In the run-up to his confirmation hearings, both BuzzFeed's Ruby Cramer and the Washington Free Beacon have stories about secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's days as a professor at Georgetown. At first glance, the spin on these stories seems to be at odds with each other. Here's Cramer:
Those who knew him at Georgetown remember Professor Hagel, whose confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins early Thursday morning, as resolute in his own views on foreign policy, and dedicated to his classroom at a level unusual for most lawmakers who take on stints as visiting professors....
Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, retired from the Senate in 2008 after serving two consecutive terms. He landed the Georgetown gig in February of 2009, and started work on crafting one course for grad students in the fall, and another for undergrads in the spring. Hagel chose geopolitical relationships as his focus, and with the help of his teaching assistant, wrote a syllabus aimed at examining the 21st century as a period of transition that is "shifting geopolitical centers of gravity and is recasting geopolitical influences as the world experiences an unprecedented diffusion," as stated in the syllabus for Hagel's first-ever course in the fall of 2009.
Shockingly, the Free Beacon interprets matters a bit differently:
As a professor at Georgetown University, secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel taught a foreign policy course based primarily on anti-Israel materials and far left manifestos that castigate America’s role in the world, according to a copy of Hagel’s 2012 course syllabus....
Constructed on the premise that America’s global supremacy is waning, Hagel’s seminar featured writings that criticize America’s standing in the world, advocate in favor of shuttering American military bases, and refer to Israel as guilty of war crimes.
If the poor defenseless reader were to try to synthesize these two articles on their own, they might come away convinced that Hagel was like Robin Williams' character in Dead Poets Society, if Williams' character was also a secret, anti-Semitic communist spy.
Fortunately, as a trained professor, I'm capable of scanning Hagel's syllabi, and the description of the syllabi, and render my own judgment. And I confess that, after looking at them, I have a few more qualms about Hagel than I did before.
These qualms are not due to the Free Beacon's story, which doesn't have an author appellation, which is just as well, since whomever wrote it has no f**king clue who makes what arguments in international relations. Among the "anti-Israel and far left manifestos" that the Free Beacon identifies is the following:
Other books featured on Hagel’s reading list, such as G. John Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan, argue that America’s influence is waning.
“Even if a return to multipolarity is a distant and slowly emerging future possibility, calculations about the relative decline of American power reintroduce the importance of making investments today for later decades when the United States is less preeminent,” wrote Ikenberry, a Princeton professor, in his 2012 book.
Let's take a brief pause here to allow the folks with some actual international relations knowledge a hearty chuckle. Because anyone who's read anything by John Ikenberry quickly learns two things: 1) he's about as centrist as one can get; and 2) he's quite upbeat about America's future (as a close reading of that quote would suggest). So we can safely ignore the Free Beacon's efforts to spin people like Ikenberry and Zbigniew Brzezinski as anti-Israel or far left.
There's also the rather obvious point that, as a general rule, professors will assign readings they disagree with. It's that whole, "give students competing perspectives on thorny issues so they can have an informed debate" kind of deal. As mysterious as this might sound to the Free Beacon, let me assure them that assigning provocative readings is a pretty common pedagogical tool.
On the other hand, a quick perusal of Hagel's syllabi reveals a far deeper concern: Hagel is addicted to ... hackery. The Friedmans make too many appearances in these syllabi, for example. He assigned Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, which is pretty bad. He also assigned George Friedman's The Next 100 Years, which is far, far worse (don't take my word for it, take Philip Tetlock's). He also assigned liberal portions of Parag Khanna's work, which is unfortunate.
Now I'm not above assigning the occasional hack piece in a class to let my students chew up and spit out. That's actually a useful pedagogical exercise. Hagel, however, seems to think that the hack stuff is actually quite good -- at least that's what he told C-SPAN. For a graduate seminar at Georgetown, the chaff-to-wheat ratio is disturbingly high.
