Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Reverse Nixon

Anti-Iraq-war realist types are often accused of being negative all the time. We hear it all the time: where's your alternative to belligerent neo-con/neo-lib moralizing? It seems it's not enough any more just to avoid doing stupid things.*

The Pithlord was delighted, therefore, to see Daniel Larison* arguing for a new grand strategic alliance of the US, Russia and India to counter-balance China. A component of this new axis-of-lesser-evil would be rapprochment with Iran (presumably on a normalization-in-return-for-not-going-nuclear deal), which is pally with Moscow and New Dehli (and, of course, our friends in Baghdad -- but why get into that sore point). Larison doesn't mention it, but, in addition to stragic rivalry with China, the West has some possible future issues with Pakistan that Russia and India might be able to sympathize with.

This would, of course, invert the Nixonian strategy of linking up with China (via Pakistan) to counterbalance the Soviets (then, as now, friendly with India). But it would be an application of the old bastard's way of approaching things to present-day circumstances.

The danger, as always, would be Cold War nostalgists turning these sensible alignments of interest into some Manichean death match with the panda. It doesn't have to be that way -- Nixon was able to combine strategic rivalry with Moscow with significant progress in advancing US interests where Brezhnev could see a non-zero-sum solution.

It's perfectly true that behind most of the West's security problems lies a Chinese client. But in addition to the obvious economic interdependence, we could do a number of deals along the lines of SALT and the ABM treaty. The West's primary interest has to be saving the non-proliferation treaty. Banning anti-satellite weapons has obtained a new urgency. And replacing Kim Jong Il with a saner Stalinist puppet of Beijing would be lovely. We have to recognize both that China is a threat, and that it has legitimate interests, which lead it to be a pain.

There will be much bitching about disappeared journalists and Chechnya if we follow down this path. What this misses is that societies tend to imitate what they perceive as success: right now -- and at least in part as a direct result of the insane Wilsonianism periodically followed by Clinton and wholeheartedly endorsed by the Cheney administration -- China is widely seen as more successful and more stabilizing that the US. I think this perception is wrong, but it does a lot more damage to the prospects for human rights and free markets than a realist foreign policy would.

*Although the Pithlord has increasingly come to the cranky old-fashioned conservative view that just such prudent inaction constitutes 90% of the art of promoting peace, order and good government.

**Larison claims to be taking a break from blogging on the unlikely basis that he is human and needs to devote time to his professional responsibilities and sleep.

Update: Ross Douthat makes the interesting observation that while the Iraq war is unlikely to have any impact on the hubristic Wilsonianism of baby boomer political elites, it is having a big impact on his own under-30 generation. More sympathy for "isolationism" and "realism" on the right, and for what he calls McGovernism on the left. Makes a grizzled 36-year-old optimistic. The kids are alright.

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