Honestly admitting who wins and loses for any recommended foreign policy action would clarify what is today a dangerously self-defeating U.S. foreign policy debate.
The vigorous nature of the public debate–both in the U.S. and elsewhere–about U.S. foreign policy behavior indicates that the nature of U.S. foreign policy behavior is generally considered by all observers to be important. That much at least we can agree on, but beyond that, at least in the U.S., the debate illustrates nothing so much as the level of confusion that exists. There is no consensus about the definition of terms, the meaning of morality, or anything else. And as long as the debate is confused, we have little hope of resolving anything, little hope of ending the endless mistakes that are costing the U.S. and the world rapidly increasing amounts of blood and treasure.
Even the simplest attempt to clarify will surely provoke controversy, but nevertheless, here goes…
Consider a single dimension along which all possible state behavior in the international realm might be located, going from behavior with national (i.e., selfish) objectives at one extreme to behavior with international objectives (i.e., for the common good) at the other. Implicitly, behavior for selfish reasons that is also in the best interests of everyone else can be considered to be for the common good (after all, “we” are part of “everyone”). My concern here is not with the intent of the behavior; who really knows even why they themselves do what they do, much less why anyone else does so? Rather, my concern is with the impact – who gains, who gets hurt. (Later, it will be necessary to consider the time frame: short-term vs. long-term gain or harm.)
I assert that if we could locate whatever behavior is being considered by ourselves or our adversaries on this continuum, then we could discuss much more intelligently what we think about that behavior. I further suggest that the breakthrough step toward accomplishing this apparently simple task without coming to blows would be to enumerate who gains and who loses. The hot knife of identifying winners and losers would slice through the butter of our opaque foreign policy debate, exposing all manner of bias and false assumption.
Before getting to the stage of honestly admitting who the winners and losers are, one should probably simplify by selecting a specific policy, and a useful step toward that is consideration of where policies in the abstract should be located on the continuum.
- Who–what states, what societies, what parties, what special interests–really would be the winners and losers if Turkey and Egypt were to create a viable moderate Mideast?
- Who really would be the winners and losers if the Israeli-Lebanese border were pacified?
- Who really would be the winners and losers if terrorists were pursued as international criminals and brought to public trial rather than being used as the excuse for wars, invasions, and occupations without end?