Friday, July 24, 2009

The U.S. National Interest in Latin America

The U.S. national interest, succinctly put, is the states’s most vital needs which represent the whole society. Through the concept of common identity we can derive both the perception of society and the representative nature of vital interest concerns. Before defining America’s specific national interests though, one final concept must be understood, that of national interest classification. Joseph Frankel’s national interest classification is a useful tool toward this end. He separates national interests into Aspirational, operational, explanatory, and polemical categories. The defining characteristics of these categories help correlate national interests with foreign policy actions, thus offering a clearer picture of the interests themselves.

Frankel defines aspirational interests as “...the vision of the good life, ... some ideal set of goals which the state would like to realize if this were possible.” (Joseph Frankel, National Interest, 1970, p. 31.). These interests may not be actively pursued, but are still politically relevant. This category is helpful in highlighting the general direction desired by a nation or state. Given the opportunity and capabilities, they may shift to the next category, operational interests. Lars Schoultz points our (although not in these terms) that United States policy makers placed great importance on this concept in relation to the Soviet Union in Latin America. (Lars Schoultz, National Security and United States Policy Toward Latin America, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 109.) Most United States policy makers today know they would be incorrect in putting first priority importance (immediate operational significance) on Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez’ anti American populist agenda in Latin America for example, but would be incorrect in not considering it at all. With the right circumstances, Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, and until recently, Honduras’ Manuel Zelaya have displayed the willingness to make this goal operational. In short, political will rather than capabilities determines aspirational interests and are an outgrowth of perceived power or are “daydreams” of the powerless. Chavez’ petro fueled populism has nearly drained the coffers and he suffers a less than 50 percent approval rating. Zelaya was removed from power in a military coup. Ortega is in desperate need of international aid. Ecuador's Rafael Correa, and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez and her husband, Nestor Kirchner, which unofficially identify with the populist movement are also on the ropes. Only Morales, who is his country’s first indigenous President, enjoys continued popularity. Even in these hard times, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chile's Michelle Bachelet and Uruguay's Tabare Vazquez , who have distanced themselves from Chavez’ more belligerent policies, are enjoying strong support. So even with populist leaders on the ropes, their aspirational interests are driving them to manipulations to hold onto power. The United States, on the other hand, has no aspirational interest to concern them presently as it was so preoccupied with the Soviet Union’s influence in Latin America three or four decades ago.

“On the operational level, national interest refers to the sum total of interests and policies actually pursued.” (Frankel, p.32.) These interests are determined by capabilities rather than political will. Friction is inevitable between these two levels due to their differing characteristics (see Frankel for more details), divergence between aspirations, and concrete results, institutional tensions between policy makers and policy executors, and generally how these interests evolve. Operational interests are derived inductively, by adding up single elements, with overriding concern on implementation and cost. Aspirational interests, on the other hand, are the product of deductive reasoning, with principles as the guiding force, usually without considering cost or implementation. Political actors use the explanatory and polemical categories of national interests to explain, evaluate, rationalize and criticize actual foreign policy. Official statements, documents, debates, and media discussion are sources of these categories. The explanatory level supports the present policy, while the polemical level argues for change. Although these last two categories are the most prolific sources of data, they may also be the most misleading indicators of actual national interest because of hidden agendas, nuances of political rhetoric, tradition, etc.

The aspirational national interests of the United States, as derived form the common identity, are:
• Preserve and protect the Madisonian Model
• Preserve and protect the right to progress, in domestic political liberalization, domestic and foreign market expansion, and democratic expansion beyond the borders in order to maintain our “great nation” status and leader (moral and economic) of the world. The rhetoric has been toned down significantly since the departure of the neo-conservatives from direct execution power.
• Preserve and protect the right to self-actualization (to make real choices beyond social and economic freedom).

On an operational level, United States national interests consist of:
• Maintenance of political and economic stability
• Stopping terrorism and insurgency
• Establishment of solidarity of interests and actions with allies

