Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Realism vs. Idealism in US Foreign Policy 

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave a fascinating speech Monday to the World Forum on the Future of Democracy addressing "a 'realist's' view of promoting democracy abroad."

The whole speech is worth reading (here). In it, Gates reflects on the longstanding debate between the "realists" and "idealists" in US Foreign Policy. It is very closely related to the great debate between Liberals and Realists in IR Theory, a debate we are now addressing in class. In IR theory, we like to look back to Woodrow Wilson as the paragon of Idealism, and study EH Carr's withering criticism of the 20 Year's Crisis as the paragon of realism. As Gates reminds us, this debate has even deeper roots than that:
[W]e Americans continue to wrestle with the appropriate role this country should play in advancing freedom and democracy in the world. It was a source of friction through the entire Cold War. In truth, it has been a persistent question for this country throughout our history: How should we incorporate America’s democratic ideals and aspirations into our relations with the rest of the world? And in particular, when to, and whether to try to change the way other nations govern themselves? Should America’s mission be to make the world “safe for democracy,” as Woodrow Wilson said, or, in the words of John Quincy Adams, should America be “the well-wisher of freedom and independence of all” but the “champion and vindicator only of our own”?...

...In short, from our earliest days, America’s leaders have struggled with “realistic” versus “idealistic” approaches to the international challenges facing us. The most successful leaders, starting with Washington, have steadfastly encouraged the spread of liberty, democracy, and human rights. At the same time, however, they have fashioned policies blending different approaches with different emphases in different places and different times.
Gates recalls his own career as a realist, opposing the Helsinki Final Acts, for example, and comes to terms with the value they ultimately had, both as idealist goals and realist tools of national interest.

The obvious backdrop for this is Gate's realist reputation contrasted with Bush's crusading idealism (epitomized in his second Inaugural speech) to democratize the World Middle East Iraq. This administration has been particularly hostile to some traditional realists (ie Scowcroft) but the failure of its grandest Idealistic project in Iraq has prompted a reconciliation of sorts. Gates attempts just such a balancing act:
It is our country’s tragedy, and our glory, that the tender shoots of freedom around the world for so many decades have been so often nourished with American blood. The spread of liberty both manifests our ideals and protects our interests – in making the world “safe for democracy,” we are also the “champion and vindicator” of our own. In reality, Wilson and Adams must coexist.
How well does he do?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Secret Strike (and the consequences of failure) 

Something is brewing in the Middle East that merits close attention, because the more we learn about it, the more intriguing it becomes. It also brings home some chickens to roost, so to speak, for earlier Bush Administration foreign policy failures.

Last week, Israel launched a highly secret air-strike deep into Syria. Despite the fact that Israel and Syria share a border (the direct route), the squadron of Israeli F-15's flew over the Med, through Turkey (a very close Israeli military ally), and dropped significant ordinance onto a Syrian target. The entire operation has been cloaked in secrecy--Syria didn't denounce the attack for over 12 hours after it happened, and has been unusually quiet about the entire incident. Israel has said nothing, and the US is also tight-lipped. The loudest condemnations have come from North Korea, recently rumored to be cooperating with Syria on nuclear issues.

The current speculation, per the NYT, is that Israel hit a nascent North Korean supplied nuclear facility in Syria. This speculation is fueled by China's abrupt cancellation of talks over North Korea's nuclear program--a program they had just agreed (with the US) to give up.

So, what are we to make of all this? It was clearly a very aggressive move by Israel, but what is most interesting, to me, about it, is the muted response by Syria and the rest of the Arab world. Syria and Israel are taking this very seriously--there are reports that both are mobilizing their armed forces and reserves along the border. But the public statements have been muted--more so on the Israeli side (total silence) than on Syria (who did formally protest to the UN).

Its the North Korea connection that I find most fascinating. North Korea and Syria have a longstanding relationship buying and selling weapons. Its the nuclear aspect that is troubling--in part that Syria was taking steps to proliferate, and in part that North Korea was willing to facilitate that proliferation.

