Bolton, 2008, and foreign policy

Today, John Bolton spoke to Rob Bluey’s and Heritage’s Conservative Blogger Lunch. Allegedly, we were talking about Bolton’s new book. Rather than focus on the book, Bolton urged us to make foreign policy an issue in 2008 and then took questions.

I asked two sets of questions, one about the race for UN Secretary General, the allegations of corruption, and the role of China, and another about the need for new institutions. While I got some great lines, (like "I wish we had a foreign aid budget for buying votes at the UN") the broader point that I came out of this meeting with was something that has been bothering me for a while, but fits with Bolton’s overall theme.

It is clear that the international system is at the end of an era. We won with Cold War with institutions like the GATT, the development banks, NATO, UN, NPT, Bretton Woods, and the EU. However, it is clear that these institutions, with the partial exception of the EU, are fully dysfunctional. The WTO (once the GATT) seems to have run aground on Doha. And it seems clear that a Democratic administration and a Democratic Congress will be resistant to further trade agreements that deepen globalization. No one really knows what to do with the development banks, but it is not clear what problem they are solving. Their current mission bears little resemblance to the early ones. It is clear that the US, UK, Spain, Canada, Sarkozy’s France, and the staff of NATO know where they want it to go. But getting the rest of the organization to sign up is going to be harder. The UN is in free-fall, totally incapable of addressing the hard questions. (of course, one wonders whether it should be for addressing the hard questions) The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is … umm… huh? We are trying to ignore it with India, with El-Baradei’s blessing. Other countries are walking away. And it seems that it at least needs to be somewhat retooled and reconceived in a time of nuclear power (as a response to global warming). When I was in Warsaw about 6 weeks ago, someone on CNBC-Europe said, "Bretton Woods II has failed. It is time for Bretton Woods III." And the EU is on a whole new mission.

Meanwhile, we are struggling with how to extend the Geneva Conventions to an opponent that consists primarily of non-state actors. Non-state actors are negotiating international agreements.

I don’t know what the answers are. John McCain has proposed a League of Democracies, that is part of an answer. I still have trouble seeing a clear foreign policy from the other GOP candidates. And the Democrats are struggling to be honest about living up to our obligations in Iraq, and showing no courage on the international trade agenda, and a very reactionary policy towards the rest of the institutions. (with, again, Clinton being marginally more responsible than the others)

One of the inspiring stories for me as I considered getting into politics was Nixon talking about his trip to Europe where he became convinced of the Marshall Plan. Then he went home and tried to educate Americans. His Bircher-filled congressional district changed positions after a lecture series, and decided to support one of the largest foreign aid programs in world history.

Can you imagine anyone with the courage to do that? Can you imagine a serious debate about this? The Democrats are more interested in screaming than being serious. And Mitt Romney is talking about "Reagan enterprise zones." (at least, I should say, he recognizes the problems of the WTO, just not the broader questions)