“The premise shaping our foreign policy is that we must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of weaker nations because self-interest cannot be the standard of our actions,” says Peter Schwartz in the opening chapter of The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest.
He is sharply critical of the American foreign policy which is modeled on the morally flawed precept of self-sacrifice. Such foreign policy emboldens the dictatorships and terrorist organizations—it leads to a rise in the threats that America faces—it hinders the American leaders from responding self-assertively and unapologetically to safeguard their nation’s interests.
Schwartz brings Ayn Rand’s philosophical principles of reason, individualism, and capitalism to the realm of international politics and argues about the futility of having a foreign policy that entails a sacrifice of American interests. While his arguments are philosophical, his analysis of foreign policy is genuinely incisive.
He asserts that “freedom is the end to which all other political actions are the means. This is the standard by which a nation’s interests ought to be measured—and this is where the science of foreign policy should begin.” He says that as America is a nation that enshrines freedom it must adopt a foreign policy that is based on self-interest.
“Since freedom can be breached only by the initiation of force, our foreign policy must protect us from foreign aggressors. Our government must safeguard American lives and property by using retaliatory force against the initiators. This is how our freedom is preserved.”
Schwartz says that the US must wage war only when there is a threat to the freedom of its citizens. “Our government is not the world’s policeman… It is, however, America’s policeman.” When self-interest and preservation of freedom are the considerations then America will have the moral power to use force to eradicate any foreign threat.
In his critique of American foreign policy, Schwarz devotes considerable attention to the Islamic states of the Middle East. He says that Washington is incapable of defending American interests because “our officials are uncertain about the moral validity of America’s war on terrorism.” The policy of appeasing the dictatorships is, in Schwartz’s view, contributing to the rise in terrorism.
A dictatorship that remains in power by robbing the freedom of its citizens will never have a foreign policy that promotes freedom. The aim of its foreign policy is to destroy freedom in other countries just as the aim of its domestic policy is to destroy freedom within the country.
He offers a forceful denunciation of the American policy of giving moral endorsement to countries like Iran. He rejects the possibility of American military being used to bring freedom to the people of the Middle East. He asserts, “Freedom is an idea. It cannot be forced upon a culture that refuses to value it. It cannot be forced upon a society wedded to tribalist, collectivist values.”
Washington’s vacillating foreign policy entails such erratic use of force that the dictatorships and terrorists think that they will prevail because Americans will be unwilling to fight a long drawn battle. Schwartz says that a principled foreign policy must anticipate the future consequences—it must be preemptive—in delivering punishment it must make the next attack impossible.
In the book’s final chapter, “The moral and the Practical,” Schwartz says that the threats to America are rising because of philosophical default on part of its intellectuals and politicians. He blames the false dichotomy between the moral and practical for weakening America’s foreign policy. “The dichotomy goes unchallenged because the only moral standard most people can conceive is one that enshrines self-sacrifice.”
The Foreign Policy of Self-Interest is only 80 pages—you can easily read it in four or five hours. But in this small number of pages, Schwartz explains why the foreign policy of America is failing to protect the country, and he offers an interesting exposition of a rational foreign policy based on Ayn Rand’s philosophic system, which espouses the values of reason, individualism, and capitalism.