It also highlights the consequences of several years of failure of the Bush Administration's North Korea policy. Coming into office back in 2001, there was an opportunity to re-engage North Korea and reach a nuclear deal. The Bush Administration opted for confrontation and containment, and while isolated, North Korea tested several new ballistic missiles and, most significantly, tested a nuclear device, entering the nuclear club. Only after all of this, did the Administration relent and re-engage in meaningful diplomacy, reaching a deal whereby North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program and subject itself to inspections.

And now this. Hard-liners such as John Bolten, a staunch opponent of any talks with North Korea both while at the State Department and while outside of government, will point to this as proof-positive that North Korea can't be trusted, that any deal with them isn't worth the paper its printed on, that North Korea is cheating.

But consider the alternative scenario--had the US engaged in meaningful nuclear diplomacy in 2002, giving Charles Prichard the same brief as Christopher Hill now has, its quite possible that a situation such as this could have been avoided. With nuclear inspectors in North Korea, there would have been a much better accounting of the DPRK nuclear program. Had this happened earlier, the recent breakthroughs that allowed North Korea to test a weapon would not have happened. And, in a functioning deal with the US, North Korea would probably have been less likely to risk upsetting that deal by working with the Syrians.

How much of this idle speculation looks at the situation with rose-colored glasses? Perhaps some. But not all. Indeed, had the Bush Administration placed nuclear proliferation and North Korea at the top of its national security priority list instead of, say, Iraq, back in 2002, most of the antecedent conditions that led to this raid could have been avoided.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Neo Realism Week 

From LGM:

MM... Pithy

Kenneth Waltz, via Travis Sharp:
To say that militarily strong states are feeble because they cannot easily bring order to minor states is like saying that a pneumatic hammer is weak because it is not suitable for drilling decayed teeth.

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Bush's Attempt to find a Legacy 

With his approval ratings in the low thirties--historic lows for a sitting President--Bush is now turning to "history" to vindicate him and his decisions on Iraq. He's hoping to become another Truman, unpopular due to a war on his watch but later lauded by those looking back on his acomplishments. I don't think this is likely to happen.

First, this weekend, we recieved an interesting look inside the Bush inner-circle and decision-making process. Harry Truman is venerated for making tough decisions--considering the right path, confering with top advisors, making a choice, seeing it through, and taking responsibility for the outcome. The rap on Bush, especially from his opponents, is that he's an intelectual light-weight incapable of such weighty deliberations. Remember the 2000 election--a Governor with zero foreign policy experience (couldn't even name a couple of world leaders) but a good team from his father's administration to act as a steady hand on the ship of state. The narratives of Iraq that emerges from this auspicious begining are that Bush's advisors essentially duped him into the Iraq war--devious neoconservative ideologues Wolfwitz, Cheney, Rumsfeld and company steamrolled the Administration into Iraq. Bush, caught in simplistic post-9-11 rhetoric, bought it hook, line, and sinker. The promenance of this narrative is why many observers expected things to change as the top officials in charge of Iraq policy have changed. Gates, England in at Defense, Rice over to State, Crocker and Petraeus in Iraq. Bolton, Perle, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby out of government.

What we're seeing, however, is that these personnel movements are not significantly improving the situation because the dysfunction was never with the staff, it was with the President. The President is much more involved and knowledgable in these decisions than this common narrative suggests.

Take, for example, the criticism of Rice as National Security Adviser:
But none of that has been enough to erase the view that as national security adviser she largely served as a rubber stamp for a series of foreign policy blunders, during a period that critics say will ultimately weigh most heavily on her legacy. “It turned out to be a very disastrous four years in my view,” said Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Mr. Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department while Ms. Rice was national security adviser.
A president poorly served by his senior staff? Perhaps, but don't blame the staff:
But Mr. Armitage said his view of Ms. Rice had since mellowed. “I’ve become more conscious of the fact that the president got the national security adviser he wanted,” he said in an interview this week.
The President knew full well what he was getting when he selected his advisers, and was seeking the kind of advice they would provide consistent with his own decision-making style.
And in apparent reference to the invasion of Iraq, he continued, “This group-think of ‘we all sat around and decided’ — there’s only one person that can decide, and that’s the president.”
Each and every key decision on Iraq has Bush's fingerprints all over it.

