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February 17, 2008

International Goodwill and Investment
Posted by David Shorr

The other day I warned against viewing foreign aid as a panacea for what ails our foreign policy. Regaining legitimacy isn't going to be a simple aid-for-goodwill transaction. One of our commenters, Lyn, in return warned that seeking international regard is a fool's errand.

I could take issue with a number of Lyn's points, but mostly I want to pick up on some very constructive ideas. We could debate how much goodwill the United States has had or could have, but I think we both see a problem with seeking goodwill simply for its own sake. I think there is a trap for progressives if we seem to want American global popularity to make us feel better. There has to be more to it, and there is.

Whether we like it or not, popular sentiment toward the superpower is effectively a continuous referendum on the state of the world. As the pollsters say, "Is the world headed in the right/wrong direction?" It's true that we can't make everyone happy, but I think we really need to watch out for the extent of unhappiness. We need some degree of a global social contract in place, some sense of all being in it together. (That goes domestically too, by the way.) This is the broader context for needing to tend to our goodwill accounts, because a lack of faith in "legitimate" powers gives an opening to warlords, criminal gangs, extremists, and terrorists.

Let me say that I agree with Lyn on preferring to make investments rather than gestures. In fact, I think we should (and can) portray a good portion of the progressive foreign policy agenda in terms of an investment in the international outcomes we seek. I don't know whether we'll be able to convince Lyn in particular, but I'm confident it will broaden the appeal of our argument.


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