Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Editor’s Column Winter 2003

Editor’s Column Winter 2003

When America declares war, debates about policy questions, including foreign policy, are suspended, subordinated to the cause of winning the war. After fourteen months of “semi-war,” Congress endorsed an ultimatum to Iraq and vested President Bush with powers to enforce it. The Congressional Joint Resolution confirms that a major war is underway, a war of global reach and one that that will reorder both the international scene and American foreign policy.

Every important U.S. relationship is engaged. In his September 12 address at the United Nations, President Bush dwelled on the shortcomings of the UN and challenged the international body to become “relevant.” America’s relations within the UN may improve in the months and years ahead, but it seems unlikely the UN will ever be quite the same. In September, after months of bickering within NATO, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder promised to withhold German support from any U.S. attack on Iraq—and was reelected. The war on terror has required America to reassess its relations with not only NATO, but also Latin America, the Arab states, and South Asia.

The conflict is also transforming domestic U.S. law. By declining to declare a general state of war and confining the president’s authority to Iraq, Congress revived the War Powers Act and, more important, reserved for itself the right to pass judgment on every phase of the ongoing war. Perhaps the ambiguities of the situation require it; but constitutional practice and the conventional understanding of the president’s commander-in-chief role in wartime has been altered.

Something else is new, too. For the first time since Teddy Roosevelt (or the second time, depending on how one categorizes the 1990–91 Gulf War), America is entering such a “long twilight struggle” under a Republican leader. This reverses the pattern set in four major twentieth-century conflicts that Robert Dole famously called “Democrat wars.” Typically, it has been a Democratic president who leads the country into costly and sprawling overseas engagements, followed by a Republican president who puts an end to the conflict and fashions a peace in the spirit of preventing any such type conflict from happening again. The exception was World War II, but even in that case, Harry Truman, an uneasy successor to Roosevelt, had to cope with a Republican dominated 80th Congress that pretty well set the tone and agenda for the immediate postwar era.

Generally idealistic to a fault and imprudent, but imbued with energy and vision, Democratic presidents in the twentieth century functioned best when the challenge was mobilizing the country for action. The more hard-nosed and realistic Republicans functioned best when the time came to reorder American commitments in the aftermath and to forge arrangements to “keep the peace.” This rhythm stemmed from the truism that the longer and more agonizing the war and the more fundamental its outcome, the more the incumbent administration will have exhausted its credit and the more certain it becomes that the opposition will take charge of the peace.

This time it may be different. With the hard-nosed Republicans in charge at the outset of the war, maybe the war’s outcome will be less agonizing and fundamental in its outcome. But opportunities to “declare victory” and quit have come and gone and the war intensifies. The intensification of the war increases the prospect of a complete role reversal: a Republican-led war followed by a Democrat-fashioned peace. This is why Al Gore’s late September speech to the Council on Foreign Relations should be read carefully. In it, Gore offered important clues as to the thinking of a party that has been cast as the loyal opposition today but stands a better than even chance to inherit power when at last America can declare victory.

Gore was widely derided and criticized as being out of step for this speech. But his main error may be that he was continuing to approach the Iraq question as a foreign policy matter. If Iraq were strictly a foreign policy issue, amenable to diplomatic solutions, then Gore’s speech, calling for a go-slow approach and patient diplomacy under the auspices of the UN, would have been influential. Right now, however, Saddam and Iraq pose military and strategy questions, not foreign policy questions. The speech was therefore unpersuasive, even to a significant number of Democrats. Someday, Iraq will be a foreign policy question again, and when that day comes, Gore’s speech will be relevant.

Strangely, the one foreign policy idea to emerge in recent months that seems certain to endure is the one that has drawn the most fire: namely, the “preemption doctrine.” President Bush’s idea of “preemption,” first outlined in his West Point commencement address last June, is neither unprecedented nor “uniquely American,” as Gore puts it. The principle of preemption is endorsed in the opening chapter of the UN Charter, which declares that the UN’s fundamental purpose is “to maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace” (emphasis added). The Charter goes on to recognize the inherent right, pending Security Council action, of self-defense and of collective self-defense by member states via arrangements or agencies (Article 52) “for dealing with . . . maintenance of international peace and security . . . provided that such arrangements are consistent with the purposes and principles of the [UN].” And that defines President Bush’s exact purpose in his September 12 speech at the UN: to assert America’s right of collective self-defense via arrangements with countries in the Middle East region pending Security Council action to give effect to its own resolutions on Iraq, and to question the effectiveness of Security Council enforcement procedures in light of the dozen-plus Security Council resolutions already passed regarding Iraq’s threat to the peace. Since the word “preemption” itself does not appear in the Charter, Bush’s use of that word may have sounded aggressive. But Bush is not in the diplomacy business these days; he is in the mobilization business.

