On Foreign Policy, Shades of Agreement

Will the end of the Bush era bring the parties together on war and peace?

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Any lingering doubts that both parties, not just Democrats, would prefer a softer touch are dispatched with a look at multilateralism, a sea of green. Both parties love all kinds of treaties, including ones that the Bush administration has rejected (global warming, nuclear test ban, biological weapons inspections). In fact, partisans are generally more pro-treaty than independents (the gray squares), whose libertarian streak shows in their greater suspicion of foreign entanglements. Both parties strongly prefer cooperation to unilateralism; strikingly, Republicans hardly differ from Democrats in preferring cooperation to U.S. pre-eminence in solving global problems.

In his article, Continetti gives a passing nod to areas of consensus but dismisses them as "only superficial." Well, that's one way of looking at things, although it does seem a bit like calling a zebra a black animal with white highlights. Another way to look at things is more like this:

Overrepresented in their party's top ranks and then empowered by 9/11, a particularly hawkish and unilateralist faction of Republicans took American foreign policy well to the right of the public and, for that matter, of the Republican rank and file. The overshoot cannot persist forever and, indeed, is undergoing correction: In an August 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, almost half of Republicans said they were "concerned that ... if Republicans keep the majority, they will get the U.S. involved in too many military operations." No wonder the Bush administration is disavowing aggressive intentions toward Iran and North Korea.

Judging by public opinion, once Bush and the Iraq war -- the two great foreign-policy polarizers -- cease to dominate the agenda, a bipartisan swing toward a less confrontational, more multilateralist foreign policy appears likely. That correction would hardly end partisan disputatiousness (nothing could do that), but it would bring some relative respite. Where foreign policy is concerned, the post-Bush period may look less like the hyperpartisanship of the Bush years than the muddled bickering of the Clinton era. Who knows? A period of neo-Clintonianism may even be presided over by a chief executive named Clinton.

© Copyright 2007 National Journal

Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a frequent contributor to Reason. The article was originally published by National Journal.

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