Contemporary conservatism is haunted by the ghosts of sounds, an echo of Sen. Robert Taft's foreign policy. The Taft Doctrine has not had a large conservative following for nearly four decades, since the late 1940s, when, prompted by the Berlin Blockade and the coup in Prague, conservatives joined Democrats in an activist, interventionist, "globalist" consensus.
During Vietnam, Democrats defected in droves,hanistan, Angola, Cambodia and similar Third World hot spots," and "there is no Third World region or country whose loss would decisively tip the superpower balance against America," and "the loss of Central America would not decisively affect America's core security." Note the flinching, in the form of modifiers: "vital," "decisively," "core."
Obviously no single Third World problem, considered alone, is crucial. Equally obviously, such problems cannot be considered alone.
The Reagan Doctrine, as Layne characterizes it, is that U.S. security requires an "ideologically congenial world." Hence the United States must attempt to build "American- style democracies" in Third World countries. Layne says that "real" conservatives believe, for example, that Nicaragua should not be allowed to become a Soviet satellite exporting revolution, but they do not believe U.S. interests are threatened by Sandinista domestic policies "in and of themselves."
Here is indeed the nub of the difference. The crux of the Reagan Doctrine is that a communist regime's domestic policies cannot be considered "in and of themselves." They are part of a seamless web of aggressive behavior, a single dynamic of aggression against captive subjects and vulnerable nations.
The president believes "history has shown that democratic nations do not start wars." His assumption is that regimes respectful of fundamental personal rights will be shaped by the popular will and hence will lack an aggressive disposition. His premise -- that the popular will is generally pacific -- is questionable in particular cases, such as 1914, but it is true enough.
Layne believes that adherents to the Reagan Doctrine have fallen into a "time warp that has transported them back to the early 1950s." He means they have not accommodated their thinking to the relative decline of U.S. power and the lessons of Vietnam. But Layne, who counts George Kennan among the "real" conservatives, seems stuck in the 1940s.
The Reagan Doctrine is "containment plus." It is the postwar policy of containment, plus two insights. The first insight is that the original exposition of containment -- by Kennan nearly 40 years ago -- was too sanguine in hoping that Russian culture would mellow the Soviet regime. The second insight is that mere containment is, therefore, too passive. It is too compatible with the Brezhnev Doctrine, which holds that all Soviet gains are irreversible.
Thus the Reagan Doctrine is tradition modified in the light of evidence. That is real conservatism.