There’s an interesting post at the Upon Hope blog on the differences between traditional conservatism and paleo-conservatism, making the case that the chief difference is the approach to foreign policy, with paleo-conservatives favouring isolationism and traditional conservatives favouring an interventionist foreign policy.
Mostly I agree with the points made in this post. I agree that a do-nothing foreign policy is impractical. Where we possibly differ is in the nature of interventions that should be pursued. My own view is that the wisest course to follow is one of minimalist intervention. The objective should be to remove the immediate threat and then get out.
As an example, in 2003 I think the wise policy would have been to invade Iraq, destroy and weapons of mass destruction that were found, destroy Iraq’s capability to produce such weapons in future, give the Iraqi military the mother of all bloody noses, and then withdraw. I do not believe the objective should have been to change Iraq’s government. I believe Saddam Hussein should have been left in power.
This does not mean that I was a fan of Saddam Hussein. I simply believe that regime changes forced upon a country by outside intervention will generally not work. The result is likely to be massive instability and that instability is likely to result, in the fullness of time, in an even worse regime.
I do not believe it is possible for the West to impose “freedom” and “democracy” on other countries by force. If a country does not have the traditions that underpin democracy then it is unlikely to survive. Even more importantly if the basic cultural beliefs and structures that are necessary to democracy do not exist then democracy is very unlikely to survive. Most of the Islamic world does not have these traditions and cultural beliefs. To put it simply, these countries do not want democracy. They see democracy as a mortal threat to their culture, and they see democracy as being responsible for what they perceive to be the wickedness of the West.
In such circumstances it is better not to destroy an existing stable government, even if that government is by western standards an extremely unpleasant government. It is not only possible but probable that you will end up with a worse situation. By installing a weak democratic government you are providing a golden opportunity for radical Islamists to seize power.
Democracy will not work in situations where most of the population is hostile to the very idea of western institutions.
There is another reason why exporting democracy is a bad idea. Democracy in South Africa was only achieved as a result of meddling by outside powers. The results have been catastrophic. Democracy can only work when the population is culturally and ethnically homogenous. When a nation is divided on racial lines the inevitable result is voting on racial lines. This means that minorities are rendered powerless and defenceless. Such is now the plight of the whites on South Africa, subject to slow genocide by a supposedly democratically elected government.
The results in Zimbabwe, once again as a result of international meddling, have been even worse. As former Rhodesian leader Ian Smith pointed out years ago, democracy in Africa means one man, one vote, one time. The inescapable end result will be a one-party state.
I am certainly no pacifist, nor do I believe in isolationism. I do believe there are occasions when military action is desirable or even necessary. A weak foreign policy will always be disastrous. What is needed is a strong foreign policy that demonstrates our unwillingness to allow other states to threaten our vital interests. I do however believe that such a strong foreign policy should not be motivated by well-meaning delusions that western-style democratic institutions can be exported to the Third World.