In substance, neither the West Point speech nor any presidential speeches since, including the UN speech, contain anything startling about the future direction of U.S. foreign policy, for one simple reason: for the moment, foreign policy considerations are beside the point: the problem at the moment is winning the war. Winning the peace will come later.

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Since Labor Day, the administration has advanced steadily toward confrontation with Iraq. The president’s September 12 speech at the UN was the opening salvo of a campaign that has steadily picked up tempo. Not surprisingly, complications have cropped up. First, statements against the war by, among others, former vice president Al Gore and former president Bill Clinton. The House and Senate vote, after a perfunctory debate, revealed nothing like unanimity behind the president’s position that Iraq must be brought to compliance by any means necessary. In the past week, as Orbis goes to press, North Korean officials have disclosed the existence of a secret nuclear weapons production program, in violation of the U.S.–North Korean accords of 1994; major terrorist attacks have struck Yemen and Bali; a sniper has paralyzed life in the Washington, D.C.–Richmond area. In the past ninety-six hours, there are reports that Israel and the United States are developing a combined operation to remove Iraqi missile sites in western Iraq and Kurdish leaders have announced their intention to declare an independent Kurdistan, fulfilling the direst scenarios of the chaos likely to ensue if and when the United States moves on Saddam. In sum, since our last issue, it has become apparent that:

  • America is at war;
  • America’s relationships with NATO and the UN will be transformed in the course of the war;
  • A U.S.-led attack on Iraq to disarm and partition that nation, now a matter of time, will leave American forces in a direct occupation role in the heart of the Middle East, thereby transforming America’s relationship with the countries of that region;
  • The prospect that a phase II against Iraq will culminate the war on terror has vanished with North Korea’s disclosures.
  • Southeast Asia has emerged as a war front;
  • The United States has asserted that as part of its national security strategy it will maintain its current military and strategic predominance everywhere, a doctrine that invites challenge.
  • A U.S.-Israeli military front, in defiance of all conventional wisdom about the Middle East, has been formed and will play a major role in the forthcoming confrontation.

The Strategy Debates

With foreign policy debates on hold, the focus is on strategy and the schools of strategy that sustain various versions of the current war and foreshadow the foreign policy schools that will contend when the war passes its peak. As with the “great debates” preceding and following America’s major twentieth-century wars, two major schools of strategy have emerged in the past few months, each associated with a major party.

The “Al Qaeda first” school of strategy is associated with the Democrats. A minority position, it is championed most comprehensively by Al Gore, who views the war on terror as a problem of international law enforcement. Like all law enforcement problems, the terrorism challenge consists first in apprehending, detaining and punishing the individuals responsible for terrorist acts. The larger challenge is coming to terms with the causes of terrorism, which by Gore’s definition is “the intense, focused, and enabled hatred that brought about September 11.” The 9/11/01 attacks presumably stemmed, then, from American acts of omission and commission that deepen the perpetrators’ sense of despair. Like its limited-response forebears, “Al Qaeda first” is mainly useful as a peace-building perspective, not as a war-fighting approach. The foreign policy roots of Gore’s doctrine can be termed “soft-power Wilsonianism”: Wilsonianism with a primary emphasis on the conciliatory principle of “self-determination.” Gore advocates tolerance, non-intervention, a reactive posture on security matters, and pursuing national aims through supranational entities, namely the UN. “American aims” for these purposes are assuring that the world see Americans as friendly and tolerant people.

Gore’s brand of Wilsonianism can serve positive functions. It warns against the dangers of overextending and exceeding manageable priorities, and reminds that how the war is fought can be almost as important as winning the war itself, especially since an open-ended conflict risks making enemies needlessly. But ultimately the “Al Qaeda first” strategy is inadequate for war-fighting purposes. It deprecates the importance of hostile nations who profit by terrorism and employ it as a war-fighting technique. “Al Qaeda first” does lay the groundwork for an ultimate settlement and a postwar foreign policy, since foreign policy by definition cannot be unilateralist. The UN is an organization designed to prevent war. Though it is irrelevant to the conduct of wars, its peacekeeping, humanitarian intervention, and law enforcement functions will matter, when law enforcement and preempting future threats to the peace become relevant again.

The “Iraq next” school is the majority position articulated by President Bush and endorsed by the Congressional Joint Resolution, which gained practically the unanimous support of Republicans and the grudging support of many Democrats. It embodies a national perspective and justifies unilateral action by the United States in self-defense. From the beginning, President Bush has emphasized that 9/11/01, while an irrational act of hatred by a few, was a state-sponsored phenomenon and a war-making tool of states that are out to break America’s support of Israel and its position in the Gulf. Whether the acts of war were prompted by hatred, despair, or merely envy is immaterial; the calculation behind it poses a test of America’s capacity and willingness to defend interests proclaimed vital to it since the Carter doctrine. Whereas Gore’s concept of an antiterror coalition embraces the entire UN, the “Iraq next” school emphasizes the military aspects of the war and coalition arrangements, excluding all but those nations with vital interests in the outcome, such as Israel, Turkey, and Jordan.

