Grand and Abstract Doctrines Realistic Cotton Urges Discard from Foreign Policy

The Case for American Power: Why We Must Lead the Free World” on Monday, Senator Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) called for an active but realistic conservative foreign policy.

The charge of policy-makers, said Cotton, is to secure “the blessings of liberty” promised by the Preamble of the Constitution — namely, “our safety, freedom, and prosperity.”

According to Cotton, foreign policy is the “realm of prudential judgment and reasoning.” The Arkansas senator denounced “doctrines” in his remarks, which he said were inconsistent with any kind of conservative foreign-policy approach.

“Let us discard the search for grand and abstract doctrines,” said Cotton, who was also sure to note that a prudential approach was not inconsistent with a principled one. Principles, asserted Cotton, must be what guide prudential action.

Dismissing isolationism as “lazy” thinking, Cotton argued that George Washington’s farewell address, which is often used to justify a reluctance to engage with the world, was meant to be applied to a specific moment in American history and is not uniformly applicable in all times and places.

At the same time, George W. Bush erred in pursuing an especially “Wilsonian” foreign policy that emphasized values over interests to a detrimental extent, in the senator’s estimation. “President Bush declared our role is to end tyranny in the world,” began Cotton, “a very noble goal, but it’s probably beyond the capacity of our nation.”

As a real-world example of what principled prudentialism would look like, Cotton said the Biden administration could be doing more to aid Ukraine. “When you see this kind of war of aggression, waged by a brutal dictator, in which women and children are slaughtered, the American people, but especially conservatives, feel very strongly,” said Cotton.

Americans are frustrated with President Biden’s handling of the crisis because he his actions haven’t been consistent with the principles Americans want to see in action, submitted Cotton. “Americans think he’s not doing enough.”
“The use of American power and all of its many tools and instruments do not lead to war, it leads to success,” he continued.

Summing up his view, Cotton declared that “the world must be made safe for America’s democracy,” in a play on Wilson’s famous quote that the world must be made safe for democracy more generally.

As a general rule, you must “accept the world as you find it,” said Cotton, who held Ronald Reagan up as an example of a successful conservative statesman. Reagan “surveyed the world and acted to secure the blessings of liberty,” said Cotton.

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