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Foreign policy fusion: Liberal interventionists, conservative nationalists and neoconservatives — the new alliance dominating the US foreign policy establishment


Several tendencies in US foreign policy politics generated a new foreign policy consensus set to outlast the Bush administration. Three developments are analysed: increasing influence of conservative organizations – such as the Heritage Foundation, and of neoconservatism; and, particularly, democratic peace theory-inspired liberal interventionism. 9-11 fused those three developments, though each tendency retained its ‘sphere of action’: Right and Left appear to have forged an historically effective ideology of global intervention, an enduring new configuration of power. This paper analyses a key liberal interventionists' initiative – the Princeton Project on National Security – that sits at the heart of thinking among centrists, liberal and conservative alike. This paper also assesses the efficacy of the new consensus by exploring the foreign policy positions and advisers of President-elect Barack Obama and his defeated Republican rival, Senator John McCain, concluding that the new president is unlikely significantly to change US foreign policy.

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  1. 1.

    Mickelthwait and Wooldridge (2005, pp. 6, 20) show that 41 per cent of Americans describe themselves as conservative in contrast to 19 per cent describing themselves as liberal.

  2. 2.

    Feulner is founder and current president of the Heritage Foundation.

  3. 3.

    See especially, Chapter 6, pp. 163–194. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations that follow are drawn from those pages.

  4. 4.

    Lieberman is now formally independent of the Democratic Party.

  5. 5.

    Terror war liberalism refers to the development, therefore, of a militaristic, expansionist, imperial, post-Vietnam Syndrome mind-set among liberal and left-liberal elements in American politics and society, elements formerly opposed to or highly sceptical of American interventions overseas; they are domestic state interventionist liberals and robust interventionists abroad.

  6. 6.

    Of course, PPNS is not alone – there is the Truman National Security Project, National Security Network, Center for American Progress, among others. PPNS is, however, the most comprehensive and prestigious such initiative and is, therefore, very well interconnected with the other important projects.

  7. 7.

    The PPNS' Final Report claims that its conclusions are drawn from the findings of ‘both reason and social science’ (p. 58). This claim, however, is preceded by the statement that the Report is based on ‘both knowledge and conviction’ and followed by the argument that ‘America must also pursue a value-based foreign policy to be true to itself – the cold calculations of realism, in its eternal quest for a balance of power, can never long satisfy the American people’.

  8. 8.

    As Hodgson argues, the ‘centre’ is a curious phenomenon in politics: it shifts according to the ebbs and flows of changes in political regimes and settlements.

  9. 9.

    In the wake of Bush's announcement of an additional 21 500 US troops for the Iraq War, Republican US Senator Charles Hagel declared at a Senate hearing that Bush's announcement was the ‘most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam’; US Senate hearing, 11 January 2007. Hagel, along with Democratic US Senator Joseph Biden, launched the PPNS' Final Report in September 2006. Subsequent reports suggest that the military ‘surge’ policy has yielded some positive results; see BBC news report, ‘US surge plan in Iraq ‘working’’, 10 September 2007, at

  10. 10.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bet G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Before this, she was Professor of Politics at Harvard. She is a board member of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite east coast liberal internationalist think tank based in New York. She recently wrote A New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004). G. John Ikenberry is Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics at Princeton. He has also taught at the universities of Georgetown and Pennsylvania, held posts at the US State Department, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Brookings Institution.

  11. 11.

  12. 12.

    Lake and Shultz, ‘Foreword’ to Forging a World …, p. 2.

  13. 13.

    Nye, of course, served as deputy to the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology (1977–1979) and chaired the National Security Council Group on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In recognition of this public service, he received the Distinguished Honor award, the State Department's highest commendation. In the Clinton administration, Nye was awarded the Intelligence Community's Distinguished Service medal for chairing the National Intelligence Council. In 1994–1995, Nye served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

  14. 14.

    For a subtle repudiation of some elements of neoconservatism, namely the disaster in Iraq, see Fukuyama's recent critique, After the Neocons. America at the Crossroads (London: Profile Books, 2006).

  15. 15.

    National Defense University's Vision: A world leader in national and international security education, joint professional military education at the strategic and operational levels, information management education, research and outreach.

  16. 16.

    Freedman is described by Kampfner as representing ‘the orthodox view of the [Foreign Office] mandarins’ to Tony Blair before he was elected prime minister in 1997.

  17. 17.

    Further underlining the neoconservatives' and PPNS' similarities of outlook and, therefore, demonstrating the influence of a conservative revolution, Kristol helpfully points out that his beliefs' origins lie not just with Ronald Reagan and Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson but also with the PPNS' champion of multilateralism, Harry Truman; Kristol, p. 75. Yet, Kristol's assessment may be overblown: neo-cons' rhetoric became broadly acceptable only after 9-11 when it offered conservative Americans and liberal interventionists a ready-made language with which to wield influence.

  18. 18.

    Report of the Working Group on Anti-Americanism, September 2005; Princeton Project on National Security;

  19. 19.

    Berman; quotes taken from throughout the paper; pages are unnumbered in the original.

  20. 20.

    Lindberg's comments summarised by Meredith Riley in Debate: ‘Does Anti-Americanism Matter to US Foreign Policy?’ Sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Central European University, 3 November 2005.

  21. 21.