Besides the hack addiction, is there anything else to be gleaned from Hagel's syllabi? If there is a theme that runs through Hagel's syllabus choices, it's a pretty realpolitik one. Writers like George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan don't really care about human institutions as much as geopolitics. He also assigned some interesting work by Joseph Parent & Paul McDonald, as well as Micah Zenko & Michael Cohen, on strategic restraint and threat inflation, respectively. That's what should terrify neoconservatives -- not the bogus anti-Israel charges.
Still, after reading his syllabi, I must acknowledge that Hagel picked up one academic trait very quickly: just like us lifelong profs, Hagel learned to assign his own book. Well played, Professor Hagel. Well played.
The moment U.S. armed forces are deployed somewhere, that place moves to the top of the pundit queue. As a result, the bylaws of the International Brotherhood of Foreign Policy Pundits mandates that I blog something about Mali of a higher quality than my glib post from last month. So here goes.
In a refreshing change of pace from to Previous Armed Forces Deployments that will Go Unamed, the New York Times is already voicing questions about the purpose of this mission. Indeed, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt litter their front-pager with some "first principle" questions to U.S. foreign policy principals:
The administration has embraced a targeted killing strategy elsewhere, notably in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, after top White House, Pentagon and C.I.A. officials determined that militants in those countries were bent on attacking the United States.
Asked if fighters from Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb posed such an imminent threat, Gen. Carter F. Ham, the top American commander in Africa, said, “Probably not.” But, he said in an interview, “they subscribe to Al Qaeda’s ideology” and have said that their intent is to attack Westerners in Europe and, “if they could, back to the United States.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta made it clear on Wednesday that he considered the group a serious danger. “This is an Al Qaeda operation,” he told reporters while traveling in Italy, “and it is for that reason that we have always been concerned about their presence in Mali, because they would use it as a base of operations to do exactly what happened in Algeria.”....
[W]hat remained an open question, at least until last Friday, was whether the militant threat in Mali was serious enough to justify military intervention. Now, the context of that debate has changed.
General Ham put the matter succinctly in the interview, which took place last Friday, just hours after he learned about the French incursion into Mali.
“The real question,” he said as he raced off to a secure teleconference with senior Obama administration officials, “is now what?” (emphasis added)
Now, admirably, the Financial Times' Xan Rice does explain rather concisely what France's aims are in Mali:
France has three aims in Mali: to stop the Islamist insurgents’ advance on the capital; to help the government regain control of the north of the country; and to leave the country with a stable government.
But the strength of the well-trained Islamist militant forces points to a protracted intervention in the country where rebels maintain control of two towns in the centre of Mali, while Jean-Yves Le Drian, French defence minister, this week acknowledged the campaign was “very difficult”. (emphasis added)
Now, the tricky part of all this for the U.S. government is that while the first goal seems easy enough to achieve, the second seems much harder. And, most important, the United States has been trying to accomplish the third goal for the past decade -- and it turns out we kind of suck at it:
In 2005, PSI was replaced by the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP), a partnership of State, Defense and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) meant to focus on improving individual country and regional capabilities in northwest Africa.
According to a Government Accountability Office study, Mali got roughly $37 million in TSCTP funds from 2005 through 2008. More than half went to Defense projects. But GAO reported that there were bureaucratic differences over the programs and funding problems. “USAID received funds for its TSCTP activities in Mali in 2005 and 2007, but not in 2006,” for example. “Because it received no funds for 2006, the mission suspended a peace-building program in northern Mali,” the area with the greatest threat.
So the initial reporting suggests that the U.S. is about to blunder into another far-flung overseas operation in no small part caused by prior U.S. f**k-ups with no end in sight and a hostile population on the ground. Right?
