Editor’s Column Spring 2003

First, on behalf of Orbis and FPRI, I would like to thank President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan, whose recent interview with FPRI president Harvey Sicherman appears in these pages. Elected in 2000, President Chen this past summer reignited controversies over the status of Taiwan by a series of remarks implying that his election meant a change in Taiwan’s no-independence policy. In his conversation with Chen, Harvey Sicherman sought to clarify the president’s thinking on cross-strait relations and on a variety of issues.

In these pages, President Chen reflects on a variety of questions, including the political succession underway on Taiwan signified by his election as the first president in Taiwan’s post-1949 history not to be a member of the KMT; the task of “rejuvenating” Taiwan’s economy amid a general economic slowdown; the problem of cross-strait relations, which languish in a malaise even as business and social links between Taiwan and the mainland continue to grow. Readers will be interested in his careful replies regarding the future possibilities for dialogue between Taiwan and the PRC. While asserting the “fact” of Taiwan’s sovereignty, Chen eschews the word “independence” and looks towards a “new framework for permanent peace and political integration between the two sides.” The significance of these juxtapositions, along with many other of his comments, will doubtlessly be carefully weighed. Just as doubtlessly, cross-strait relations, the subject of many recent articles in Orbis, will remain a vital long-range foreign policy challenge for the United States. With or without a war on terror, the U.S.-Sino relationship is and will remain the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and Taiwan’s future is an integral factor in that relationship.

Meanwhile, as I write, it is the third week of January and all signs point to imminent actions by the United States, Great Britain, and possibly others to bring to a head the long-running dispute involving Iraq and Saddam Hussein. On January 27, UN Weapons Inspector Hans Blix is scheduled to make a report to the UN Security Council on Iraq’s compliance with UN Resolution 1441 regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Twenty-four hours later, amid a renewed chorus of demands that he “make the case” for war, President Bush will deliver his State of the Union address to Congress. In primetime, Bush will restate the case he has made countless times this year, arguing that Saddam’s regime and Iraqi WMD are threats to the security of the United States and the world, and he will couple his case with vows of action. Anticipating war in the next thirty days, Bush will seek to shame the skeptics, to quell dissension within the UN Security Council, to preempt the peace movements proliferating across the country, and to condition the public, the UN, and Iraq’s neighbors for the coming storm.

Can war be avoided? Not likely, if only for a technical reason: the casus belli—Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN Resolution 1441 cannot, in the final analysis, be established unless and until Iraq is occupied by foreign forces, e.g. U.S. forces, and the entire country can be thoroughly searched. So a war will be necessary to prove the necessity of a war. Assuming success, American authorities and journalists can look forward to a field day of unearthing weapons caches and documenting the lurid facts of Saddam’s efforts to terrorize a region. It is conceivable that American authorities will come up with proof linking Saddam’s regime to 9/11. The post-invasion spectacle will be something, perhaps sufficiently dramatic to mend the diplomatic and political rifts caused by the interminable delay in the military buildup and by the final controversies surrounding the event.

Questions will resound in the aftermath about the delays and frustrations between Bush’s firm expression of intent in his 2002 State of the Union address and ultimate action. Were American forces really adequate at the time the United States was struck? Was the threat he outlined in that long-ago speech simply hypothetical and long-range? When did the war become imperative?

Ultimately, war seems both imminent and inevitable for a less tangible reason: put simply, enough is enough and the time has come for this phase of the war on terror to end and a new phase—a less dramatic and more sustainable phase—to begin. Absent a war fought on the scale of Vietnam or Korea, the current state of tensions cannot be sustained for more than a year or two. Because modern living involves numerous interdependencies, it is easy for political radicals, common criminals, and mischief makers to disrupt the routines of thousands, and so they do it. In the future, terrorism will be endemic in modern life, just like crime, disease, and so forth. The key distinction lies with state sponsorship of it. According to Bush’s original formulation, terrorism rises to the level of an act of war only when terrorism is sponsored by a state. Again, my feeling is that Iraq will be tied to 9/11, which may well be the real reason U.S. forces invade Iraq.

The urgency of action is now obvious. In the sixteen months since 9/11, the airwaves have been dominated by endless alerts and scares, by stories of slumping markets, bankrupted companies, the bursting of high-tech bubbles, and global economic stagnation and failures; by a steady drone of military experts who have replaced the “political strategists” of the Clinton impeachment days; and by a deepening estrangement between the United States and many U.S. friends, including several NATO allies. For sixteen months Americans have been living in a state of suspended animation, attempting to gauge the likely exactions of this so-called war. The chronic state of uncertainty has begun to tell in the polls.

