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Conservative Internationalism – Announcing the Winter 2018 Issue of Orbis, FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs

Editor’s Corner

In These Pages

Mac Owens is Editor of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs, and Senior Fellow in our Program on National Security. Orbis is published for the Foreign Policy Research Institute by Elsevier. For subscription or other information, visit the Elsevier website. FPRI members at the $150 level or above receive a complimentary subscription (for individuals, not institutions). For membership information, please click here. To view this issue online, please click here. 


Orbis is honored to publish a special issue devoted to the idea of “conservative internationalism,” the name given to a particular understanding of US foreign policy by Henry Nau of George Washington University. The articles featured here are the product of a one-day colloquium organized by Charles Lademan at the Clements Center for National Security at the University of Texas Austin in May of 2017. 

Charles Lademan provides an overview of the topic and the papers. He shows “conservative internationalist” principles are distinct from those associated with “liberal internationalism”, emerged in US foreign policy over the past century.

Professor Nau lays out the fundamentals of conservative internationalism, stressing how it differs from the dominant academic paradigms of realism and liberal internationalism. The subsequent papers look at particular instances of conservative internationalism. First, Kori Schake, no stranger to the pages of Orbis, looks at the administration of Grover Cleveland, whom, she argues, meets the criteria for conservative internationalism set out by Henry Nau more assiduously than do some of the Republican Presidents that Nau examines. 

William Inboden addresses Ronald Reagan’s prominence in the pantheon of the American presidency and notes that among Republicans and conservatives, has attained a particularly mythic status as an exemplar of conservative internationalism. Next, Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson: explores George H.W. Bush’s foreign policy for what it can tell us about the successes and weakness of conservative internationalism as a world view and as an analytic construct for scholars of international relations

Hal Brands and Peter Feaver argue that despite harsh contemporary appraisals of the foreign policy of George W. Bush, he will benefit from a at least a moderate revisionism as scholars take a more dispassionate look at his achievements in global affairs and the difficult circumstances under which his administration labored. 

Ionut Popescu outlines the principles of a new conservative internationalism for the Trump era, and discusses how well the administration’s actions and words fit this paradigm. He contends that a year into the Trump presidency, there are signs that his administration is indeed attempting to adjust slightly rather than replace the traditional principles of conservative Republican foreign policy.

Paul D. Miller closes out this section by taking issue with Professor Popescu, contending that the Trump administration has not so far embraced conservative internationalism, but that the approach is likely to endure as America’s preferred approach to the world long past the Trump administration. The mix of American idealism and American strength is too potent for policymakers to ignore

Although not part of the University of Texas colloquium on conservative internationalism, the article by FPRI Fox Fellow, Adam Garfinkle, complements those articles, arguing  that U.S. foreign policy thinking is based ultimately on the particular historical experience and cultural legacy of the American founding, at the very base of which is the preeminence of Anglo-Protestantism. Garfinkle contends that the religious heritage of the United States, a sixteenth century blend of a theological reformation and the rise of modernity in the Enlightenment, has endowed American politics with a predisposition for egalitarian, anti-hierarchical, and contractual forms, which applies as well to foreign affairs. He offers six examples from the post-World War II period to illustrate his case.

Finally, James Golby and Mara Karlin examine the origins and meaning—such as it is—of the recent construct called “Best Military Advice.” The authors contend that “best military advice” is a problematic construct for both the military and civilians alike. As “best military advice” infuses the U.S. military, it will increasingly become normalized and held up as desirable, particularly among a younger generation. Short of serious near-term steps to neutralize this construct, its deleterious influence will swell.

This issue of Orbis concludes with two review essays, the first examining US foreign policy in Asia and the second looking at how “exporting security” helps both the United States and the recipients of US security assistance.


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