The number one rule of the bi-partisan foreign policy community is that America can invade and attack other countries when vital American interests are threatened. Paying homage to that orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining good standing within the foreign policy community.
I suspect that anyone who accepts the concept of a “national interest” in the first place would accept that phrasing. As a paid-up member of the Foreign Policy Community (FPC), I certainly would.
Unless “vital national interest” is construed so narrowly as to be equivalent to “self-defence”, this is a direct repudiation of the central founding principle of international law, prohibiting aggressive war as a crime against peace, indeed, the supreme international crime. It’s more extreme than the avowed position of any recent US Administration – even the invasion of Iraq was purportedly justified on the basis of UN resolutions, rather than US self-interest. Yet, reading this and other debates, it seems pretty clear that Drezner’s position is not only generally held in the Foreign Policy Community but is regarded, as he says, as a precondition for serious participation in foreign policy debates in the US.
A couple of questions arise. First, is this rule supposed to apply only to the US? Second, can the elastic phrase “vital national interest” be spelt out? To take an obvious example, does unfettered access to natural resources like oil count as a “vital national interest”? If so, it seems pretty clear that vital national interests of different countries will regularly come into conflict, and (unless this is a US-only rule) that both parties in such a situation are justified in going to war.
Leaving aside questions of morality and justification, on what factual basis does the Foreign Policy Community consider that the use of war as an instrument of policy serves the US national interest? Look at the record in the past 50 years. Of the three large-scale wars the US has fought, two (Indochina and the current Iraq War) have been bloody failures and one (the first Iraq war) an equivocal success. The smaller wars and interventions (Lebanon, Haiti, Somalia to name a few) have not been much better. And covert attacks on foreign governments, from the overthrow of Mossadegh onwards, have had long-run consequences that have been almost uniformly disastrous.
Accepting Drezner’s summary of the orthodoxy, it’s hard to disagree with Greenwald’s conclusion that the United States and the world would be better off without the Foreign Policy Community.