Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Column Summer 2002

Editor’s Column Summer 2002

Practically from the moment President Bush identified the “axis of evil,” the war on terrorism began to encounter complications. In hindsight, President Bush’s State of the Union address on January 29 marks a kind of high water mark of resolve and clarity. When it was delivered, U.S. forces were completing the mop-up operations in Afghanistan and a pro-West government was being inaugurated there.

The international response since has ranged from silence to open skepticism to outright opposition. NATO unity has shown strains, and cracks have appeared even in the British-U.S. consensus. The new complexities confronting Washington became unmistakable in the course of Vice President Cheney’s 11-nation overseas tour in late March. His mission was to sound out coalition partners in the area about the feasibility of a “phase two”— operations to bring about “regime change” in Iraq. By all accounts, Cheney’s proposals regarding Iraq were met with suggestions that the United States instead focus on the Israel-Palestinian crisis. In deference to these pressures, Washington has shifted gears, devoting extraordinary efforts over the past several weeks to come to grips with the terrorism and chaos in Israel.

Meanwhile, the once well-defined U.S. war on terrorism has become muddled. American diplomatic efforts on behalf of a cease-fire in Israel and a renewal of the peace process have intensified, not lessened, diplomatic pressures on the U.S. to curb Israeli military operations and to quit the West Bank. Along with Iraqi-led threats of oil embargoes, it is apparent that long before any phase two, Saddam has apparently achieved one of the principal objectives in the 1991 Gulf War: undermining Arab support for a coalition by linking his survival to the Palestinian cause and to OPEC control of Persian Gulf oil.

With the war news taking a disheartening turn, it would be foolhardy to venture predictions about what the situation might be at the time this issue appears. But I hazard this: time will show that Saddam’s strategic calculations will  prove no better than they have proved in the past. Saddam ordered the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 calculating that the “Vietnam syndrome” would inhibit an American response. This time, his calculation seems to be that the combination of NATO disunity, ambivalence about Israel—particularly in Europe—and concerns about oil boycotts will wreck any coalition the U.S. attempts to muster behind phase two. By the time this issue appears, events are likely to have proven Saddam wrong again; the campaign of pressure on Israel could boomerang and have the unintended consequence of restoring the clarity of purpose so absent early this spring.

The Palestinian terror campaign presents a clear and present danger to Israel’s existence. No state can long tolerate suicide bombings in its major cities every other day. Among other things, decades of peace-making efforts, vital to Israel’s long-range future, have been undone. The crisis in Israel will divert military and diplomatic energies and resources, including U.S. military resources.

On the other hand, the serious threat to Israel posed by Palestinian terrorism tends to simplify the choices facing Americans. And it is possible—even likely—that it will simplify choices for NATO. Between Hamas and Israel, there is no choice, from the American or the NATO perspective. By polarizing the region in this way, the terrorists and their state sponsors (principally Saddam, who is offering bounties to the families of suicide bombers—the apotheosis of “state-supported terrorism”) will revitalize the NATO consensus; one of war now, peace later.

But this eventual result is unlikely to come about automatically. Indeed, the United States faces strategic and tactical choices this spring that will probably determine the duration and intensity of this war. The sequence of American actions is impossible to predict, but what is most needed—and most likely to happen—are American initiatives to define the new clarity in American terms. That should probably begin with accepting the inevitable conclusion that America’s mediation role in the area has become pointless. More importantly, it has become counterproductive. The intifida is in fact intimately linked to the war on terrorism in which the United States and Israel now find themselves allied in ways reminiscent of the British and Americans in World War II.

The reality of this war does not obviate the long-range problems of devising ways that Israel can live in peace with its neighbors and  achieving stable relations between the United States and the other powers in the area. But long-range solutions await the outcome of this test of arms.

To temporize in the face of this fact is to invite more powerful challenges and to prolong the war. How can the United States simultaneously be a belligerent in the war on terrorism and seek deals with terrorists? This mix of roles fuels Arab anger about American “hypocrisy” as well as a widespread impression that America fears an oil cutoff. And it confuses Europe. Indeed, the real challenge in the coming months will be restoring common purpose within NATO. And I don’t think a less “simplistic” policy that rewards terrorism with political gains is the way to do it.

A significant but temporary role reversal has taken place this spring. Europe suddenly finds itself on the sidelines of this war in much the way the Americans were on the sidelines in the early phases of World War II, for the same reasons. British appeasement in the late 1930s was an uncertain trumpet which greatly enhanced “America First” sentiment in the United States. In the Chamberlain era, a majority of Americans reasoned that if the British could see a diplomatic solution to Hitler, then Americans should probably not interfere in a contest that did not involve major stakes anyway. The British policy of appeasement temporarily allowed Americans to avoid choosing between the stark alternatives posed by the coming conflict.