According to recent polling numbers, for the first time since 9/11, President Bush’s popularity has fallen below pre-9/11 levels, a development that bears out the feeling that the “war on terror,” a boon initially to Bush’s leadership, has become a depressant on markets, on civilian morale, and on international relations between countries who have been and ought to be friends. For if 2002 was a long, dismal year, prospects for 2003 appear no less bleak. Again, the popular sentiment means that the time is at hand for “closure” on Iraq. The alternative—months and years of continued disruptions, the constant television racket, the diplomatic frustrations and estrangements—is unthinkable.

So by spring, whether by coup, invasion, or a combination of the two, the Iraqi crisis will be either solved or on a fast track toward solution. The diplomatic aftermath of U.S. and British action in the Gulf will be complex, and gradually, foreign policy questions will begin to reclaim the spotlight from crisis diplomacy and military affairs. Inescapably, the sixteen months since 9/11 will be recognized as a period in which a new foreign policy, including a redefinition of U.S. national strategy and objectives, has taken shape. The Cold War has been over for years. The globalization era may have ended with 9/11. In any event, as with similar conflicts in the past, the end of this one will spur reappraisals and foster “realism” and a renewed discussion of the basics.

Geopolitics—the study of geography and the influence of geography on the politics and culture of states—has long been something of a specialty of Orbis. As Adam Garfinkle points out in his article herein, the term “geopolitics” was first introduced to American readers by the late Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, the founder of the FPRI and Orbis, who in 1942 wrote Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power. Were he alive and a young man today, Strausz-Hupé would undoubtedly be at work on a sequel.

The cluster on geopolitics in this issue was developed around papers delivered at an FPRI conference on geography and geopolitics held in Philadelphia last April. The message of the conferees and these articles came through loud and clear: that power and success can and often do blind a people to the foundations of that success, which should be analyzed from a geopolitical perspective; that the education system in the United States seems almost calculated to draw the wool over the subjects of geography and geopolitics; that America, while advantaged from a geopolitical perspective, must understand the nature of its advantages; that understanding the geopolitics of other regions is fundamental to an effective foreign policy.

What is the case for a renewed study of geopolitics? What are some of the critical geopolitical factors likely to shape the country for decades to come?

In the lead article, FPRI president Harvey Sicherman profiles Ambassador Robert Strausz-Hupé, an extraordinary figure whose experiences over a lifetime lasting almost a century spanned the Habsburgs and 9/11/01. A naturalized American citizen, his career ranged from bond salesman in New York, university professor and geopolitical strategist in Philadelphia, and diplomat in five ambassadorships under three presidents. But it was as a thinker and strategist that Strausz-Hupé had his lasting impact.

Twenty-first-century America owes a tremendous debt to twentieth-century immigrants who came to this country and enriched the arts, science, scholarship and business. Strausz-Hupé was an example of this. In the field of strategy, he retained the distant and useful perspective of a European, again proving, as Tocqueville had in the nineteenth century, that adopted Americans and perceptive outsiders can probably explain America most clearly. As a young man, Strausz-Hupé became imbued with the unique promise of his adopted homeland. That promise was based on its endowments of people, land, and insularity. Without appreciation for those advantages and effective strategies based on the geopolitical realities of other regions, America would fail to deliver on its promise of a fresh start for Europe and the world based on American leadership and ideas. Strausz-Hupé’s venture into academia and geopolitics in the ’30s was well timed. In the late FDR era, America moved to claim its rightful role of leadership in international affairs. Both elite and popular appreciation of geopolitics became necessary. Harvey’s often poignant portrait of Strausz-Hupé’s life shows Strausz-Hupé both at the pinnacle and nadir of influence. Today, the focus of American foreign policy has shifted, but there are many threads linking his era and ours; the enduring promise of America and the familiar challenges posed by new elements, the totalitarians of our time, those who in Strausz-Hupé’s words, have “nothing to offer mankind but putrefying ideology and brute force.” Like the Nazis and Soviets, the Islamicists of today pose a protracted challenge in which a knowledge of geopolitics will prove to be an indispensable tool.

As important as the “facts” is the ability to recognize the facts. Characteristically, throughout their history Americans have fashioned aims and policies in terms that transcend the realities of time and space, and the status of geography as an academic discipline reflects it. Geography and American education is the subject of Walter McDougall’s article.

