A New Basis for U.S. Foreign Policy: ‘Security First’

This week’s must-read piece on U.S. foreign policy is Jonathan Rauch’s “Export Security, Not Democracy” (link will expire Feb. 8) in the Feb. 1 issue of National Journal.

Rauch takes a cue from Amitai Etzioni’s book “Security First” (he also cites Larry Diamond’s latest), in arguing that “basic security,” not democracy, should be at the center of U.S. foreign policy. Not only does basic security rest “on the deepest and most universal of moral foundations, respect for human life and repudiation of deadly violence,” but it also addresses a tragic irony of current U.S. foreign policy: that American-style democracy offends both extremists and moderates in the Muslim world:

Etzioni’s signature contribution is an intriguing second argument. Putting democratization at the center of U.S. foreign policy, he says, is counterproductive. It turns against America millions of the very people it needs to win over: illiberal moderates.

The Muslim world is full of people who aver support for democracy. But comparatively few mean liberal, secular democracy, which is what Americans mean. Instead, they mean a combination of democracy and theocracy that Americans would not recognize as liberal-democratic at all. For example, they tell pollsters they want democracy while also saying their governments should be more Islamic.

These people reject American-style social liberalization, such as equality for women, which Americans regard as a democratic linchpin. On the other hand, the great majority of them abhor violence. Thus, writes Etzioni, “major segments of the Muslim world are neither pro-liberal-democracy nor pro-violence.”

These “illiberal moderates,” he argues, are “a kind of global ‘swing vote,’ ” far outnumbering both illiberal extremists (who support violence) and liberal moderates (who support Westernization). A democratization agenda that implies American-style liberalization strikes illiberal moderates as a threat to their religion, not a promise of freedom. No wonder the Bush Doctrine offends them in droves