented by Robert Taft.  That’s the big story in the Forties and Fifties.”

Anti-interventionist and Libertarian Strains
Taft represented what Dueck calls an “anti-interventionist” strain in foreign policy, with origins in libertarian thought.

Libertarian thinking, Dueck explained, “was prominent in the sense that for Taft and, actually, for most conservatives and most Republicans, the belief was that if the U.S. intervened, for example, in World War II, that you would get an expanded national security state -- big government, in a way.  So for Taft, the priority was ‘let’s avoid that at all costs.’  Therefore, that’s the argument for staying out of war.”

History, however, intervened.  As Dueck put it, “Obviously, Pearl Harbor settled the issue.”

That anti-interventionist tendency, he continued, “still persisted after the war and for somebody like William F. Buckley [it was a] major theme, but what trumped it eventually in the Fifties was a concern over Communism.”

What happened was, said Dueck, “in practical terms a lot of libertarians or libertarian-leaning conservatives [and] Republicans embraced this new consensus over the course of the Fifties, which was a more hawkish, anti-communist, cold war policy.”

Dueck did note that there were “important exceptions” to this trend, such as economist Murray Rothbard, “who was strictly libertarian.”

Rothbard, he said, “stuck to this anti-interventionist position throughout the Cold War and in that way, almost ended up having more in common with the New Left, beginning in the Sixties and Seventies.”

While Rothbard and his circle represented “an interesting strain,” Dueck said, “it was clearly not, politically [or] in practical terms in Congress, a major force in the Republican Party,” either in the Sixties and Seventies or “in the later Cold War period.”

Free Trade Policy
One foreign policy issue that generally divides Republicans and Democrats is free trade.

Asked whether a new Republican majority in Congress will affect the pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, Dueck replied:

“Well, that will really be up to President Obama.  There’s been no sign that he’s going to make that a priority.”

If Obama wanted to make free trade a priority, Dueck noted, “he might get more support from the next Congress than from the last one.”

The reason, he said, is that “at the end of the day, new Republican Members are going to be friendlier to these trade agreements than most Democrats have been.”

(This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, on on October 28, 2010.)

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