Today, America’s mediation in Israel may be influencing European sentiment in the same way. So long as the United States pursues negotiations and cease-fires with Arafat and imposes limits on Israel’s right of self-defense, Europe is allowed to ask “why jeopardize European good will in the region?” Clarity would mean this: There is no “give” in U.S. support for Israel. At all costs, the United States will defend the existence of Israel and Israel’s right to sovereignty within the borders of Israel as ultimately fixed, by international conferences if possible or by U.S.-Israeli agreement if that is necessary. Nor is there any  “give” in U.S. determination to mount phase two and bring state sponsors of terror, namely Iraq, to account.

Clarity on these matters is inevitable for several reasons. U.S. domestic political considerations in favor of decisive action in the war on terrorism will compel it. Second, Israeli morale requires it. Third, Saddam’s survival strategy preordains it. Lastly, when clarity of purpose—so instrumental in Afghanistan—is regained, America can again look to broad NATO support, even active support, which would ease the task of victory and hasten the eventual settlements so vital to the future of the region. The certain trumpet of a U.S.-Israeli alliance would present EU with the stark alternatives Europe actually faces: filling the mediation role left vacant by the United States, thereby taking on the problem of satisfying Arafat’s demands, or lending support for the U.S. and phase two.

Faced with this choice, it is unthinkable that Europe would forsake the United States, or Israel either for that matter. Indeed, Saddam’s specific error this time may well lie in his appraisal of the Europeans. Pressure on Israel, in the end, may very well show that Europe’s commitment to Israel’s existence is profoundly based and no less firm than ours.

In short, events in the next months will show whether the terrorist strategy of polarizing the Middle East can wear down Israel and the United States while shielding Saddam and frightening Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. I doubt it will work. It seems more likely to strengthen U.S.-Israeli ties while restoring NATO unity, which has been problematical since the Afghanistan campaign. But American clarity is necessary. Without it, America will continue to improvise in a role that may be inspiring the current violence, dividing NATO and feeding the impression that the West fears the loss of Persian Gulf oil above all else. A frank acknowledgment of American purposes and resumption of the war will happen eventually. To paraphrase Churchill, if it is going to happen eventually, why not now?

By late summer, the war on terror could be bogged down in places like Afghanistan or on the verge of attacking Iraq. Either way, it is certain the war will not be over, but will be engaging U.S. efforts on many fronts. And whatever the successes and failures in the next few months, it is clear that after a decade of neglect, U.S. foreign policy has reemerged as a front-burner topic.

In these pages

In this issue, we take a look at a number of war topics, but also at a couple of foreign policy questions set aside in the wake of September 11 and likely to reclaim attention.

We are pleased to welcome several new authors to the pages of Orbis in this issue, which examines the philosophical foundations for current international initiatives, assesses strategic considerations in the war on terrorism, and looks forward to long-range issues beyond the war. Gary Dempsey of the Cato Institute examines the rationale for nation building and finds it lacking as a tool for achieving the United States’ national security strategy. John Hulsman and Sudabeh Koochekzadeh of the Heritage Foundation propose a global free trade association to build on the U.S.-UK special relationship. John Fonte of the Hudson Institute looks at the state of liberal democracy in the West and proposes a new dimension be added to the conceptual framework of international politics—the struggle between the American/Anglo-American and the continental European models of governance.

On the defense side, Peter Roman of ANSER Institute for Homeland Security assesses U.S. preparedness against biological terrorism, and Peter Dombrowski, Andrew Ross, and Eugene Gholz of the Naval War College outline the changes needed in the defense industry to achieve the transformation of the military needed for twenty-first century conflicts.

Regionally, Richard Russell of the National Defense University surveys ballistic missiles and defenses in the Middle East and South Asia, Steven Rosefielde of the University of North Carolina considers the prospects for Russia’s military industrial revival, and Denny Roy of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies considers China’s role in the war on terrorism.

Looking southward, Rensselaer Lee, a contract researcher for the Congressional Research Service and a senior fellow at FPRI, looks at the failures of the U.S. counternarcotics policy in the Andes, and George Grayson of the College of William and Mary, an FPRI associate scholar, assesses Mexico as it relates to U.S. interests.

Finally, Robert McGeehan of the Institute for U.S. Studies in London surveys recent books on relations among Europe, Britain, and the United States, and Stephen Schuker of the University of Virginia reviews Henry Kissinger’s Does America Need a Foreign Policy? and Robert McNamara and James Blight’s Wilson’s Ghost.

By the time our next issue comes out, in late September 2002, the war on terrorism will be in its second year. Along with articles on the many issues involved in this war, we will be continuing over the next few issues to look at China-Taiwan relations; Russia’s foreign policy; Spain, where Basque separatists renewed their terrorist activities with attacks in March; Latin America and the renewed terrorism in Colombia and Peru; and the elections to be held later this spring in many nations. As you can see, Orbis continues its commitment to cover the broad range of U.S. foreign policy issues, beyond the war on terrorism itself.