Not so fast. Contrary to the claims of some militant anti-interventionists, the U.S. counter-terrorism policy didn't cause the problems in Mali. And, indeed, based on this survey of Northern Mali villagers conducted by some kick-ass political scientists early last year, it would seem that the locals would welcome further U.S. involvement, particularly on the humanitarian side of the equation:
The majority of our respondents were in favor of military intervention: 78% said it was worth the fight, 9% wanted to peacefully separate, and 23% were undecided (July). When asked how the northern crisis should be resolved, 50% of our respondents mentioned negotiations, while 60% cited military intervention as important to restore territorial integrity (May). Most respondents who felt that military intervention was necessary preferred exclusively domestic involvement by the Malian military (43% of respondents). Of those citing the need for foreign intervention, the US was the most popular of the potential allies (23% of respondents favored US intervention), followed by France (18%) and then ECOWAS (15%). In light of changing public opinion in Bamako it is possible that if asked today, villagers would be more pro-foreign intervention and pro-French....
We asked villagers the open-ended question: what policy area would you prioritize if you were President of Mali? Most individuals prioritized human development issues (health, education, water, agricultural support) both before and after the rebellion. In the January baseline survey, 51% of respondents cited development issues, while 9% mentioned peace and security. After the villagers found themselves on the border of rebel-controlled territory, 67% cited development issues and 14% peace and security (July). Regardless of the level of political stability, the vast majority of respondents would focus on basic human development needs.
Foreign policy pundits are just like the rest of the monkey-brain population -- we like to put things in clear conceptual boxes -- particularly when we lack specific knowledge of the particulars, as is the case with Mali. It will be easy, in the coming days, to put Mali into the "Afghanistan" box (bad) or the "Libya" box (good or bad depending on your partisan affiliation) or what have you. Given that France and the West African countries are willing to shoulder the primary military burden of this engagement, however, it would seem that the U.S. could ramp up some humanitartian assistance for the affected areas. That doesn't mean that hard questions should not be asked about the scope and purpose of the U.S. mission in the Sahel. It does mean that those questions might have some surprising answers, however.
What do you think?
As President Obama moves towards nominating former GOP senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense, and as Republicans gear up to try and
totally unhinge themselves defeat him, it seems like a good time to follow up on my Foreign Affairs essay on how badly the GOP has screwed the pooch on foreign policy. Let's start by addressing some critical feedback.
Ben Domenech wasn't all that impressed with my essay, as he explained in his newsletter:
Drezner’s problem is that Republican foreign policy has largely become bipartisan, so the critique is one that is more of tone than policy details: the grandstanding of the Romney campaign, its single-minded endorsement of unrestricted Pentagon spending, and the simplicity of its bullet point approach to issues. But these are critiques of a campaign and a candidate who wished to contrast without offending in every policy arena, not simply the foreign policy space – it’s unfair to assign this as due to an entire party’s approach to foreign policy.
A few thoughts here:
1) I'm not sure Domenech read the whole essay, because while I certainly talked about the 2012 campaign, I talked a fair amount about the previous decade of GOP foreign policy, and it's not pretty.
2) What Domenech doesn't seem to get is that the "single-minded endorsement of unrestricted Pentagon spending, and the... bullet point approach to issues" don't just apply to the Romney campaign -- it applies to the overwhelming bulk of GOP elites that weigh in on foreign policy. That sentiment perfectly captures the essence of the 112th Congress, not to mention the "Defending Defense" initiative put together by conservative think tanks. Actually, in some ways the congressional wing was worse because of the anti-Muslim hysteria, though to its credit that is an area where the GOP really does seem to be making some strides.
3) Saying that my critique is "one that is more of tone than policy details" shouldn't make the GOP feel any better. Because the GOP didn't win either the presidency or the Senate, tone and rhetoric are pretty much all Republicans can control on foreign policy. Oh, sure, Congress has some power, but it's largely a negative one -- they can say "no" to the president from time to time. The problem is that when they do this they either look like know-nothings or paranoids.