Within the context of Latin America, the links between the American common identity and American national interests become clearer. U.S. aspirational interests most closely parallel the metaphysical values in the American experiment. We view our ties with Latin America as a “special relationship.” The Western Hemisphere is the “new country,” separated from the “old world.” Democracy and freedom are for all mankind, and our closest neighbors should benefit from what we have accomplished. Within this aspirational framework are tow general categories of ideas: the Western Hemisphere idea and the Democratic Mission idea. The Western Hemisphere idea encompasses notable foreign policy actions such as the No Transfer Policy (1811), the Monroe Doctrine (1823, the Pan American Movement (1880), the Good Neighbor Policy (1920-1945), the RIO Pact (1947), the Organization of American States (1948), the Alliance for Progress (1960), and the Caribbean Basin Initiative (1983-Present). In actuality, western hemisphere solidarity is very illusionary. Some have even suggested it is just a front for sponsoring a more rigid, hegemonic relationship such as the sphere of influence concept. Under the Democratic Mission concept are President Wilson’s stand on Mexico and its revolution, President Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress/democratization initiatives, President Carter’s human rights initiatives, and the democratization initiatives of Presidents Reagan and George Bush. Many see the Latin America legacies of Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush as missed opportunities. President Obama’s first months in office suggest a possible renewed interest in Latin America. His Op-Ed article published in most large papers in Latin America, Choosing a Better Future in the Americas and attendance at the Summit of the Americas both received an enthusiastic welcome. He will have to do more than listen in relation to issues like the recent Honduran coup. Again, contradictions seem to suggest the Democratic Mission is also mostly illusion.
On the operational level, Latin America highlights some of the key concepts of our common identity. First, because of our “low state,” “low class” foundation, foreign policy in this area of the world has been fairly unconstrained. Only a select few interest groups, ad hoc groups and pressure groups are concerned with specifics in the region. Riker’s minimalist coalition building model applies here, causing a partial breakdown in the Madisonian Model. Mr. Kissinger famously summed up the general feeling toward Latin America (in terms of operational national interests) when he said in 1969, “What ever happens in the South is of no importance.” U.S. interests have predominantly been East-West in orientation, and even the “important” Latin American interests are connected to the outlook. Historically then, our operational interests have centered on three issues: security, economics, and politics. Due to our common identity, these issues are translated to mean stability. Instability has been seen as a threat to security, the free market capitalism, and as an exploitable opportunity to our political and ideological enemies. This fear of insecurity, combined with “low stateness” (which tends to simplify complex issues, narrows the questions and options, and permits urgent issues to override long term important issues) has led to the most open society in the world to support authoritarian dictators and military coups. In general, American operational national interests have dictated a reactive and regressive foreign policy in Latin America. Only in a few instances has the contradiction between aspirational and operational interests caused serious political friction. Even those policies which offer rays of hope for long-term justice have tended to impose the American common identity on Latin America as a means to other ends, not as an end in itself. Was the reason for U.S. support of the 1954 Guatemalan coup to build a foundation for democracy by tearing down an imposed communist government, or were American private economic interests groups (United Fruit Company) being threatened? The same question could be asked about the 1973 overthrow of Allende in Chile. Would the Alliance for Progress gone forward if Cuba hadn’t been “lost?” There is enough possible truth in both sides of the argument to not be completely sure.

Relatively recently (the past 30 years), new reforms in American national interest application in Latin America has taken place. Whether inadvertent (rhetoric leading to perception leading to policy), or by plan, the United States has begun to put democratization for democratization’s sake ahead of economic and less than vital security interests in Latin America. The same cannot be said for other part of the globe (e.g. Iraq). Most recently, a new group of policy makers has cautiously begun to accept instability for justice; Aquinas and Locke triumph over Hobbes. Our initial concern with democratization was of the “top down” version. Procedural democracy was imposed through elections in the hope that it would “dribble down.” With the recent wave of “bottom-up” democratization movements

in the last decades of the 20th century in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Haiti, and the Philippines, the United States has sacrificed some political and economic interests in support of substantive democracy. These fledgling democracies are not required, as in the past to be a replica of the U.S. system of government, or mirror our political spectrum of party interests. In the past, U.S. policy makers viewed the Radical Party in Argentina (Christian Democrats) as too far left to be trusted. Not only are they now supported, the U.S. was a supporter to put pressure on the IMF and the World Bank to refinance Argentina’s foreign debt at a loss to U.S. financiers. The Madisonian Model is also at work on the issue of the Central American imbroglio. The most recent synthesis has opened political space that has brought the Central American nations closer to peaceful progress that they ever have been in three decades. Restraint and reform have begun to replace reaction and regression.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Expressive Symbols: Manifestation of Values and Norms

