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March 2014

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Principle and Prudence in American Foriegn Policy
By Macubin Thomas Owens, editor of Orbis and Senior Fellow    Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by James L. Abrahamson, Contributing Editor

Any reader unwilling to consider that U.S. foreign policy may be in serious disarray will likely wish to skip this assessment by Naval War College Professor Owens, who brings impressive credentials to the subject (see header). His first paragraph sketches the extent of the current Administration’s shortcomings, as Owens sees them, and his second begins a speculation about the causes of its failures.

Readers should bear in mind that this is an article—not a book-length treatment supported by extensive citations. Even readers who are less harsh and sweeping in their judgments may nevertheless benefit from considering Owens’ claims, which are largely based on material readily available in the national media.

Largely putting aside the possibility that the Administration’s shortcomings are due to “indifference” or “incompetence,” Owens traces the problems to what he calls “liberal internationalism,” which assumes that nations “tend towards cooperation rather than indifference,” that their goals naturally “transcend power and security,” and that non-state actors such as the United Nations have an “important role.”

He then calls for a return to what he considers “prudent American realism.” To that end, statesmen must have a clear understanding of the ends of their policy choices while being flexible regarding their means, which Owens believes was characteristic of the Reagan years.

The maintenance of peace and a sound international order, Owens asserts, requires a “hegemonic” power, willing and capable of promoting “economic stability and international security”—a balancer, if you will—as was once the role of Great Britain and more recently the United States. At present a liberal world order requires that the United States actively resume that role. International organizations cannot do so alone.

Achieving such an order requires the U.S. to do several things: fuse “principal and power;” “distinguish between friends and allies . . . enemies and adversaries;” behave accordingly; as resources are finite, be prudent and “prioritize;” reestablish the “classical connection between force and diplomacy;” and never fear to use armed force and economic power as well. Using diplomacy will not alone achieve U.S. policy goals. Only “prudent American realism,” Owens believes, can repair the “disaster” of recent American foreign policy.bluestar

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