So the rhetoric actually matters for the GOP, because that's all anyone -- voters and wonks alike -- are gonna imbibe from Republicans for the next four years. Now this sets up an genuinely unfair challenge to the GOP: they'll be tarred with extremist statements made by the fringiest of the fringe. That said, the party leadership can improve its brand by taking the occasional stand if some back-bencher strays too far off the reservation (as occurred when a few idiots questioned Huma Abedin's loyalty).
4) Both Domenech (and Seth Mandel in Commentary) argue that because Obama has suceeded by co-opted the successful aspects of the GOP's foreign policy, Republicans can't be in that much trouble. The trouble here is which parts Obama co-opted, and how the GOP has reacted to that. Republicans used to have a pretty big tent on foreign policy -- realists, internationalists, and neocons galore. Bush 43's second term was pretty pragmatic and neocon-free, and that was what the Obama team co-opted. I'm honestly not sure that today's GOP is as keen on these kibds of foreign policy worldviews. The reaction to Chuck Hagel's possible nomination, for example, or the tenor of Danielle Pletka's Foreign Policy musings on the GOP, suggest that despite a decade of monumental f**k-ups, neocons still rule the GOP roost. Which means that leading GOP spokespeople on foreign policy no longer embrace the aspects of GOP foreign policy traditions co-opted by Obama. Or to put this another way: ask yourself if any of the viable 2016 GOP candidates for president would appoint someone like Bob Gates to be Secretary of Defense.
Now, it's possible that the next GOP president will campaign as a neocon and govern as something else. But doing that means that Republicans are sticking with a brand that, as I pointed out here and in Foreign Affairs, will cost them votes.
For the past few decades, the GOP triad to victory was low taxes, wedge social issues, and advocating for a robust foreign policy. Each of those three legs is now in jeopardy. Public opinion favors higher taxes, the right has lost the culture wars, and the public now trusts Democrats more than Republicans on foreign policy. Unless and until the GOP faces these realities, and figures out some new path forward beyond "REAGAN!", it's dooming itself to be the doppelgänger of eighties Democrats.
Domenech accuses me of lacking a clear way forward. I don't think that's true, but I will acknowledge that the primary point of my essay was to get the GOP to admit that it has a problem. If Mitt Romney's campaign proved anything, it's that creedal passion isn't enough to win on foreign policy -- there actually has to be some policy content. As to the way forward, I like James Poulos' suggestions in this post.
Look, I get that this seems like a thankless exercise. Talking about foreign affairs when you're out of power is a frustrating and abstract task. On the other hand, one reason the GOP is out of power is that its loudest voices don't sound terribly reasonable when it comes to world politics. This is the challenge it has to face for the next four years.
This week, there's been a rash of articles on the state of GOP foreign policy thinking, as well as some interesting and constructive responses to my Foreign Affairs essay on the same subject. I will try to respond to some of these over the weekend -- but first I think it would be useful to talk more precisely about the claimed benefits of military power.
One of the points I made in my essay was that Republicans need to take economic statecraft more seriously, but to be fair, this holds for the foreign policy community more generally. The relationship between military power and economic influence is often talked about in general terms, with a lot of casual assertions getting tossed around. But I think a lot of these assertions are wrong.
For example, prominent American foreign policy commentators often trump the benefits of America's overseas military presence. Danielle Pletka gets at this in her Foreign Policy essay when she says, "Americans have benefited tremendously from their involvement abroad," though she stays in generalities. To talk specifically, how exactly does the U.S. gain economically from its outsized military footprint?
