Toward a Left Foreign Policy: Introduction

Toward a Left Foreign Policy: Introduction

While Barack Obama was in the White House, few Americans on the left devoted much energy to world affairs. They were busy advancing a variety of excellent causes at home—from economic equality to racial justice to stopping pipelines from snaking across aquifers and under Native American lands in the Great Plains, and more. As Michael Walzer wrote in these pages a few years back, most leftists adopted the “default position” that “the best foreign policy is a good domestic policy.” But to paraphrase an old adage, you may not care about foreign policy, but those who make it care about you. President Donald Trump will certainly remind us of that when he decides how much blood and treasure he will expend to make “America First.”

The four articles in this section offer thoughtful, albeit contrasting, views about what liberals and radicals ought to say and do about the world outside U.S. borders. Michael Walzer calls for extending all the moral support we can muster to men and women in foreign conflicts who share our beliefs in democracy and cultural tolerance. Samuel Moyn counters that liberal internationalism, while well-intentioned, seldom achieves its ends and often kills many people along the way. Michael W. Doyle argues that it will require both a more egalitarian order at home and statesmanship that eschews belligerent talk to avoid a disastrous conflict with Russia, China, or both. Finally, Forrest D. Colburn explains the recent demise of “new left” governments in Latin America that seemed to promise a better future for millions of ordinary people. With a bigoted, blustery tycoon having become the most powerful individual in the world, the wisdom of Antonio Gramsci seems urgent once again: “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

—Michael Kazin