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Kristol, Manent Debate Policy Issues

Philosopher and editor discuss American foreign policy

By James S. Davis, Crimson Staff Writer

Conservative magazine editor William Kristol ’73 and French political philosopher Pierre Manent engaged in cordial debate over their contrasting views on foreign policy yesterday at the Center for European Studies.

At the event—entitled “Should American Foreign Policy Try to Make the World More Democratic?”—Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and Manent, a visiting professor at Boston College, discussed their different views of American involvement in the Middle East.

Manent compared America’s current role to European powers’ pre-World War I colonialism.

But Kristol countered that the European colonization had been an optional endeavor, while America responded to a perceived security threat in the Middle East.

Manent noted that since France has turned its back on previous colonization policies, “We do not have the stomach” to participate in the invasion of Iraq.

Even Kristol seemed to indicate doubts about the Iraq war—a war that has come to be so closely associated with him and his neoconservative movement, saying on one occasion that “we can debate” the wisdom of the invasion.

Manent expressed skepticism that Western democracy could ever be forcibly imposed upon societies like Iraq that have not made the “spiritual decisions” of America, England and France to adopt democracy.

Kristol defended America’s efforts to promote worldwide democracy. He agreed with Manent that the Middle East is not very receptive to American conceptions of democracy, but said that the United States had to promote change after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Far more than Europeans, Kristol said, Americans continue to believe in the traditional nation-state, hold the military in high regard, spend substantially on defense and profess religious faith.

Even though the Cold War glossed these differences over with anti-Soviet unity, he said, it is not surprising Europe and the United States do not see eye-to-eye on foreign policy issues.

Manent noted that French people are more religious than Americans commonly assume, but added that the French consider religion to be more of a private matter than Americans do.

Kristol criticized Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., contrasting the “broad conclusions” President Bush drew from the terrorist attacks with the “narrow conclusions” of Kerry, who has emphasized the need to hunt Osama bin Laden himself rather than take on Middle Eastern states such as Iraq.

If Kerry is elected, Kristol claimed, Kerry will have no choice but to go after broader targets than bin Laden himself. Transatlantic relations will deteriorate more than ever when Kerry is unable to garner French and German support for American involvement in the Middle East, Kristol said.

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