Take, for example, the decision to disband the Iraqi army, now seen as a poor choice that both increased the instability the US now faces in the country and removed one of the key tools to combat just such violence. Again, the conventional wisdom is that Bremer acted imperiously and alone. Even Bush tries to perpetuate the narrative, somewhat insulating himself:
Mr. Bush acknowledged one major failing of the early occupation of Iraq when he said of disbanding the Saddam Hussein-era military, “The policy was to keep the army intact; didn’t happen.”

But when Mr. Draper pointed out that Mr. Bush’s former Iraq administrator, L. Paul Bremer III, had gone ahead and forced the army’s dissolution and then asked Mr. Bush how he reacted to that, Mr. Bush said, “Yeah, I can’t remember, I’m sure I said, ‘This is the policy, what happened?’ ”
Except that:
A previously undisclosed exchange of letters shows that President Bush was told in advance by his top Iraq envoy in May 2003 of a plan to “dissolve Saddam’s military and intelligence structures,” a plan that the envoy, L. Paul Bremer, said referred to dismantling the Iraqi Army.

Mr. Bremer indicated that he had been smoldering for months as other administration officials had distanced themselves from his order. “This didn’t just pop out of my head,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that he had sent a draft of the order to top Pentagon officials and discussed it “several times” with Mr. Rumsfeld.

A White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the White House is not commenting on Mr. Draper’s book, said Mr. Bush indeed understood the order....
Throughout the course of the War in Iraq, Bush knew exactly what he was doing, and far to often, when he had a choice to make, he made the wrong one. When he was poorly served by an adviser or Cabinet member, it was a person he personally selected for that position. He got the staff he wanted, the war he wanted, and he knew what he was asking for. When you take the role of "The Decider" you are also saddled with the consequences. The buck stops there.

Second, consider what Bush has built in his term as President to leave to future occupants of the office.
But he said he saw his unpopularity as a natural result of his decision to pursue a strategy in which he believed. “I made a decision to lead,” he said, “One, it makes you unpopular; two, it makes people accuse you of unilateral arrogance, and that may be true. But the fundamental question is, is the world better off as a result of your leadership?”

Mr. Bush has often said that will be for historians decide....
Perhaps. Historians do have the advantage of knowing how things turn out. But in making this claim, Bush is resting his entire hopes of a legacy on the long-term outcome of Iraq.

Compare it to Truman. It was pretty clear that Korea was not going well and would not end well for the US. Indeed, the best Ike could do was a stalemate armistice quite close to where the war started. However, Truman's legacy is based less on Korea than it is his handling of the rest of post World War II era. In particular, Truman and his administration built the foundations of international order that still guides much of world politics today: The Breton Woods system, the UN, NATO, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the National Security Act of 1947, and others. Truman led the establishment, legitimization, and early development of so many key institutions that have had such staying power that its difficult to find a President not in his debt (even Bush--who is now relying on NATO, a Truman Administration product, to take over Afghanistan). What has Bush built? What future President will rely on a Bush Administration project, program, or institution as a cornerstone of international security?

Finally, its quite likely that we political scientists as well as historians and presidential scholars hold this administration's penchant for secrecy against it. We thrive on records--archives, interviews, transcripts, documents, and such. This administration has gone to great lengths to keep those records secret from researchers despite a legal regime designed to open them up for research and historical judgment 12 years into the future.

Contrast this with JFK. Lionized by his contemporaries for his idealism and his tragic assassination, Kennedy's stature sagged as many of the details behind his carefully manipulated image came to the fore--womanizing, illness, and hiding much of this from the public. Indeed, his Presidential library has been accused of selectively releasing documents to protect his image. However, his legacy has also received a boost from the full disclosure of his Administration's records. The Kennedy Tapes have reaffirmed his critical role and leadership in a defining crisis of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well studied by historians and political scientists, it has been dissected repeatedly. Yet Kennedy's actions and decisions stand the test of time. The tapes, documents, and memoirs help, allowing scholars to weed out the wishful memories and celebratory memoirs and replace them with documented historical evidence (compare Essence of Decision 1971 and 1999--lots more data, but JFK still does alright). Historians need this evidence to build a president's legacy. Bush is keeping it secret, making it harder for historians to write about him and making its revelation all the more significant when it finally does come to light.

As Bush winds down his term and prepares to leave office, it doesn't look like history will vindicate Bush. If anything, these trends, over time may only serve to lower his stature among modern Presidents.


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