The third level in the construction of common identity is encompassed by expressive symbols. It is this level that influences the largest number of people. Most people do not consider their actions and reactions to events on the second level, let alone the first level of the common interest. This is especially true in the “low state,” “low class” society in America. In fact, in America estimates of the “informed public” (those who would most likely consider analysis on the second or first levels... and who are quite possibly this country’s natural aristocracy) range around 15 percent. That leaves 85 percent of the population that is almost exclusively drawn into the common identity by expressive symbols. This situation highlights the pivotal importance of such symbols as the Constitution of the United States of America. It represents the metaphysical ideas of Plato’s Locke’s and Hobbes’ tripartite government; the balance between Hobbes and Locke; the separation of church and state as Augustine called for; the potential and dangers of democracy as seen by Thucydides; interest group formulation as called for by Harrington; the inalienable rights of Locke and Rousseau; the “We the People” concept of Rousseau; the “More Perfect Union” of Aristotle; the “Justice” required by Aquinas and Locke; the “Domestic Tranquility” and order called for by Hobbes, Aristotle, and Burke; the “Common Defense” of Plato, Augustine, and Hobbes; the “General Welfare” of Aristotle, Locke, and Rousseau; and the “Blessings of Liberty” of Aquinas, Locke and Rousseau.

To more fully comprehend the importance of expressive symbols, we will take a closer look at the Constitution. This single, amazing document had made it possible for the American experiment to continue to progress to the present day. Not only is it the foundation of America’s democratic experiment, but it is also the foundation of America’s bridge building metaphysic. In looking back in retrospect over the past six thousand years of human history, never has such a document been created, or such an experiment attempted. Freedom’s moments have been fleeting and often flawed. In the words of Ezra Taft Benson,

From Nimrod to Napoleon, the conventional political ideology has been that the rights of life, liberty, and property were subject to a sovereign’s will, rather than God-given. We live in one of history’s most exceptional moments—in a nation and a time of unprecedented freedom. Freedom as we know it has been experienced by perhaps less than one percent of the human family... (Ezra Taft Benson, The Constitution: A Heavenly Banner, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986, p.3.)

The constitution is of pivotal importance in the American experiment because it embodies the law by which progress has thus far enjoyed. The American Republic stand on the principles that without law there is no “sin;” without “sin” there is no righteousness and therefore no happiness. The naturalist might counter that, without “sin” there is no punishment and therefore no happiness, but this happiness is only hedonism and cannot be enjoyed by all because as the philosopher would explain, Kant’s categorical imperative has been rejected. Freedom and rights either have a noumenalist foundation of divine inspiration, or they are granted by government as part of a political plan. If we accept the naturalist argument that they are granted by government, then we must accept the corollary that they can be taken away by government. Most Americans would rebel at the idea. As America has moved closer to the naturalist view point though, government has seized the opportunity to exert itself. For instance, many agencies that are not represented by the people now have the power to make laws and regulations restricting citizens (with no power for citizens to recall the law by vote) which is unconstitutional. At some point the common man will realize the American metaphysic and norms have been violated and he may rebel (hopefully within the law of the republic). The critical question is, will he see the linkage between these losses and the absence of the countervailing force of noumenalism? It would do America well if it were to look at what those men at the time of the creation of the Constitution had to say about it. Some examples suggested by Ezra Taft Benson are:

Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class to another.... It is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise that the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man... Thomas Paine, The Political Writings of Thomas Paine, Boston: J.P. Mendun, 1870.)

Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? (Thomas Jefferson, quoted in David C. Whitney, ed. Founders of Freedom in America, Chicago, J.G. Ferguson Publishing Co. , 1965)

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other... (John Adams, quoted in John R. Howe, Jr., The Changing Political Thought of John Adams, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to ur belief in the critical stage of the revolution. (James Madison, Federalist Paper #37, quoted in David C. Whitney, Founders of Freedom in America).

And one "post Constitution publication" thought:

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it wsa the fact that life, liberty and property existed before hand that caused men to make laws in the first place. (French political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law, trans. Dean Russell, New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, 1950).

Expressive symbols, therefore, can come to connote different norms and values with the passing of time. Again, the echo of Burke is heard calling for caution when tampering with tradition. With care though, expressive symbols will maintain a direct link to norms and values. Together, values, norms, and symbols make it possible to construct and maintain a common identity. This common identity, in turn, provides the solidarity, and meaning to justify past actions, explain the present, and set the course and goals for the future. For America, this common identity manifests a country concerned with its own progress in three areas. First, America is striving for maintenance and progressive expansion of the open society. Second, America needs to continually grow economically to support a stable and increasingly liberal democracy. Third, America is the “first new nation.” This democratic experiment should expand beyond our own borders and be enjoyed by all humankind—by example, not by force. The lofty concepts of individual freedom, happiness, security, growth, prosperity, and confidence in the future are the binding elements of this nation.