The foreign policy basis of this school can be called “hard-power Wilsonianism,” which emphasizes democracy and the universal link between self-government and human dignity. In embracing the “democratic peace” concept, hard-power Wilsonianism obliges democracies to band together to make the world “safe for democracy.” Hard-power Wilsonianism is an inspirational doctrine, the kind of idea that animates fighting forces and sustains support on the home front in a prolonged contest overseas, but it is not a prudent doctrine. It is an expansionary, extolling the uniqueness of America and America’s prerogatives as a chosen nation. While it has never, despite its claims, been the basis for peace, hard-power Wilsonianism is a better approach to wartime.

When will peace come? The prospect of a total victory over Iraq, either imposed by military action or achieved by peaceful capitulation to American demands, will provide the country its next and perhaps best chance to declare victory. But given the events of recent weeks, Iraq, phase II of the conflict, leads logically to a phase III and a phase IV. The cardinal virtue of the “Iraq Next” school is the implicit reminder that while the way the war is waged matters, victory matters more. Only with victory can America regain normalcy of a kind and with it, a post-war foreign policy debate equal in stature to the “great debates” of the past.

In These Pages

This issue of Orbis is primarily concerned with strategy questions likely to the current in the coming months and perhaps years. Managing ethnic conflict and state building, anti-insurgency warfare, planning for casualties and so on are topics widely discussed in the context of the war. Bob Zelnick reports on key developments in Israel, where the second intifada is steadily being brought under control—an important preliminary to U.S.-Israeli common strategy in the effort against Iraq. The Israeli moves into the West Bank have dealt a crippling blow to the Palestinian Authority, and America’s dismissal of Arafat as a negotiating partner lays the basis for intimate cooperation with Israel on a policy of democratic enlargement in the area.

Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings contributes a significant piece on estimating, with existing methodologies, the casualty rates to expect in the kind of conflict likely to ensue in Iraq and elsewhere. The casualty costs are invariably going to be weighed against the benefits when entertaining the idea of a “regime change.” Questions about casualties have become a permanent factor in strategy making. While precision is not possible, even defining a range of possible outcomes highlights the tactical and strategic choices Americans face. Among the important implications of O’Hanlon’s conclusions is the question what will happen if U.S. forces meet a severe tactical reversal. Will the draft be reinstituted?

Alec Rasizade writes about the “great game” in Central Asia, which the United States has entered as part of the war on terror. Of all the legacies of this conflict, that the U.S. now has bases in Central Asia may be the most important one. This promises many complications with the Chinese and Russians lasting well beyond the accomplishment of immediate objectives in Afghanistan. Just as the United States replaced France in Indochina in the early 1950s, it now replaces Russia in this region, with all the attendant problems. As yet, the American presence is small, but as the Vietnam War showed, it is never too early to begin focusing on the geopolitics of exotic places which may in time engage America’s attention. Has America’s arrival in Central Asia raised misleading expectations of would-be regional powers such as Uzbekistan? If it is to make good on pledges to stay in Afghanistan to help mend that country, then the United States is enmeshed in the rivalries, vested interests, and major power dynamics of the region. With its Caspian oil and growing Islamism, it is an area of the world where American, Chinese, Russian, and Iranian interests intersect.

The war on terror has already come at a cost in terms of derailing the major foreign policy initiatives of the early Bush presidency. As governor of Texas, candidate Bush pledged that special attention would be given to the burgeoning challenges along the southern U.S. border. President Bush moved early on to institutionalize a special relationship with Mexican president Vicente Fox. Finding his way back to that initial emphasis is likely to prove very difficult. And while the war on terrorism proceeds, South America, once a promising arena for open market/free enterprise thinking and spreading democratization, has encountered disaster. Neglect of Latin America will exact a high price in terms of terrorist challenges, anti-American populism, democratic failures, and narcoterrorism. Antonio Hsiang takes a searching look at the overall picture in Latin America at the threshold of what was to be a new “century of the Americas.” The idea of extending NAFTA to form a Free Trade Area of the Americas has become a casualty of not only the war on terror but also the economic failures in Brazil, Argentina, and beyond. If hemispheric policies are neglected, the countries Hsiang surveys could become as alien as the Central Asian scene described by Rasizade.