Walter’s article marks his return to the pages of Orbis after a hiatus of five issues. He has been very busy lately, completing the first volume of what is to be a history of the United States as well as a book on educators and history. Walter has also been in the news. In its January 13 issue, U.S. News & World Report devoted a cover story to the currency being given the term “empire” and America’s alleged efforts to “shape the world” in its image. The bulk of the article is an analysis of U.S. foreign policy traditions based on Walter’s Promised Land, Crusader State (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), which has emerged as a mandatory “read” on the subject area it covers. The frequency with which notions of “empire” are tossed around these days has a certain irony about it. Interestingly, in the early nineteenth century, Americans freely referred to their “empire” at a time when their newly independent republic was at its most vulnerable. After a flirtation with “imperialism,” as America gained prominence and a global American empire seemed to take shape, the term was banished and lost currency altogether. Once again, the term is back in vogue, just as the American empire faces serious challenge. It is current among thinkers who espouse Wilsonianism and what Walter termed “meliorism.” Has the time come to embrace the reality of an American empire that has existed for a century or more in all but name? Would doing so be compatible with American democratic traditions?

In Orbis, Walter focuses on a more basic question: the attitude of American educators towards geography and the geopolitical realities that underlie all perceptions of American power. In his survey, Walter highlights a key point which he attributes to Mackinder, the British geopolitician: that the significance of geopolitical facts is often a matter of how those facts are perceived. The American proclivity to transcend facts is itself a geopolitical reality. Geopolitics is a perspective that combines history, geography, economics, the study of culture and the influence of each upon the other. But there are limits to transcendence. It is one thing to transcend facts; another to ignore them altogether. The low status accorded geography in American universities amounts to myopia; geopolitics has been called the “foundation of history;” in the final analysis, he writes, “you can’t argue with it.”

In a similar vein, Jeremy Black provides a fascinating survey of historical atlases and maps; how they are designed and marketed to express themes, morals, and ideas and to appeal to popular tastes. The history of atlases and maps shows that a purely realistic geopolitical approach based on the scientific truths of geography has never and cannot be devised for simple reason that geopolitics is the interaction of geography and culture.

The most basic geopolitical fact about the United States is that it is a nation-state situated in North America that borders Mexico from the north and envelops Canada from the west and south. Anthony De Palma speculates about the future of this “reluctant trinity” and the evolving reality of growing cultural and economic interdependence between the three. Will NAFTA evolve in the direction of the EU? Will NAFTA achieve an even greater degree of cohesion than “Europe”? Definitions of “North America” are not static any more than are definitions of Europe. In a sense, De Palma’s piece is nostalgic, for in reading it, one’s mind wanders back to pre-9/11, when Mexico was the priority foreign policy concern of the brand-new Bush administration. Indeed, Mexico’s future is a main subject of his piece: whether Mexico will continue to reform and advance; whether the fusion between the United States and Mexico via economics and immigration will proceed. Because the war on terror highlights common security concerns, the Mexico priority is not quite as doomed as it seems. Geopolitics favors continued integration and fusion; looking at a map, what is striking about North America is the absence of major geographical barriers of the kind that have fragmented Europe, as Will Hay shows in his piece on Europe. The vast plains and plateaus stretching from Mexico to Hudson Bay have favored political unity in the United States and common culture and favor broader integration of the reluctant trinity. Transcending the traditions inherited by each from Spain, France, and England is the common desire to “get ahead,” a distinctive cultural trait of all three. That the factors in favor of integration of North America will overcome the diverse legacies of the past is further documented by Prof. Alan Taylor, who describes the peopling of North America. Taylor’s article describes the remarkable ability of British ideas and precepts in acculturating a diverse array of non-English settlers. By Taylor’s estimate, a greater percentage of the U.S. population is English speaking today than it was at the time of Independence.

The theoretical elements of geopolitics and their application to the Middle East is Adam Garfinkle’s focus. In the Middle East, the strategic resource is oil. In the absence of an energy policy designed to free the United States of dependence on imported oil, the United States and its NATO allies will be heavily involved in a region where the facts about the various countries and regimes has been pretty well shaped by the deserts, the river systems, and the mountains. Culture more than geography binds the United States to Europe, where the effort to achieve supranational unity has been frustrated by geopolitics. Will examines the factors that have polarized Europe between east and west, core and outer sections, factors that pose significant barriers to the idea of an EU superstate. So weak is the common European bond, he points out, that the unifying theme within EU has become the kind of anti-Americanism so evident since Bush’s inaugural.