In my next post, I will look at the U.S. National Interest in Latin America as a way to bring the philosophical points of the past posts to practical practice. Unless I have some additional thoughts on the subject, I will follow my Latin America post with some concluding thoughts on the future synthesis of the U.S. national interest. From there, maybe I will wander into some thoughts on political and cultural risk topics for American business abroad, or a topic suggested by this blog’s readership...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Defense of American Noumenalism

The danger to American norms has insidiously and rapidly grown in the post World War II era. The hypocritical corruption of the aristocracy in the 1890s, as Burke warned, led to the corruption of society; World War One shattered, for some time, their noumenalist foundation; modern science, quantum physics, some bio-tech research, and relativism again caused some to question noumenalist theory. Through all these challenges, the tenuous balance was maintained between noumenalism and natural ism, but chinks in the metaphysical armor have begun to appear. To those who question noumenalist beliefs, they only see an illusion for the weak to lean on. In actuality, the illusion is with the naturalist in that he sees himself “newly freed” from noumenalist or teleonaturalist values. The difficulty is, free agency gives us the choice to take the leap of faith, but now the chasm has widened. In addition, since World War Two, America has witnessed an unprecedented growth of material well-being. This, in itself, is a positive event, and as Almond and Lipset point out, it may actually strengthen democracy. Unfortunately, this materialism (fueled by consumerism)
has also led to an unprecedented moral decay. To borrow from the thoughts of Dostoevsky, whose fiction manifests the concern that moral decay of the individual springs from his neglect of his spiritual being, Freedom is what separates man form the animal kingdom, but without values,

“The first manifestations of newly-freed man are exaggerated individualism, self-isolation, and rebellion against the exterior harmony of the world; he develops an unhealthy self-love which moves him to explore the lower regions of his being...” (Nicholas Berdyaev, Dostoevsky, Ne York: Living Age Books, 1957, p. 133.)

When an entire country finds itself under the illusion of being “newly freed” from values, norms become situational and decay accelerates. Some of the developments in America are sexual permissiveness, less emphasis on the family unit, apathy toward abortion, and a misunderstanding of such values as freedom of speech. Values today are being defined more and more by Kant’s hypothetical imperative (do an act because of the consequence is desirable), and less and less by his categorical imperative (act only upon a maxim that you think should be for all men at all times). One “illusionist,” Skinner, would disagree with Kant and say that man’s actions are amoral because they are only reactions to his environment. In this clever half-truth, Skinner is correct; man does react to his environment. What he misses is, man has the capability to mold his environment to more closely parallel “higher values.” And in either case, man always has the freedom to choose, not just simply react. Thucydides, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Jefferson, Weber, Dewey, and Niebuhr saw the importance of environment, and it is time we should also. Dostoevsky tells a story of two trees, either of which could symbolize the America of the future. The dialogue between the trees continues,

“But I grow towards the sun,” says the healthy tree.

“There is no sun,” say the little shriveled tree. “Neither I nor you can see it.”

“But I feel the sun, its lovely to open out to its warmth and, as it were, to touch it with ever new and sprouting buds.”

“I too feel the warmth,” answers the little shriveled tree. “It is a condition that repeats itself in us regularly: a condition known as spring. But I am not so credulous as you are, and I reserve all my sap for my own inner sustenance.”

So the little shriveled tree continues in the garden in the delusion that it is inwardly self-sufficient, until the gardener comes and cuts it down. (Vyacheslav Ivanov, Freedom and the Tragic Life, New York: The Noonday Press, 1959, p. 136.)

We are free to choose, but that does not change the universal principles, or the consequences of our choices. In the final analysis, it is not God, nor God’s laws that are on trial, we are.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

U.S. National Interest: Norms, The General View of Reality

The second level in the construction of a common identity is the nation’s general view of reality. This general view is manifested specifically in its norms and generally in its national character. The national character is the “sum of acquired tendencies,” “expectable action,” and “unity of purpose.” The Italian statesman, Mazzini, offered these words of warning concerning the important role of unity of national character:

Nationality comprises common thought, a common law, a common aim. These are its essential elements... Wherever men do not recognize a common principle and accept it with all its consequences, wherever there is no unanimity of mind, the nation does not exist; there is only a multitude, a fortuitous agglomeration that any crisis can dissolve. (Anthony D.S. Smith, Nationalism in the Twentieth Century, New York: NYU Press, 1970, p. 125.)

This caution is particularly ominous when considering the complex metaphysical foundation upon which the American national character is based. The Founding Fathers of this nation were aware of this danger and created a system of government that would create norms conducive to the American metaphysic.

