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

Editor’s Column Summer 2003

As this issue goes to press, coalition forces are proclaiming victory in Iraq. So in a matter of slightly less than four weeks, American, British, Australian, and Polish forces engaged and overran the entire Iraqi army, drove Saddam from Baghdad, occupied all of the principal cities, and established a cease-fire throughout the country. Lately, coalition forces have been fanning out in search of fugitive regime leaders and wmd. As U.S. and coalition forces move to restore order and basic services, breathless newspaper and television commentators weigh the question, “Is Syria next?”

Realistically, however, as the tumult and the fighting die down, the serious questions being discussed bear on the problem of “winning the peace.” Debate has resumed about Iraq’s postwar future, featuring arguments that parallel the prewar debates. Prewar critics insist on a quick transition to un control followed by a prompt transfer of authority to indigenous Iraqi elements. But what makes those who so grossly exaggerated the dangers of war now qualified to set the terms of peace? Generally, Iraq—like Afghanistan—is an occupied country, but the coalition occupiers have arrived as “liberators.” What will “liberation” ultimately entail? Popular government, even if that means anti-U.S. and anti-Western Iraq? The coalition will not stand for that; the un may not endorse anything but that.

Other immediate questions involve control over Iraqi oil fields, the lifting of un sanctions, the repair of buildings, and the resumption of work.

Critics notwithstanding, “liberation” will not mean rapid withdrawal of coalition forces, which continue to arrive and seem set for a stay lasting at least 6–12 months. And schemes for a rapid transition to democratic self-rule have to reckon with the reality of decades, if not centuries, of misrule; misrule that has left Iraq and Iraqis socially, economically, and politically exhausted and hollowed out. At each stage in the course of reconstruction, the Iraqis will be consulted for advice; but ultimately, the prescription for Iraq will not be left entirely to the patients. A postwar Iraq must adhere to standards that will be set not by Iraqis but by others that insure that Iraq—like Afghanistan—will not reemerge as a threat to Iraqis, the region, or the United States and its allies.

In a fundamental sense, the peace has already been won. Coalition forces have given life to America’s pledge, voiced by President Bush in the wake of 9/11, to bring terrorists—along with governments harboring them—to justice. The example of Iraq means this to hostile governments: coddle, or truck with, terrorists who kill Americans or wage war on the American economy or on American forces overseas, or who assault and/or destroy America’s iconic buildings and places, and your regime will be destroyed. To terrorists, the example of the past eighteen months means that at best, terrorists who pass through our sights can plan on a long stay at Guantanamo.

In the final analysis, a victorious peace is defined by a war’s purpose: in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the war’s purpose was the defense of America and our allies, economy, way of life, and heritage. Never again will elements staging from Afghanistan or Iraq threaten any of those things. So the main battles of the current war on terror have probably been fought and won. The war will probably begin to fade.

As the all-pervasive cloud of terrorism begins to lift, we are likely to see that the wider ramifications of the war will be less fundamental than has been supposed. Its results, over time, are likely to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. To begin with, America’s campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have set a high bar for military actions in self-defense; the 9/11 attacks were not merely efforts to kill Americans or disrupt American cities but a supreme provocation; an assault on American symbols. Despite the provocation, America sought friends and carefully consulted international bodies before taking action. The early actions enjoyed wide support; the Iraqi action enjoyed narrower support. But apprised of America’s determination, no one interfered, and American forces did have the sturdy support of British, Polish, and Australian allies. France, Germany, Russia, and China expressed shades of disapproval of Iraqi Freedom, but none have criticized the outcome. Nato will change, but changes in nato are long overdue. Un weaknesses have been exposed, but as it undertakes various roles in postwar reconstruction, bygones will become bygones. Clear rules have been clarified, consistent with un conventions and resolutions: state sponsorship of terrorism is illegal and punishable; smallish states with records of bad behavior will not be permitted to develop or possess wmd; war criminals cannot escape punishment. Not one functioning member of the un would disagree with these principles, and the principles apply to all. Should terrorists destroy the Eiffel Tower, France may act. If terrorists succeed in destroying the Kremlin, Russia has a free hand provided Russia’s aim is reasonably straight. If terrorists destroy the Forbidden City, China can count on international acquiescence if not approval of appropriate actions taken in self-defense. If victimized nations refer grievances to the un, they can expect cautious advice; but if they act, there will be future coalitions of the willing.

In short, one should not read too much into a diplomatic fracas at the un that amounted to an effort to shape the political fallout, in anticipation of preordained military actions the moment the North Tower collapsed. At present, there is a “house divided” among the permanent members of the Security Council. “Socialist” governments are therefore understandably reluctant to “legitimate” the popular actions of a “conservative” U.S. president who stood to gain immensely from the inevitable campaign of retribution. But no one expects the house to fall, only that it cease to be so divided.

If there have been errors in recent months, there is blame on all sides. Was America completely candid about its legitimate sense of grievance in the wake of 9/11? Had the American government expressed the full sense of its outrage over the Arab-backed assault on Israel which came close to rendering America’s closest ally in the Middle East uninhabitable in spring 2002? Were others too quick to exploit America’s lack of candor in order to score political points? Possibly. But at no point did the U.S. Congress mistake President Bush’s resolve, and the un did acquiesce.

