The Free Exchange (15-009)

The Free Exchange is a series dedicated solely to answering comments from you. I appreciate your reading and always enjoy hearing from you, even when you disagree. Thank you for your participation.


A Constructivist Approach to Iran Spells Certain Disaster

Black and Red Fan writes:

It’s great to read more about political theory. I think if more people understood the political theory and the root of liberalism/progressivism, the more people will realize how naive and dangerous it is.

The constructionist foreign policy theory as you explained it, falls perfectly within liberalism and their post-modern approach of placing us as God. Instead of recognizing that there is something beyond us that forms the world, liberalism places the liberal and his child-like point of view as king and himself as God; whatever he perceives and dreams up, it must be real and he treats it as such. That is such a dangerous approach to the world, especially when it comes to foreign policy that it is scary to see it, as you explained so well in this article.

I believe we will pay a dear price for this awful deal in the future. But when the consequences of this deal occur, it will be up to us to explain it clearly since the mass media will engage in damage control and a rationalization & defense of this deal since it was done by Obama. That’s always been the most frustrating part; truth gets twisted and distorted just like the consequences of Obama pulling out of Iraq not being blamed on him but on Bush. The non-truth drives me crazy. I think God hard-wired people like us to point out their untruth and clarify the world with truth.

J Hunter:

Thank you. I’m glad you liked this piece. I love political philosophy and theory.

To that end, I’m not sure if postmodernists believe that we’re God or gods. You’re right to point out that postmodernism fits snugly into Leftist thought–it’s just that there has been a change in liberal thought–and in American philosophy altogether.

America, as a country, was founded by modernists–people who believed that truth existed, but that it had to be determined via scientific means and less through supernatural means. Modernists, those responsible for the ugly chapters of the 20th century (fascism, Nazism, and communism), are much more likely to consider enlightened humans as God or gods than the postmodernists.

Postmodernists challenge the idea that a God or gods exist. They challenge whether or not truth exists, and they definitely challenge the idea that truth can be objective. This ideology is a cancer when it comes to policymaking–especially in the realm of foreign policy. It undermines authority and sovereignty–the very things necessary for a foreign policy to exist. It leads to isolationism and caprice. Constructivism is its feeble brainchild.

Your calling this worldview “childlike” is spot on. What comes immediately to my mind is a 2006 Katie Couric interview with then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The two women were discussing the Iraq War, and Couric challenged Rice’s claim; that we are right to fight for the freedoms of the Iraqi people that we, westerners, enjoy; with a question echoing a liberal and libertarian talking point that drips with postmodernist slime: “To quote my daughter, ‘Who made us the boss of them?’”

The question supports postmodernist thinking because to the postmodernist, there can be no answer. Rice couldn’t have answered “God,” because postmodernists don’t believe in a uniform reality, let alone, one in which a God can exist and make demands. Had Rice answered, “the Iraqi people,” the postmodernist would “deconstruct” that answer to the point of questioning whether “the Iraqi people,” or any people, could express a unified, intelligible will (How did they make us the boss of them? Did they write a letter that they all signed? If there was a poll, was the question biased? To what degree did they want us to be ‘their boss?’ etc.).

Similarly, postmodernists not only argue that truth cannot be ascertained, but they argue that truth is subjective, so it cannot exist for anyone except whoever accepts a certain version of a truth. Therefore, Couric’s question is rhetorical. No answer could please her (or other postmodernists).

Apply that to foreign policy and postmodernists ask constructivist questions: “What makes us a superpower? What makes Iran a rogue state? Isn’t one man’s terrorist, another’s freedom-fighter? Who’s to say?

Not us.

Constructivism has its place, and that’s in the interpersonal realm. Rightly applied, it goes a long way to explain the effects of stereotyping and prejudice. Elevated to the realm of foreign relations, it is a nightmare–a postmodernist nightmare.


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Iran Deal Epitomizes the Wrong Way to Encourage Peace

Capitulating to Oppressors Breeds More Oppression


Peter Beinart writes a piece in The Atlantic that elucidates the folly of constructivist political theory and President Barack Obama’s role in negotiations with Iran. Beinart expresses hope that the nuclear deal with Iran could bring Democracy to the nation and improve human rights conditions. Rather than rely on military threats, sanctions, and isolation to urge Iran in the right direction, he argues that a conciliatory approach bore fruit historically and can do so today. The theory belies logic and the price of failure is high.

Beinart highlights the case of Akbar Ganji, a journalist jailed in Iran for calling on the country to replace its theocracy with a democracy. Ganji has since been released and has fled Iran. From his safe haven, he argues that the Iranian people live in fear resulting from economic sanctions and military threats from the United States and Israel.

“If the United States and its allies ‘are truly interested in the development of democracy in Iran…they should set aside military threats and economic sanctions.”

Beinart agrees.

He chastises hawks’ simplistic view of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War successes:

“Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell.”

Instead, Beinart argues, Reagan de-escalated the Cold War by meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev without preconditions, cooling bellicose rhetoric, and signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

“The lesson,” Beinart writes, is “that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse.”

With this in mind, the Iranian nuclear talks have devolved from the U.S. and her European allies calling on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program to now–a complete reversal of previous U.S. positions. The Wall Street Journal editorial page lists some of these major departures:

“Obama has already conceded that Iran can keep enriching uranium, that it can maintain 5,060 centrifuges to do the enriching, that its enriched-uranium stockpiles can stay inside Iran, that the once-concealed facilities at Fordow and Arak can stay open (albeit in altered form), and that Iran can continue doing research on advanced centrifuges.”

In addition to these concessions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants an immediate repeal of economic sanctions and no inspections under any conditions of Iran’s military sites. Whatever demands the West makes on Iran must be upheld, or else the sanctions will immediately “snap back,” President Obama claims. How these sanctions will be immediately reimposed remains unclear. According to Beinart, though, caving to the Ayatollah would benefit more people than currently face harm through sanctions and the fear of war.

So why, Beinart asks, “in the face of all this evidence…do American hawks…still overwhelmingly oppose Obama’s diplomatic openings?”

Americans believe in carrots and sticks. Reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. We fear that granting concessions to brutal dictatorships will encourage more brutal dictatorships. In particular, dictators motivated by antisemitism stop at very little to kill Jews. Beinart doesn’t negate this possibility in his piece, even calling on American leaders to “criticize dictatorships.” Apparently, though, when that criticism goes so far as to call a murderous regime “evil,” a red line has been crossed.

So, what should the West do to discourage despotism?

Neorealists/neoliberals argue that coalitions built around pro-social behaviors create a cohort of nations that benefit from cooperation. NATO, WTO, the World Bank and IMF, name some of the multinational entities that work under this assumption. Nations allowed to participate in these organizations prosper. Those that don’t, don’t.

America started the neoliberal model after the end of World War II left so much of the world in shambles. Up until that point, the wealthiest and most powerful nations ruled the globe single-handedly until their power waned enough to allow a rival to topple the world order and claw to the top of the heap. The neorealist model dispatches with that practice. Neoliberalism encourages leaders to allow a free press, hold elections, curb aggression against their neighbors–all in order to join some of the multinational groups that work hand in hand toward mutual benefit.

Beinart and Obama appear bent on a constructivist approach that offers carrots with no sticks. They believe that by lifting sanctions and capitulating to despots, they uphold human rights for the unfortunate subjects of Iran and similar countries. In reality, they allow bloodthirsty dictators the means to build tools to violate the sovereignty and human rights of people in other countries.

Reality, though, is not a place where constructivism thrives.