- Research Programs
- Regions & Topics
- All Publications
A nation must think before it acts.
When the Bush administration was confronted with the reality of global Islamist terrorism, it responded, among other things, by driving American foreign policy into the Iraq War debacle. Now, this incompetent administration is nearing its end, and when it at last departs in January 2009, virtually every professional specialist in foreign and defense policy will heave a sigh of relief. But George Bush will leave behind a nation struggling and wounded in the wreckage of Iraq, and still confronting the global Islamist threat, which is now even more robust and widespread than it was before. The United States will thus need to reconstruct its foreign policy and grand strategy, and particularly that directed against Islamist radicalism.
This issue of Orbis represents a first step in that direction. As in our last issue (Spring 2007), we seek to build upon enduring American traditions; these give U.S. foreign policy and strategy their distinctive strengths, but they also impose upon them particular limitations, which can become weaknesses that wise American statesmen must understand and overcome. We also continue to face an enduring Islamist threat—one with its own particular strengths and weaknesses—in an era of spreading nuclear capabilities.
English-Speaking Alliances and Empires
One American foreign-policy tradition is the “special relationship” between the United States and Britain and between the English-speaking peoples more generally. There have been many similarities between the British and the American way (what the French collectively call the “Anglo-Saxon” way) of dealing with the world. Andrew Roberts, a prominent British historian, picks up this story at the beginning of the twentieth century and carries it through the Anglo-American alliance against four great global challenges (successively, Wilhelmine Germany; Nazi Germany and the Axis powers; the Soviet Union and global communism; and now militant Islamism).
Britain of course also had a long tradition of empire; this posed a continuing dilemma for the United States and created a traditional ambivalence in the special relationship. In recent years, however, America itself has had to deal with the fact that it, too, has become a kind of empire. With this in mind, Harold James, a distinguished Princeton historian, presents a comprehensive analysis of different conceptions of empire, as well as an account of the Realist tradition in international affairs. He concludes with a most un-realist position: empire and great power politics should be superseded with a search for common global values, a new natural law.
Restoring Deterrence and Reassurance
A more recent tradition in U.S. foreign policy, but one absolutely central during the Cold War, was the strategy of deterrence. However, the Bush administration argued that deterrence could not work against transnational terrorist networks or rogue states armed with weapons of mass destruction, and that deterrence had to be superseded by preemption (by which it also meant preventive war). In contrast, Elbridge Colby, a strategist at the RAND Corporation, provides us with a compelling argument why deterrence can still work against these new kinds of enemies and why it should be restored as the centerpiece of U.S. grand strategy.
However, professional defense analysts are now giving a great deal of attention to a new and perplexing challenge to deterrence, and that is the problem of an anonymous nuclear attack upon the United States or its allies (most obviously, Israel). With the accelerating spread of nuclear capabilities, there soon will be a variety of possible sources of a nuclear attack, that the leaders of the attacked nation will not know for certain just whom should be the target for massive retaliation. This condition could fatally undermine a strategy of deterrence. Consequently, Matthew Phillips, an innovative defense analyst, provides us with a thorough analysis of this problem of “nuclear attribution” and of the developing technology of “nuclear forensics” to solve it.
The traditional strategy of deterrence against our enemies also was normally joined by a less-obvious but still-essential strategy of reassurance for our allies. This strategy too was often belittled by the Bush administration. Now, Christopher Hemmer, a strategist at the U.S. Air War College, looks forward to the next administration, proposes a new (or renewed) grand strategy for it, and puts reassurance at its center.
The Varieties of Islamist Anti-Americanism
Of course, the threat that is concentrating the minds of these strategists is that from transnational and even global networks of Islamist terrorists. It will be useful, therefore, to examine systematically the nature of this threat and particularly to distinguish among the different kinds and degrees of anti-Americanism that can be found within the Muslim world. This is done, each in their own way, by two of our authors, David Westbrook and Thomas McCabe. Westbrook is the more optimistic: with wise and realistic changes in U.S. strategy, we can see some degree of mutual acceptance between the United States and most of the Muslim world. McCabe argues instead that the United States is, at best, in for a very long Cold War with most of Islam.
Iran’s program to develop nuclear weapons is integral to most discussions about Islamism and WMDs. The Bush administration has put Iran right next to Iraq as its central foreign-policy focus. However, the administration has also concluded an unprecedented agreement with India to support that nation’s nuclear program (the U.S. support is supposed to be limited to peaceful nuclear energy). India, in turn, has many cooperative relations with Iran. The United States, Iran, and India are thus all actors in a complex trilateral relationship, a challenging three-body problem. Harsh Pant, a defense analyst at King’s College, London, gives us a comprehensive and informative analysis of this, with special attention to both the international and the domestic factors which shape Indian foreign policy.
But of course, amidst all this looking to the future of American strategy, the Iraq War continues to grind on, and to grind down the U.S. military and America’s strength in the world. Glenn Kutler presents us with his grim analysis of U.S. and Iraqi casualties in the fourth year of the war (March 2006-March 2007), building upon and continuing his earlier analyses of first two years (Orbis, Summer 2005) and the third year (Orbis, Summer 2006). Kutler certainly joins the rest of us in looking forward to the day when his sobering series can come to an end. However, the way the Iraq War is now going, it seems that there will be several more annual articles to come.
Given the grave challenges facing U.S. strategy, it is natural for Americans to forget that our allies have to face their own new strategic challenges. One of the most central of U.S. allies (indeed the “Central Front”) during the Cold War was West Germany. After reunification in 1990, Germany was in a completely new strategic situation, and its military, the Bundeswehr, had to undergo a very difficult strategic reorientation and transformation process. Josef Janning and Thomas Bauer, two experienced German defense analysts, present a critical and systematic account of this process.
Pursuing Happiness and the American Way
In contrast to this total immersion in foreign policy and strategy, which we receive in this issue of Orbis, our review essay goes to the much deeper and even more enduring topic of the character and identity of America, and of the West more generally. As the birth certificate of the United States, the Declaration of Independence of 1776, made absolutely clear. The “pursuit of happiness” is at the core of the American character. The pursuit of happiness actually has a long history, which is related in a new book by the intellectual historian, Darrin McMahon. But the pursuit of happiness in America has also undergone a radical transformation in recent decades, particularly with the wide-spread medical prescription of psychotropic drugs and alternative medicine in order to achieve a kind of artificial happiness; this fascinating tale is related in a new book by the penetrating social analyst and practicing physician, Ronald W. Dworkin. Our reviewer, Peter Lawler, a distinguished social and moral philosopher, gives us a thorough account of the strengths of these two books, as well as his own wise and perceptive reflections on the dilemmas created by our pursuit of happiness.