Will Hay’s look at Europe stands in contrast to the Taylor and De Palma analyses of North America; the Mexican migration north over the past forty years has probably accomplished a greater degree of U.S.-Mexican integration than has been achieved in Europe over 2000 years. Competing definitions of Europe–and the persistence of concrete factors that sustain them–call into question whether the integration desired by many EU leaders will actually take place. Indeed, the lack of an accepted “European” identity has made anti-Americanism a rallying cry in some circles, and that seems hardly worthy of a region that for centuries paced the world in government, the arts, philosophy, exploration, and business.

Paul Weisenfeld of USAID contributes an article examining geopolitical factors in development. He writes of the profound links between culture and geography that in large part turn on the degree of “connectivity” made possible by geographical barriers. The globalists have it right in principle; the key to progress and advancement is interaction and the diffusion of ideas, made possible by open borders and geographical features that promote interactions. Tyrants readily exploit the opportunity to isolate peoples and cultures; tyranny is linked to stagnation and backwardness. The Garfinkle and Weisenfeld articles are sober reminders of the problems the United States and its allies will face after the Iraqi conflict. As Fouad Ajami writes in “Iraq and the Arabs’ Future” in the January/February 2003 Foreign Affairs, “the driving motivation of a new American endeavor in Iraq and in neighboring Arab lands should be modernizing the Arab world.” For centuries, the Arab world has “opted out” of modernization and globalization; “furious Islam” has blown in “like a deadly wind” to justify resentment and continued rejection of the West. These realities are buttressed by the effect of geography, as both Garfinkle and Weisenfeld show.

In the book review section, Prof. James Kurth reviews Patrick Buchanan’s Death of the West. Having built a career out of raising subjects that are taboo according to the polite conventions of the day, Buchanan has a knack for producing best-sellers that warrant attention. But it is the quality of Buchanan’s arguments which attracts Kurth to the topic. Simply put, Buchanan addresses questions that most people think about but are hesitant to discuss: immigration, the dark side of America’s vibrant culture, declining birth rates, and the malaise affecting Western nations in the globalization era. There is a slight irony about Buchanan’s book when taken alongside Will Hay’s piece on Europe; as Will points out, some Europeans are defining Europe these days by the ways Europe is different from the United States, while Buchanan is concerned about the ways the United States and Europe resemble each other. Kurth shares many of Buchanan’s concerns, especially with the decline of the family and religion as the bases of American communities. In one respect, Buchanan’s position has been overtaken by 9/11: open borders, one reason for the “dilution” of American and Western values, may be a thing of the past. With renationalized security and economic policies, national “distinctiveness” may be less threatened than Buchanan thinks.

Zachary Shore reviews three recent books about U.S. foreign policy written from the perspective of geopolitical “realism.” Interestingly, all three books argue against U.S. intervention in Iraq on the basis of realism. Like Buchanan, the three authors Dr. Shore reviews—John Mearsheimer, Jonathan Haslam and Stanley Michalak—are apparently on the wrong side of the Iraq issue; but in making the case against Iraq, they make a good case against going beyond Iraq. One the big questions looming over the next several months concerns President Bush’s ability to restrain the passions he has mobilized behind action in the Middle East. Sooner or later, the imperative of exacting justice and reforming Muslim societies will have to yield to prudence. These books make the case for prudence.

Finally, Bruce Berkowitz and Christopher Gray contribute reviews on recent books on Cold War history that illuminate the choices posed in today’s protracted conflict with radical Islamists. Berkowitz reviews two books on John Boyd, a legendary pilot and fighter designer who became an iconoclastic legend in the 1960s. Boyd may be the archetype of the protracted warfare warrior, an “emergency man” who is useful in crisis but must ultimately be managed. The perils of protracted conflict is the theme of Christopher Gray’s intricate review of Derek Leebaert and Andrew Bacevich’s recently published histories of the Cold War. Like the Peloponnesian War of Thucydides, beyond questions of survival and victory, the most fateful questions posed by protracted conflicts are their corrupting impact on the politics and mores of a democracy. If the Cold War and the current war on terror are analogous, judging by Gray’s careful account, the conflict faced by Americans remains in the preliminary stages, at a point before the conflict becomes self-perpetuating and destructive internally, as the Cold War did over time.