Towards a Proper Foreign Policy

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Although he is not explicitly calling for an American foreign policy based on national self-interest, Brett Stephens of The Wall Street Journal makes some recommendations that I think might apply to pursuing such a policy. Stephens proposes that we  apply a criminological insight to bad international behavior in order to make it easier to maintain the peace:

"Disorder and crime are usually inextricably linked, in a kind of developmental sequence," Drs. [George] Kelling and [James Q.] Wilson argued. It had long been known that if one broken window wasn't replaced, it wouldn't be long before all the other windows were broken too. Why? Because, they wrote, "one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing."

The idea that the mere appearance of disorder encourages a deeper form of disorder cuts against the conventional wisdom that crime is a function of "root causes." Yet municipalities that adopted policing techniques based on the broken-windows theory--techniques that emphasized policing by foot patrols and the strict enforcement of laws against petty crimes and "social incivilities"--tended to register sharp drops in crime and improvements in the overall quality of life.
Stephens cites encouraging evidence from our nation's recent long-term decline in crime in support of his view. I think his idea has merit, but that it will ultimately succeed only if coupled with a significant change for the better in what we treat as our objectives in foreign policy.  To look at this merely as a way of striking some sort of a happy medium between Barack Obama's fecklessness and George W. Bush's nation-building export of the welfare state is to miss an opportunity to reconsider our fundamental strategy. As we have seen in many recent wars, great weapons, personnel, and tactics can still lose if deployed for the wrong end.

-- CAV

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