The general view of reality that the founding fathers harnessed to create the norms of the new nation came from a multitude of sources. Beyond the baseline of metaphysics, three ideologies were influential in the shaping of the United States of America. The first, conservativism, emphasized primordial ties, sacred ties, and elitism. Secondly, liberalism emphasized civil ties over primordial, personal, or sacred ties. The liberals believed that man now existed in a state of geographic and social mobility which lessened the importance of primordial and personal ties. They also believed that religion was a private concern. The third influence came from radicalism which espoused the importance of social contract. This school of thought called for the establishment of a “civil religion” which would make traditional religion apolitical. These ideologies and the metaphysics discussed earlier highlight the fact that Americans did not have an entirely “blank sheet” to write upon as Thomas Paine had supposed. “In the establishment of our forms of government,” said George Washington in his circular letter to the governors of the states at the conclusion of the War for Independence, Americans were able to draw upon “the treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of philosophers, sages, and legislators, through a long succession of years.” (Jack Greene, “Washington’s Circular Letter, 8 June 1783,” Colonies to Nation 1763—1789: Documentary History of the American Revolution, New York, 1975, p. 438.)

The general view of reality that sprang forth from this multitude of knowledge was one of distrust and optimism. They generally agreed that the natural rights of man existed independently of government. Hobbes’ view of a social contract delegating sovereignty to a monarch was rejected in favor of Locke’s social contract making the people responsible to themselves. The Articles of Confederation (1774-1787) incorporating Lockean philosophy proved to be less than required if the nation was to survive. Representatives of the states met at the Annapolis Conference to improve the Articles of Confederation. Hamilton got the states to agree to meet again in May of 1787 for a Constitutional Convention.
The men that met were political theorists, pragmatists, and politicians. The new Constitution needed to be ratified and these men went to the people. Governor Clinton of New York started writing anti-federalist papers under the pseudonym of Kato. Hamilton fought this move with articles written under the name of Caesar. Then Hamilton, Jay, and Madison,
under the name Publius rationally attacked the anti-federalists with a series of articles. The Federalist Papers, as they became to be known, provide the best insight into the general view of reality of the times. The distrust in man is highlighted in papers nine and ten where factions and a republican form of government are discussed. Majority rule was favored over tyranny and “tyranny of the majority” would be checked by an extensive republic (multiplicity of interests and rule of law). The founding fathers also manifested optimism in man as highlighted in Federalist Papers one, 23, and 51. The first Federalist Paper was an appeal for unity through reason. Publius was entrusting the fate of the nation to the reason of his fellow countrymen. The 23rd Federalist Paper was also a call for unity and for a strong central government for defense. Again Publius trusted man’s reason to make the right choice and in addition assuming the capability to construct an effective political system. In the 51st Federalist Paper the Madisonian Theory of an effective political system is outlined, highlighting the same cautious optimism in man. A system of vertical and horizontal separation of powers is constructed so ambition will counteract ambition. This same counteracting theory would also work in building coalitions within government which would create change and stability. This cautious trust in man would prove valid over the next 200 years.

Most scholars today reject the notion that national character persists permanently. At one time the Germans were reputed to be a musically gifted peaceful people. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries manifested that they could be warlike and aggressive. In America, where the metaphysic is based on progressive change, the question arises, “Are we the same nation the Founding Fathers created?” The answer of course is “no.” America has continued on the path its metaphysic pointed. Democracy and pluralism are more inclusive, liberalized and generally more responsive. Freedom, besides the substantive institutional freedom conceived by the founding fathers, now includes the concepts (whether or not the reality) of social freedom, economic freedom, and self-actualization. America has seen the rise in importance of the Supreme Court, the challenge to the federal union in the Civil War, the rise of civil rights for many of the “forgotten,” and an opening of society on a fairly orderly basis unknown anywhere during any time in history. The important question to ask, in interest to the future is, “Is this the country the founding fathers envisioned?” The answers to this question are, “Yes!” They had no way of knowing exactly what progress would be made by this point in time, or if the grand experiment would last this long. But it has and by their formulation. We still hold the basic “truths to be self-evident.” We are still the “low class (no class interests in politics, especially foreign policy),” “low state (diffuse government)” society Jefferson envisioned. Both Downs and Riker have validated the brilliance of the Madisonian Model and its applicability to 20th and 21st century America. We have held to our rich heritage while demonstrating the will to meet the present on its own terms. The future presents challenges of a lethal and insidious character though.

My next post will take a stand in defense of American noumenalism.