Here is the foreign policy truth that liberals in general will not speak and don’t really accept: some people can’t be reasoned with.

Liberals believe in the psychotherapeutic model of foreign policy. Lie back, troubled nation or group or culture, tell us what’s bothering you. You say you feel neglected? You say you feel oppressed? You blame America? Of course you do, don’t we all?

Liberals don’t know what to make of Al Qaeda.

Here is the foreign policy truth that neo-cons in general will not speak and don’t really accept: people are not all secretly just like them. Some people are really quite different.

Neo-cons believe in the liberation model of foreign policy. Everyone, everywhere wants just the same things I want, and if only we could get evil governments off their backs, all people would subscribe to the Weekly Standard, buy Thomas Pink shirts and spend their weekends reading each others’ books.

Neo-cons are stunned that in free elections Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians and Iraqis don’t vote for anyone associated with the American Enterprise Institute.

Here is the foreign policy truth that paleo-cons in general will not speak and don’t really accept: you cannot wish the world away.

Paleo-cons believe in the gated community theory of foreign policy. If we build walls, and hire a trustworthy guard, and arm ourselves with shotguns to shoot intruders, everything will be fine. Good fences make good neighbors, and what goes on beyond the fence is not our problem.

Paleo-cons haven’t felt quite right since the invention of the intercontinental ballistic missile, and have yet to accept the fact that their home is mortgaged with the Bank of China.

I suspect the American people are closest to the paleo-con belief. The average American could not name more than three foreign leaders. Or a dozen foreign countries. The American people were stunned to learn that one foreign country was selling control of American ports to another foreign country.

The United States grew up in a gated community: safe borders with smaller, far weaker neighbors, and large oceans that seperated us from potential rivals. When we had serious international trouble we generally had to leave home to find it. Even Pearl Harbor happened far away in a territory that wasn’t yet a state.

The United States is the most dominant power since Rome at its peak. We don’t have an empire in the classic 19th century style, but our economic and cultural power is felt in every corner of the world. Our military power is respected or feared in every corner of the world. We are the 800 pound gorilla in a world full of spider monkeys. But we don’t know what we want to do with the rest of the world, or if we want to do anything at all, let alone how.

The foreign policy realists, the Kissinger/Scowcroft types think in terms of managing threats, playing chess with the world with the straightforward goals of protecting our markets and ensuring that none of those spider monkeys out there can bulk up enough to be trouble. The realists don’t care if this pawn or that knight is attractive, pleasant or moral, a chess piece is a chess piece. Saddam Hussein used to be one of the realists’ chess pieces.

Here is the truth that the realists generally won’t speak and don’t really accept: good and evil are not irrelevant, not to Americans.

We have these different points of view, each of which has a bit of the truth, and each of which includes a fatal virus. We need the liberal’s eagerness to understand, but not the impotent self-flagellation; we need the neo-con’s faith in freedom, without the credulousness and naivete; we need the paleo-con’s reluctance to leap into every fray, without the head-in-the-sand isolationism; and we need the realist’s readiness to occasionally accept moral ambiguity, but without their eagerness to embrace moral blindness.

The crucial job here falls to the American voter. The voters need to spend more time on foreign policy than they want to. They don’t need to run out and get doctorates in international relations, but they need to learn the basic rules of the game. We can’t trust the people in power not to be ideologues or incompetents or megalomaniacs — or, in the case of the current administration, all three. But we can’t really trust ourselves, either, if all we know is what we’ve gleaned from attack ads and talk radio rants. It’s time for American voters to raise the level of their game, because the world will not go away, no matter how much we wish it would.

Cross posted from Mighty Middle.)

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