    Nusrat Choudhury, ‘The Economic Impact of Anti-Americanism,’ PPNS.

  22. 22.

    Stephen Walt, ‘Woodrow Wilson Rides Again,’ TPMCAFE BOOK CLUB;; accessed 12 January 2007.

  23. 23.

    Interestingly, Christopher Hitchens, writing about Robert Conquest, a champion of the Anglosphere, now considers the idea positively.

  24. 24.

    In this paper, Ikenberry pragmatically rejects imperialism as unsustainable but does not reject it in principle: Americans reject ruling the world in favour of ‘creating a world of rules’.

  25. 25.

    Policy planning staff memorandum, Washington, 4 May 1948. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 273, Records of the National Security Council, NSC 10/2. Top Secret; RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Policy Planning Staff Files 1944–1947: Lot 64 D 563, Box 11.

  26. 26.

    Yet deeper still, it is clear that postwar modernization theory itself – as championed by Walt Rostow, for example – was based on an explicit belief in the inevitable relative decline of American power over time. This emphasized the need on America's part to ensure the globalization of American values and institutions, within a benign international environment enabling the United States to flourish (see Bromley, 2008).

  27. 27.

    Indeed, the American social sciences were ‘born in the service of the modern state, and they evolved in a way that left them quite closely, if often invisibly, tied to the purposes and institutions of states …’ Anderson, 2003.

  28. 28.

    As Francis Fukuyama (2005) argued in his book, State Building, the world is characterized by ‘a band of failed and weak states stretching from the Balkans through the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia …. 11 September proved that state weakness constituted a huge strategic challenge …’.

  29. 29.

    Of course, analysing campaign speeches and networks of advisers cannot provide definitive indications of actual policies likely to be pursued. However, they do provide the best available evidence of candidates’ broad orientations and, because so many of their stated orientations appear connected with long-lived ideological and political tendencies, they furnish an important basis for making informed speculations.

  30. 30.

    Barack Obama, ‘Remarks of Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama Against Going to War with Iraq,’ 2 October 2002;

  31. 31.

    Speeches to the American Legion (March 2005) and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations (November 2005);

  32. 32.

    Obama added that the United States would retain ‘a residual force to perform specific missions’, but would seek to retain ‘no permanent [military] bases’; see Barack Obama, ‘A New Strategy for a New World,’ Washington DC, 15 July 2008; (see also Stockman, 2008; Wehner, 2008). However, it is also clear that the United States is, and has, sought ways to retain their armed forces in Iraq (Milne, 2008).

  33. 33.

    Barack Obama, ‘The American Moment,’ 23 April 2007.

  34. 34.

    Later in the same year, Daalder co-wrote a paper with James Lindsay (CFR vice-president) that argued for a concert of democracies that was ‘capable of prompt and effective action both to prevent and, when necessary, respond to threats to international security’. In the same piece, he suggested that his ideas were echoing those of Francis Fukuyama (see Daalder and Lindsay, 2006).

  35. 35.

    Susan E. Rice, ‘Beyond ‘Democratic Peace’’, 16 December 2005;

  36. 36.

    Power was removed from Obama's campaign team after referring to Hilary Clinton as a ‘monster’ during a newspaper interview; see Alex Johnson, ‘Minister leaves Obama campaign,’ 14 March 2008 at Power's attitudes have earned her the ‘humanitarian hawk’ nickname; New Statesman 6 March 2008.

  37. 37.

    The remaining members are: Senator David Boren, Greg Craig (former director of policy planning at the State Department, 1997–1998), Eric Holder (deputy attorney general, 1997–2001), former representative Tim Roemer (currently President of the Center for National Policy, a national security think tank), and Jim Steinberg (former Deputy National Security Adviser, 1997–2001); The New York Times Politics Blog, The Caucus, ‘Obama Convenes National Security Team,’ 18 June 2008; at; (accessed 2 September 2008). Tony Lake was co-chair of the PPNS while Jim Steinberg was a participant. Susan Rice participated in and wrote the preface to Strategic Leadership (Center for a New American Security, Washington DC, July 2008), a new framework for national security that was drawn up by several leading members of PPNS, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bruce Jentleson, James Steinberg, Ivo Daalder (Brookings, former Clinton NSC member), Lael Brainard (Brookings), Kurt Campbell (Center for Strategic and International Studies, Clinton national security council member), Michael McFaul (Hoover Institution, Stanford, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Freedom House, National Endowment for Democracy), James C. O’Brien (Clinton's special envoy in the Balkans) and Gayle E. Smith (Clinton national security council member, 1998–2001).

  38. 38.

    Apart from the Bible, Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative is the only book that Bush appears to have ever read (see Parmar, 2005b).

  39. 39.

    USA Today, 27 March 2008.

  40. 40.

    For a summary, see Kagan (2007).

  41. 41.

    This ‘statist’ conclusion fits well with Abelson's recent study of US foreign policy think tanks; A Capitol Idea, p. 221.


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Parmar, I. Foreign policy fusion: Liberal interventionists, conservative nationalists and neoconservatives — the new alliance dominating the US foreign policy establishment. Int Polit 46, 177–209 (2009).

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  • consensus
  • conservative
  • neoconservatism
  • liberal interventionism
  • Princeton Project on National Security
  • establishment