Friday, November 17, 2006

Hope Still for an Idealistic U.S. Foreign Policy?

With U.S. citizens increasingly cynical of U.S. involvement in Iraq and a new Democratic Congress, it seems likely there will be a push over the coming years toward a more isolationist foreign policy. While this certainly makes sense with spiraling violence in Iraq, a revert to isolationism would be a great failure to unpack a nuanced analysis of America's possible role in the world. To equate the quagmire in Iraq to possible U.S. leadership in stopping atrocities elsewhere (as done by Eric Posner) will only continue to strip American foreign policy of its moral legitimacy and humanitarian potential.

The Bush Administration's most tragic legacy may be in projecting (without substance) and then deflating hopes for an idealistic foreign policy. Yet, an idealistic foreign policy is possible if built on a clearly-defined framework that incorporates accountability, justice and humanitarian best practices. With such a framework, the U.S. Government could be a leader in stopping atrocities and building peace in Darfur, northern Uganda and other humanitarian hotspots.

What is great needed, especially as candidates for the 2008 presidential election craft their policy stances, is a meaningful and globally sophisticated conversation about America’s role in the world. Can we construct and normalize a framework for U.S. international engagement that projects idealism, protects civilians and promotes human dignity? I would argue that the 'responsibility to protect' provides useful boost to that conversation. The question then, however, is how we build a 'responsibility to protect' culture in the U.S. and elsewhere. This may be the great grassroots challenge for those of us working for build long-term, sustainable mechanisms for international crisis response.

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