If it is a mistake to overstate the damage of Iraqi Freedom to the un and nato, it would be equally mistaken to underestimate the potential of future harm in the days to come. Military forays, though provoked, have a way of creating new realities and obligations that are difficult to separate from the passions aroused behind war. National honor and security—not doing good unto others—animated Iraqi Freedom. It would be a mistake to pretend that the good likely to come of it in terms of Iraq’s future and in terms of regional peace are the products of a sustained grand design. In the coming months, it will be well to recall occasionally that the undeniable good that America has accomplished in the world has been incidental to actions taken by America on its own behalf.

America’s war on terror is not and cannot be a crusade to reshape the politics and attitudes of other countries. How can America uplift others in directions toward which Americans refuse to be uplifted themselves? America’s principles of liberty set limits on what Americans do abroad; governments are constituted to dispense impartial justice; to defend life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments are obliged to provide for common defense and broadly authorized to provide for “general welfare” as the circumstances warrant. Beyond that, governments cannot force people to produce wealth or coerce love of truth or hatred of error; the task of a government, on the contrary, is to protect us from coercion by those who would.

In that spirit, the current issue of Orbis delves into postwar questions, technical and general, that will confront Americans in the months to come. What is to be done in Iraq and the strategic Middle East region to constitute a responsible and stable postwar government capable of filling the power vacuum now being filled by coalition troops? What is next in places like Syria and Korea? How will the successful campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq affect America’s long-range interests?

Setting the broader context for the regional U.S. foreign policy challenges discussed in this issue, Claes Ryn identifies the Jacobin and Wilsonian heritage of the “American empire” school, and notes the dangers of following this neo-Jacobin path. Now that the war in Iraq has been won, Ryn urges President Bush to return to the kinder, humbler foreign policy stance that characterized his presidential campaign.

Paul Bracken addresses the structural distinctions demarcating the post–Cold War “second nuclear age” from the first nuclear age, along with their implications for American foreign policy. His survey is not only useful, it is a timely reminder that America occupies high ground in this second nuclear age, having just concluded a war by conventional means to prevent proliferation of wmd.

Turning then to the Middle East, Ray Takeyh and Nikolas Gvosdev look at the prospects for the “democratic thesis” and Pax Americana there. They are skeptical whether democratic regimes in the region can also be “friendly” regimes by American standards.

Likewise, Susanne Martikke assesses the prospects for Iraq’s postwar reconstruction, arguing for an effort to achieve consensus among the nations of the region, who have a significant stake in how Iraq is handled. Martikke also looks back on 1441 and assesses the difficulties that America encountered in trying to move the Security Council toward enforcement. America’s rise from superpower to hyperpower status is itself an obstacle to consensus.

Gawdat Bahgat reviews the long history of Saudi Arabia’s meeting most of the United States’ oil needs and explains why, notwithstanding increased Russian production, the West will continue to be dependent on Middle Eastern oil for the foreseeable decades. Again, winning the peace in Iraq is going to matter, because alternatives—Russian oil or hydrogen powered cars—cannot adequately bridge U.S. oil needs in the near-term future.

Ronald Bruce St John revisits Libya under Muammar al-Qaddafi and considers its prospects for rehabilitation in the international community. His article should be read in conjunction with Takeyh and Gvosdev’s piece (above). While no one would call Qaddafi a “liberal autocrat,” St John’s analysis tends to support the idea that autocratic governments in the area may not be inherently aggressive.

The war on terror of course goes beyond the Middle East. Justine Rosenthal presents a case-by-case analysis of our current and potential allies in the war on terror in Southeast Asia, and also those countries that pose particular terrorism breeding-ground potential. And the potential is high: Rosenthal outlines why Southeast Asia could in the end prove as vexing as it did thirty years ago for the United States.

Meanwhile, Northeast Asia poses the threat of nuclear confrontation. This year, which marks the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Korean War, finds North Korea high on, if not leading, most analysts’ shortlists of security threats to be dealt with in the aftermath of Iraq. Once again, America the hyperpower poses obstacles by its very presence. America also holds the keys to a settlement of this vital regional issue. Moreover, David Kang explains why North Korea does not pose quite the threat to the United States as is generally believed.

Seongji Woo optimistically evaluates South Korea’s new version of former president Kim Dae Jung’s “sunshine policy” toward North Korea under its new president, Roh Moo Hyun. Woo sees good prospects for reconciliation, if the nuclear issue can be resolved.

Completing this Asian section, Gil Rozman examines Japan’s “restless search for new security relationships,” which poses quiet challenges for the United States. This is a vital look at the U.S.-Japanese relationship, which remains the most important bilateral relationship in Asia. It specifically examines the stakes of independent U.S. and Japanese stances toward North Korea.

Perhaps one of the biggest quiet casualties of 9/11 has been Latin America, which has suffered relative neglect by the United States since then and seen promising hemispheric initiatives languish. Stephen Schuker surveys recent developments in the ongoing Latin American debt crisis, concluding that while it is too soon to say whether this “burgeoning ‘axis of populism’ will become an ‘axis of malversation,’ ” its recent “flirtation with dependency theory, perfervid nationalism, and quasi-voluntary default is unlikely to be its last.”

Finally, Bruce Berkowitz spoke with Bob Woodward to discuss how the Bush at War author just keeps doing it. Bush at War (November 2002) provided insights into the administration’s decision-making process after 9/11 that will no doubt become all the more valuable as we unravel how and when the administration determined to commence military operations against Iraq this spring. Berkowitz perceptively points out the limitations of Woodward-style “instant history.” On the other hand, there is no doubt reading this book that while Europe slept, Bush was well along in waging a successful war on terror in the cause of a safer world.