Conservative Internationalism Must Give Way to Monroe Doctrine, by Fergus Hodgson

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A self-described conservative in the Washington, DC, development industrial complex is akin to one in the Department of Education: a paradox. Like a gold bug in the Federal Reserve, he is behind enemy lines.

Daniel Runde of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been that man. Well traveled and devoted to international relations and economic development, Runde in 2023 published The American Imperative: Reclaiming Global Leadership through Soft Power. It advocates a “conservative internationalist” reinvigoration of US foreign policy using soft power to resist China’s march.
As thoughtful as Runde may be, his book fails to resolve why the United States is fading as a global rule-setter. Pax Americana ended more than a decade ago. The ship has sailed, and a sophisticated foreign policy will not turn it around. The appropriate response is to consolidate and focus closer to home in the tradition of the Monroe Doctrine. The United States can then address the most pressing challenges within a multipolar order.

The United States has neither the financial wherewithal nor the ideological unity to be the leader she once was. So long as the national debt is spiraling—beyond 100 percent of GDP—and progressives have captured all major power centers, including the State Department, attempting to lead the world is for naught. Sending more taxpayer funds abroad would be self-cannibalizing. Further, to say the federal political class are anti-American is an understatement. The district voted 92 percent Democrat in 2020.

Sending foreigners to US universities, for example, is a fool’s errand. As a twice foreign student, I can share that my peers were more likely to learn anti-US narratives than to embrace US values. A friend went through Marxist conversion therapy as a Fulbright student in a major private US university, and she came out a different person—not for the better. Similarly, allowing a socialist-dominated State Department to impose targeted sanctions is a recipe for disaster.

Conservative in Name Only
A fish does not notice that it swims in water, because it is ever-present. Once immersed in Washington, DC, one is inclined to become blind to the progressive, interventionist, and condescending mindset all around.

The reader can hardly expect The American Imperative to promote paleoconservatism or noninterventionism. However, the degree to which Runde advocates social engineering and central planning, while claiming to be a conservative internationalist and praising the private sector, defies belief. Not only does he endorse the World Economic Forum and the UN sustainable development goals, he calls for increased, long-term funding for an array of foreign-aid programs, including feminist affirmative action.

He appears to be on a mission to cure world poverty on the back of the US taxpayer, and his belief that aid catalyzes growth is anything but conservative. In the book he admits to rebranding his proposals to appear more beneficial to the United States.

The book does not mention the Washington Consensus for free-market policies; nor does it emphasize limited government in the classical-liberal, US tradition. Rather, The American Imperative backs crony institutions such as the EXIM Bank and other taxpayer-backed financial intermediaries—even welfare states and “safety nets” in developing nations that can ill-afford them.

What conservatism is left? Is the goal to dominate China at any cost? My sense is Runde’s conservatism entails less emphasis on social agendas such as LGBT activism and abortion access and more respect for the rule of law and accountability in the foreign service. That is about it.

Fighting with One Hand Tied
To be fair to Runde and others of his inclination, they do their best within a broken system, and this review cannot address all the complexity in The American Imperative. Akin to the reformer within the unconstitutional Department of Education, so long as the department exists, one has a hard time enacting fruitful reforms. Merely not aligning with Marxist dictators would be an improvement on the foreign-policy status quo.

Assuming a more humble and focused foreign policy, The American Imperative still has wisdom to share. In addition to its emphasis on soft power and alliance cultivation, the book provides a window into the world of the development industrial complex and how participants justify their actions. Runde admits that these organizations are more skilled at jumping through regulatory hoops and garnering taxpayer funding than at generating development, but he defends them as risk-takers.

The reality that Runde is less of a social engineer than his peers is startling. Elected officials need to be wary of the permanent federal bureaucracy devoted to foreign policy. Attempts to rein it in are likely to face deep-state obstruction.

This compels well-defined objectives, transparency, and swift accountability. A starting point and not a quick fix, the Monroe Doctrine emphasizes hands-off US leadership in the Western Hemisphere, while keeping out foreign powers. The ideological problem runs deep in the capital, but the doctrine would promote nearshoring with friendly neighbors and be a more manageable, affordable strategy.

Fergus Hodgson
Publisher: Fergus Hodgson is the director of Econ Americas, a financial and economic consultancy. He holds an MBA in finance from Rice University and bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from Boston University and the University of Waikato. He was the founding editor in chief of the PanAm Post.

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