Rischian Transactionalism

Jan 22, 2019

This article first appeared on the Ethics & International Affairs blog.

Josh Rogin of The Washington Post has written up a story about his interview with the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, James E. Risch (R-ID), who openly uses the term "transactionalism" to characterize his approach to U.S. foreign policy. The Rischian approach seems to fall within the parameters of transactionalism as the basis for evaluating the utility of foreign policy. As I noted in October, "It is not isolationism or withdrawal from world affairs but an effort to shift the basis of U.S. engagement and to define a series of quid pro quos for U.S. involvement." As Rogin describes it:

Risch's "transactional" nature does not imply a lack of foreign policy principles; they just don't fall in line with a particular camp. On some issues, he agrees with traditional Republican foreign policy values. He told me he is a strong supporter of alliances, specifically NATO, which he said must be preserved because it's working. Hailing from a state heavy with agricultural exporters, he is a believer in free trade and open markets. But like Trump, Risch is skeptical of open-ended U.S. military interventions abroad and believes the use of U.S. power should be refocused on securing U.S. interests rather than nation-building abroad. "My philosophy is this: No. 1, we should not be the world's policeman," Risch said. "But that does not mean we shouldn't engage and engage at an appropriate, robust level when American interests are at stake."

Risch is a further indication that the impact of the 2016 elections on U.S. foreign policy will not be short-lived or simply overturned by a successor who returns the United States to some pre-2016 status quo. Now, not only the president but the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee discusses U.S. global engagement in transactional terms. Parallel to the conclusions reached in the Carnegie Council report on U.S. engagement, "Misconnecting with the U.S. Public," Rogin himself notes that Risch's "balance between traditional Republican foreign policy values and more Trumpian instincts could be the middle ground where the party ultimately ends up."

On a separate note, please watch the debate between Tom Nichols and Ian Bremmer held earlier this week at the Carnegie Council—on the critical questions of populism, policy, and responsibility.

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