The U.S. focus on Mexico will survive the war on terror owing to the countries’ common border. Mexico could evolve as America’s premier foreign policy priority in a decade or so. Herbert Werlin takes stock of the U.S.-Mexican relationship and how trade integration and globalization have affected Mexico. His conclusions are not cheerful and add to the literature debunking the triumphalism of the late nineties epitomized in the writings of Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman, who extolled the victory of liberal democracy and the irresistible benefits of integrated markets. In Mexico, free trade has generally worsened income disparities and increased poverty. Werlin lays the primary blame for Mexico’s problems on Mexico’s governance, after decades of PRI domination prior to Fox. Will competitive politics improve the economy? Further on in this issue, former governor of Pennsylvania and U.S. attorney general Richard Thornburgh addresses the problem of rooting out corruption in an article we chose from among recent addresses that will be of interest to Orbis readers.

The link between governance and socioeconomic progress is a theme that runs through Omar Encarnación’s article on ethnic conflict in Spain. What is the link between effective democratization and a flourishing economic and social order? Encarnación examines the case of Spain, where the democratization process has been carried out successfully. The key, he writes, lies in maximum self-government and home rule, a conclusion that echoes the experience with Afghanistan’s early efforts to rebuild after the Taliban. Encarnación emphasizes the successful management of ethnic conflict through loose consociational-type governing arrangements. His analysis conforms to the emerging political and foreign policy consensus, in the United States and elsewhere, that in governmental matters, decentralization works best.

Decentralization is not only the key to productivity in the workplace and to a successful democratic order, it is also the essential principle of empire, as Peter Bender shows in an interesting essay that compares the historical fundamentals of the Roman Empire with a contemporary international system that people increasingly perceive to be a kind of informal American empire. In recent decades, Americans have reflexively rejected comparisons, relegating the study of Rome to the margins of academia and banishing such suggestions from popular culture. But with an outer world perceiving the United States in just such terms, this question is being revisited, particularly in light of the challenges to American predominance in all spheres.

Whether the American ideal has encountered an unbridgeable barrier in the clash between Islam and the West is the implicit theme of Paul Gottfried’s review essay. Is the West fundamentally incompatible with Islam? Italy faces the question squarely in the form of Muslim immigrants. Gottfried examines the recent Italian literature on this “clash of civilizations,” which books examine the underlying doctrinal differences between Islam and Christianity.

That brings us to China and East Asia, regions never far from view. Felix Chang looks at Singapore’s surprising rise as a self-sufficient military power, one that is developing the capacity not only to defend itself but also to project force in a region of growing interest. Chang’s analysis ties in with Denny Roy’s overview of U.S.-China relations, which, despite the vagaries of the war on terror, figures to emerge as the world’s most important bilateral relationship. Roy looks at U.S.-Chinese issues through the lens of the most important element in that relationship: that in relative terms, China is a rising challenger offset by the United States, an established superpower in that region and arguably a status quo power. His survey of inevitable and contingent hazards in this relationship serves as a valuable reminder that to minimize U.S.–China differences in such a dynamic situation is as unhelpful as confrontation. Here, almost uniquely these days, the United States faces a proportional decline in economic, military, and philosophical influence. In the review essay section, June Dreyer examines the latest reports on Hong Kong’s progress as an SAR, which is a critical unfolding story bearing on Taiwan, China, and ultimately the United States. The growing literature tends to confirm skeptics who believe that, since sovereignty cannot be divisible in principle or in fact, “one country, two systems” must ultimately yield to a single country and a single system.

Finally, Lynn Robinson’s review essay looks at the literature on the Pentecostal phenomenon that is sweeping wide portions of Africa and Latin America. The role of religion on politics, here and everywhere, is the great question we face as the war on terror proceeds. For this fifty-something editor, writer, and teacher, educated in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War and “new Left” politics, the reawakened religious passion Robinson writes of is a source of unending irony and wonder. But is the phenomenon of religious-based social and political movements all so different than the movements based on Marxism and other radical ideologies of several decades ago? As Robinson points out, religious faith today addresses some of the same universal needs Marxism did decades ago, which points to many universal necessities.

So considerations of the “necessary” will predominate for months, maybe years while Americans demonstrate that, in their president’s words, they refuse to live in fear. For months and maybe years, the language of strategy will crowd out policy discussions as the president and Congress weigh the costs and benefits of each war phase. But in our quiet moments, with our eyes on the future, we must be mindful of the enduring challenges we face: to manage American power and advantages constructively, to strive to make the opportunities we enjoy possible for others, and to affirm our respect for the traditions and aspirations of all. In short, as America defends its interests (as Bush insists), to stay Americans (as Gore insists).

The imperative of observing American values in the course of defending America was acknowledged in President Bush’s September 20, 2001, speech before a Joint Session of the Congress, which remains his most comprehensive statement about the war America fights and the world he envisions thereafter:

“What is expected of us? I ask you . . . to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. .  .  . [I]t is natural to wonder if America’s future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. . . . As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror, this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.”