For at least the past two years, the public discussion about America’s place in the world has been almost totally focused upon the worsening U.S. war in Iraq, along with the growing U.S. confrontation with Iran. It is as if the Persian Gulf region has become the epicenter of American foreign policy, or even the black hole which has sucked all of America’s vital energies into itself.
As inconceivable as it may now seem, there will one day be a world, and an American foreign policy toward that world, after the current disaster in Iraq. As was the case after the U.S. debacle in Vietnam, the postwar American foreign policy will incorporate some “lessons learned” and some new departures. But, as in the past, it is also likely to return again to some longstanding and distinctively American ways of acting in the world. This issue of Orbis, therefore, focuses upon those enduring features of American foreign policy which are likely to survive the current U.S. wars, along with the potential for military and economic innovations which might help the United States to eventually restore a part of its now-diminished primacy.
The American Way of Going to War
At the core of the distinctive American way in the world is a distinctive American way of going to war. Bruce Cumings, a distinguished historian and political scientist at the University of Chicago, provides a comprehensive review of a century and a half of American wars and American expansion, from the Mexican War to the Iraq War.1 As Cumings demonstrates, U.S. presidents have characteristically tried to maneuver the other side into taking the first aggressive action, into firing the first shot. The United States thus has retained the moral and legal high ground—and the domestic and international legitimacy—an asset which is especially important in a democratic political system. The Bush administration departed from this pattern with its invasion of Iraq in 2003, producing major disruptions, difficulties, and damaging consequences for U.S. national interests and the American place in the world. Even after Iraq, however, the United States will from time to time still find it necessary to go to war, but we can deduce from Cumings’ argument that in the future it will be best to do so in the good old American way.
American NGOs as a New Class in the World
The most dramatic and obvious form of the American impact upon the world comes from our wars, but a very important impact, especially important in the past two decades, has been through a very different means—American nongovernmental organizations or NGOs. Engaged in a wide range of apparently peaceful and constructive (and certainly busy and pushy) activities and legitimated by an ideology of human rights and economic development, American NGOs might seem to be very different from the U.S. military and to be a very good way to continue to advance American values in the world in the postwar future. However, as Laurence Jarvik demonstrates, these American NGOs often have a subversive and disruptive, even offensive and revolutionary, effect upon the countries in which they operate. Jarvik’s examples include Central Asia and Africa. Indeed, the American NGOs of today are rather similar to the radical or Marxist “new class” of intellectuals and bureaucrats that dominated Communist Eastern Europe in the 1950s-1970s and, in a different version, has dominated some American academic institutions and government agencies since the 1970s. Jarvik concludes that U.S. national interests will be best served, not by supporting NGOs in their efforts to disrupt and diminish foreign states, but by working to build up and strengthen these states, so that they will provide the law and order which is the necessary basis for true human rights and economic development.
Wilsonian Ideology and Innovative Technology
The U.S. war in Iraq and the NGO project in the world both have been inspired and legitimated by contemporary variations on that perennial American theme: Wilsonianism. And even if the disaster in Iraq discredits Wilsonianism for a while, it is likely to return again, as it has many times before, to be an animus for American foreign policy in the future. It is fitting, therefore, that Paul Gottfried, a prolific scholar of intellectual movements, provides us with a comprehensive account of the development of Wilsonianism, and especially of its neoconservative variant, over recent decades.
When confronting challenges, Americans have usually tried to deal with them with some kind of technological solution and innovative spirit. With respect to the military challenges from the 1980s to the early 2000s, U.S. defense officials sought such solutions in the Revolution in Military Affairs. This once-promising effort is now under a shadow because of the debacle of Donald Rumsfeld’s “transformation project,” as applied to Iraq. However, the drive toward finding technological solutions to military problems is likely to endure, especially in that most technological of the military services, the Air Force. Adam Stulberg, an experienced military analyst, provides us with a penetrating and detailed account of how the Air Force is incorporating the new technology of unmanned strike aircraft (e.g., Predator and Global Hawk) into its established organizational structures and processes.
With respect to contemporary economic challenges, the United States obviously has lost its industrial competitiveness to a number of other nations, especially to the booming economy of China,2 and it has also lost its diplomatic and strategic flexibility to its energy dependence upon the Persian Gulf region. However, as Rocco Martino, an experienced business analyst, argues, the United States has a long history of continually coming up with new technological and industrial innovations, which in the past have restored America’s competitiveness in the world market and its primacy in world politics. Martino sees great promise in the new innovations of the information age (e.g., telemeetings and teleworking) to deal simultaneously with the twin challenges of economic competitiveness and energy dependence.
This issue’s series on enduring features of the American way in the world includes our two review essays. Richard Gamble, a prominent scholar of American intellectual movements and their role in U.S. foreign policy, discusses two new and very important books, which present almost opposite historical interpretations of America’s role in the world. The perspective of one is neoconservative, and that of the other is globalist liberal. However, the two interpretations can be seen as Right and Left versions of that omnipresent Wilsonianism.
