A review of Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since WWII, by Colin Dueck

In Hard Line, Colin Dueck has set out to give us a comprehensive account of Republican foreign policy since the run-up to World War II, identifying conflicting currents as well as commonalities. He has produced a valuable history, rich in detail and fluid in prose. It comprises seven main chapters, one on each of five presidents—Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and the two Bushes (Gerald Ford gets subsumed under Nixon)—plus a chapter each on Senators Taft and Goldwater, taken quite reasonably as seminal Republican figures.

An associate professor in George Mason University's Department of Public and International Affairs, Dueck offers a typology of GOP or conservative foreign policy opinion, breaking it down into four archetypes: "realists," "hawks," "nationalists," and "anti-interventionists." Despite the variations from one Republican president to another—Dueck laments the record of George W. Bush and applauds the other presidents—he concludes that: "The continuities in Republican foreign policy are as striking as the changes. The most important such continuity is a consistent, hard-line American nationalism." But this is not only a work of history; it is also an exercise in advocacy, putting the case for foreign policy "realism."

I am a died-in-the-wool "idealist," in the formal sense of that term in foreign policy discourse, meaning the diametric opposite of a "realist"—so poor Dueck could scarcely face a harder sell than me for his case. And indeed I was not sold, but I hope that my objections are based on more than prejudice.

Here are some of the principal ones. Dueck is freer in rendering judgments than in explaining them. Eisenhower, he enthuses, "was one of the most impressive and successful foreign policy presidents of the twentieth century" because "he provided strong, calm leadership." If "calm" is a key desideratum, why is Dueck so keen on Nixon who was anything but? Eisenhower kept us out of war, says Dueck, but most of our wars in the era he examines were visited upon us. Yes, we have also fought some wars of choice, notably in Iraq for which Dueck excoriates George W. Bush. But he applauds Bush's father for having made war in Iraq in 1991, no less a war of choice. Eisenhower's interventions in Iran and Guatemala, his utter immobility in the face of the Soviet invasion of Hungary and Castro's conquest of Cuba, his humiliation of France and Britain over Suez, his design of a military strategy of "massive retaliation" that his successors found risky and foolish—all deserve more scrutiny than Dueck gives them.

Dueck awards special plaudits to Nixon for getting us out of the Vietnam War. Hello? We lost the Vietnam War. It takes no special genius to lose a war; anyone can do it. Yes, Watergate cut Nixon off at the knees; and, yes, the congressional doves who choked off all support for Indochina's anti-Communists have much blood on their hands for which they were never called to account. Nonetheless, in assessing Nixon's presidency, it is not persuasive to say the operation was a success although the patient died.

What's more, it is disheartening that Dueck lends himself to the latter-day rewrite of history that portrays Ronald Reagan as above all a "pragmatist." In the wake of World War II, "containment" became enthroned as America's Cold War strategy when the country rejected appeasement, advocated by Henry Wallace, and also "roll-back," a proposal of the hard Right that was seen as extremely reckless. The essence of Reagan's policy was to resurrect roll-back, albeit in a tactically subtle way. Liberals were frightened and appalled. The fact that he also established rapport with Gorbachev, a remarkable Soviet ruler set on overhauling Communism, scarcely placed the Gipper in the camp of the moderates.

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In criticizing "idealism," Dueck fails to observe that there are two kinds of idealism: pacifist idealism and democratic idealism. Pacifist idealism has expressed itself through such American efforts as the League of Nations, the treaty to outlaw war (Pact of Paris), the United Nations, arms control, and the like. Its record is almost unbroken failure. Democratic idealism—expressed through "imposing" democracy on Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria; through the Marshall Plan; through support for dissidents in the Soviet empire; through pushing for the replacement of military regimes by elected ones in Latin America—has been wildly successful.

In making his case against idealism, Dueck repeatedly disparages the wars in Somalia and Bosnia (equally) as foolhardy ventures for the United States. And he claims that "For the past twenty years, American attention in foreign affairs has tended to focus on the internal politics of smaller countries such as Yugoslavia, Somalia, and Iraq." Not at all! For the past decade, American policy has revolved around the war on terror, or, as Rudy Giuliani preferred to put it, the terrorists' war on us. The decade before was focused on reunifying Europe as a continent peaceful, democratic, and allied with the United States—in other words as a cornerstone of our security.

It is possible that George W. Bush erred by taking us to Iraq, but this was not some good-works project. True, it aimed to replace Saddam's dictatorship with a democracy, a project on which the jury is still out, but the reason for doing this was to change the political psychology of the region in hope of making it less a breeding ground for terrorists. The theory may have been wrong or the execution faulty, or both, but the underlying purpose was America's safety. Likewise with our intervention in Bosnia (which, by the way, was a success). There were humanitarian issues, to be sure, but the deeper stakes were the survival of NATO and the nature of post-Communist Europe. To conflate this with Somalia, which was purely a humanitarian mission, makes no sense.

Dueck concludes by asserting that "the proper and true end of American foreign policy" is to protect our country and our way of life. But, of course. Realists have no monopoly on this goal. The question is how to achieve it.

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For Correspondence on this review, click here.