Managing Exit: Progressive Foreign Policy

Back in 2018 I wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs called “Toward a Neo-Progressive Foreign Policy: the Case for an Internationalist Left.” Some readers may notice that, on my editor’s advice, I modeled the start of the article on the classic statement of neoconservative foreign policy, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy.” Some among the further left have branded me a closet neoconservative, so I want to make clear that the similarity is a deliberate joke.

We discuss neoconservative foreign policy in Exit from Hegemony. We examine it in the context of American foreign policy and international liberal order (spoiler: neoconservatives privilege some aspects of liberal ordering over others). We also discuss how the neoconservative experiment during the first term of the George W. Bush administration played an important role in accelerating exit. Given the loud debates over Trump foreign policy, it’s important not to forget that the Iraq War, the so-called “Bush doctrine“, and the Bush administration’s attempts to play “old Europe” against “new Europe” did permanent damage to American leadership.

My views on progressive foreign policy are very much informed by the analysis we explore in Exit from Hegemony. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Progressives simply cannot afford to be indifferent [to international order]… The development of globalized, transnational oligarchy and kleptocracy requires progressivism to adopt an internationalist outlook. The Paul Manafort trial provided a stark example of how the liberal international order facilitates the movement of capital across borders—not just in the form of legitimate investment but via shell companies whose owners remain hidden. In turn, shell companies facilitate both corporate and individual tax avoidance, via offshore trusts and money laundering through perfectly legal mechanisms such as real estate transactions and the purchase of luxury goods. International service providers such as bankers, accountants, lawyers, wealth managers, second-citizenship providers and real estate brokers enable these transactions, creating an increasingly globalized system of corruption and concentration of wealth.

All of this undermines progressive politics even in democratic countries by, among other things, coopting what should be mechanisms of public accountability and civil society: the media, think tanks, law firms, and public relations campaigns. Because, in part, Americans are losing the ability to distinguish between politics as usual and creeping kleptocracy—especially when the new oligarchs are ideological fellow travelers—the United States is in much more danger than many realize. Moreover, progressives should find themselves at least as alarmed by the prospect of foreign oligarchs attempting to influence U.S. politics and policy—including ending anti-corruption sanctions—as they are by the unhealthy influence enjoyed by domestic economic elites.

Many of the ideas that went into the Foreign Affairs article first appeared in posts at Lawyers, Guns and Money. I don’t know if they influenced the how Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have crafted their visions of progressive foreign policy, but I’m pleased to see significant convergence on the same themes that I’ve been outlining since the 2016 Democratic primary.

About Dan Nexon 50 Articles
Daniel Nexon is an associate professor in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is the author of The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change.