In the following speech, Condoleezza Rice calls for America to lead the world into democracy. Even while she acknowledges that since 9-11 the price for such leadership has been high, she reasserts its importance.
She glosses over the facts of this cost. The $100 billion a year it has cost to occupy Afghanistan and Iraq has put an unsustainable strain on America's budget. To add, say, Iran to that list could easily double the cost, and there are close to another 100 countries that could use aid in political transformation. Worse, the multiple rotations for our soldiers has become personally unbearable for these soldiers and their families. Divorce rates among active duty soldiers is at an all-time high. Every day, 18 veterans commit suicide. To call for America to lead is meaningless if she's not directly asking the American people to support higher taxes and a draft. We're all happy to have the product if we don't have to pay for it.
Beyond this, though, her speech reveals the chief weakness of the Republican position on foreign policy, and it stems from a seemingly unrelated belief: Republicans' rejection of evolution.
In the Republican world, democracy is a natural state and once people are unencumbered by tyrants, they will automatically form some version of a republic, with prosperity, religious freedom, and wise policies to automatically follow. In their world, there is little difference between freeing Germany of Nazis or Afghanistan of the Taliban: in both cases, a thriving and prosperous country will emerge. For them, evolution of beliefs, culture, commerce, religion, and the economy are irrelevant: leaders have either created a republic or they haven't. The difference between Germany and Afghanistan does not depend on fairly complex stages of development but depends instead on whether or not some great leaders have said, "let there be freedom." The need for some critical mass of the population to have accepted religion as a personal choice rather than something that society can impose, for instance, or economic development and trade that makes one's reality larger than the local village, does not come into play in their model. And this sort of mistake is expensive because if they're wrong, we could work with countries for a decade and still be a great distance from anything resembling a modern democracy, a government that we could safely hand off to the local people.
To be fair to Rice, a party convention is no place for nuance. Still, it seems troubling that the woman who helped craft the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan would seemingly rebuke the Obama administration for unwillingness for more such occupations. There is seemingly no reflection on what our previous commitments have bought us or why nation-building (which was actually state-building) in Germany and Japan went so well and so quickly and nation-building (which really is nation-building) in Afghanistan and Iraq have gone so poorly and taken so long. There seems to be no awareness that at different levels of evolution (or even development), that what is possible for countries might be very different and attempts to force open flower buds could end poorly.
Curiously, Rice does acknowledge that progress does not come out of a conservative milieu when she lists the great innovation centers to which people flock to help build the new economy: Silicon Valley, North Carolina's Research Triangle, Route 128 in Massachusetts, and Austin, TX are all incredibly liberal spots, places where Obama won against McCain by margins of 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. Progress is threatening. It is disruptive. Progress does not come out of a conservative sentiment. The way that Midwestern voters feel about gay marriage is the way that Afghan voters feel about female education. Or, more relevant to her speech, the way that GOP voters felt about desegregation during the civil rights movement that Rice praises before the GOP. Progress comes from innovation and innovation does not take you to any particular stage: instead, it takes you to the next stage, and the next. It's hard to predict which elements of the past will be overturned and which will be preserved or enhanced.
The modern world is evolving. It has no natural state. And to ignore stages of development or the dynamics of evolution when constructing foreign policy, to pretend that everyone would automatically create the stage of social development in which America found itself in 2001 is not just silly. It is a guarantee that our foreign policy will be both ineffectual and wildly expensive.