Christopher Gray takes us back to what is probably the most fundamental cause of American exceptionalism: the Protestant Reformation. He surveys recent scholarly books on the Reformation and its wars as they affected and transformed virtually every European country. The Reformation lasted longer, and in many respects went deepest, in the British Isles. It was this Reformation in Britain that was so much “present at the creation” of those distinctive Americans who would eventually set up and shape the United States.
Other Countries Do Things Their Own Way
Although the neoconservatives persist in their delusional ideology of imposing democracy abroad,3 the Iraq disaster has taught most other Americans that, no matter what is the American way, other countries have their own way of ordering their politics and societies. In this issue of Orbis, we present four such cases, each very different from the others and each important for U.S. foreign policy.
Mexico. Most immediate is Mexico, that country which is so close to the United States geographically (and increasingly demographically) but so far from the U.S. culturally and politically. George Grayson, a premier scholar of Mexican politics, provides us with a comprehensive analysis of Iberian corporatism (which is very different from American liberalism) as the foundation of the Mexican way of politics and as it has shaped successive eras of Mexican history. He concludes with a detailed account of the divisive Mexican presidential election of 2006 and the disruptive political actions taken by the radical populist candidate, López Obrador.
The Congo. Lying at the geographical center of a vast realm of anarchy and violence, which now extends across much of Africa, is “The Democratic Republic of the Congo” (a more accurate designation is Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness), where more than 2 million people have died in the past decade in what has been called Africa’s own version of World War I. Seth Kaplan sheds a helpful light upon this darkness, by describing the folly of trying to construct some kind of Western centralized and democratic republic there. Instead, he offers a sensible proposal for an alternative political and social order, based upon the Congolese realities of local groups and tribal organizations.
The Netherlands. A country that actually has a lot in common with the United States culturally and politically is the Netherlands. (It was one of the first countries to be transformed by the Protestant Reformation, and in the twentieth century it adopted a highly institutionalized form of pluralism.) But the Netherlands also now has much in common with other Western European nations, whose political orders have been disrupted by a large and growing Muslim minority resistant to assimilation and inclined toward violence. Bart Jan Spruyt, a prominent Dutch political philosopher, presents a comprehensive analysis of the origins and the current state of the Dutch ordeal. American readers may discern in this account of the Netherlands some indications of what could one day happen in the United States.
The Balkans. Finally, there is that very different region, the Balkans, which was so central in U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s, but which has now been eclipsed in our attention by our war in Iraq. Looked at from one direction and designated Southeast Europe, the Balkans can be seen as the next step in the completion of a modern, peaceful, and prosperous European Union. Looked at from the opposite direction and thought of as the Near East (as the Balkans were often designated in the first half of the twentieth century), they can be seen as still on the edge of tumbling once again into the religious and ethnic hatreds and violence so common in the nearby Middle East. Ronald Linden, a leading scholar of this region at the University of Pittsburgh, provides us with an informative and judicious account of the area and its implications for U.S. foreign policy. The Balkans have a way of forcing themselves upon the foreign policy agendas of the great powers in every generation. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, we will hear from them again.
On a separate note, you will notice a new name on the masthead with this issue. Trudy Kuehner, who has served as the managing editor of Orbis since 2001, has been has been promoted to associate director of FPRI’s Marvin Wachman Fund for International Education. It is our great pleasure to welcome Ann Henderson Hart as Trudy’s successor.
Ms. Hart received her B.A. in literature from Wheaton College and an M.A. in journalism from Temple University. She has extensive experience in journal and book editing and project management, including for Yale University Press, Oxford University Press, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Presbyterian Historical Society, and the journals Modern Reformation and In Character. All of us at FPRI are already enjoying working with Ann and are delighted that the managing editor responsibilities are in such capable hands.
Trudy often recalls that when she joined Orbis in the summer of 2001, there were those among her acquaintances who suggested that foreign policy would be too quiet a field. September 2001 would all too quickly change their minds. Nor does it look like it will be quiet times any time soon for journals of foreign affairs. Moreover, like all journals, Orbis has been adapting over the past five years to the evolving web-based publishing model, which of course poses both challenges and opportunities. We thank Trudy for her many contributions to Orbis over these years and wish her well in her new responsibilities.
1 Another account of the early periods of American wars is given by David C. Hendrickson, “Independence and Union: Foundation of American Internationalism,” Orbis, Winter 2005 (discusses the period of the Revolutionary War); and Hendrickson, “Preemption, Unilateralism, and Hegemony: The American Tradition?” Orbis, Spring 2006 (discusses the period from the War of 1812 to the Mexican War).
2 David Lei, “Outsourcing and China’s Rising Economic Power,” Orbis, Winter 2007.
3 A prime example is Norman Podhoretz, “A Masterpiece of American Oratory,” American Spectator, November 2006. Podhoretz asserts that George Bush’s Second Inaugural Address, which was devoted to promoting democratization, is “worthy of a place beside Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.” (p. 29).