Fortunately, we do have an attempt at an answer. In the latest Foreign Affairs, Stephen Brooks, John Ikenberry, and William Wohlforth argue strongly in favor of "deep engagement." They proffer a number of reasons why the U.S. benefits from current grand strategy -- but one of the more intriguing ones is that the U.S. receives direct economic benefits from its security arrangements:
A global role also lets the United States structure the world economy in ways that serve its particular economic interests. During the Cold War, Washington used its overseas security commitments to get allies to embrace the economic policies it preferred -- convincing West Germany in the 1960s, for example, to take costly steps to support the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency. U.S. defense agreements work the same way today. For example, when negotiating the 2011 free-trade agreement with South Korea [KORUS], U.S. officials took advantage of Seoul's desire to use the agreement as a means of tightening its security relations with Washington. As one diplomat explained to us privately, "We asked for changes in labor and environment clauses, in auto clauses, and the Koreans took it all." Why? Because they feared a failed agreement would be "a setback to the political and security relationship."
Now, this gets specific!! According to this paragraph, reliance on U.S. security means that Washington can obtain better economic terms. Sounds great!!
Except that I don't think it's true.
With respect to West Germany, it's certainly true that Washington was able to get Berlin to accommodate to U.S. preferences -- but only for a few years. The Bretton Woods system ended in 1971 because the Germans finally said "Nein!!" to U.S. inflation. So the economic benefit wasn't that great.
The South Korea case is more intriguing, because it's present-day and there's a real, live policymaker quote there. If a U.S. administration official asserts that the security relationship mattered, then it mattered, right?
Well.... no. We need to compare KORUS with something equivalent to provide a frame of reference. If security really mattered that much, then the Korea-United States free trade agreement should contain terms that are appreciably more favorable to the United States than those contained in, say, the Korea-European Union free trade agreement, which was negotiated at the same time. This is a great test. After all, the U.S. is the most important security partner for South Korea, whereas the only thing the European Union could offer to Seoul was its large market. So if Brooks, Ikenberry and Wohlforth are correct, the U.S. should have bargained for much better terms than the E.U. Right?
A Korean analysis of the two agreements, however, do not reveal that result:
[T]he United States has more favorable treatment in meat and vegetable products and transportation, while the EU has better treatment in processed foods, chemicals, and machinery. The large difference in outcomes in animal and animal products between the KORUS FTA and the Korea-EU FTA can be ascribed to the the reflection of greater sensitivity of the Korean market in this sector in the Korea-EU FTA compared with the KORUS FTA. Therefore the EU received a less favorable tariff reduction schedule than the United States in this area. This is true in the areas of raw hides, skins, leather, and furs, and transportation.
We have the opposite case, however, in the foodstuff sector: the many differences in Korean tariff liberalization schedules in the U.S. and European FTAs could be a result of the reflection of the EU positions, which preferred earlier tariff eliminations on many items in the Korea-EU FTA. This is also true in the manufacturing sectors such as hemicals and allied industries, plastics and rubber, textiles, and machinery and electrical products.
In (slightly) plainer English, the U.S. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more, and the E.U. got better terms on the export sectors it cared about more. Both agreements are comprehensive in scope and contain roughly similar terms across most other sectors. Indeed, both the Congressional Research Service and U.S. Trade Representative's office acknowledge the basic similaritry between the deals, as well as the areas where the Europeans did better. So, in other words, America's ongoing security relationship with South Korea did not lead to any asymmetric economic gains.
Now, this is not to say that there are no economic benefits to America's forward military presence. There are other arguments out there, and they should also be evaluated. My point here is simply to cast a skeptical eye on claims that America's overseas military presence pays for itself in the form of geopolitical favoritism. Because I don't think that's true.
I've had my fair share of disagreements with Danielle Pletka in the past, but I liked her well-crafted New York Times op-ed on what Romney needs to say today on foreign policy a great deal. In particular:
For an American public fixated on the economy, another Romney valedictory on the advantages of not being Barack Obama will be a waste of time. Americans feel more comfortable when they have a sense of the candidate’s vision, because it gives them a clearer road map for the future....
Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”
Mr. Romney must put flesh on the bones of his calls for a renewed American greatness. With a vision for American power, strategically and judiciously applied, we can continue to do great things with fewer resources. The nation’s greatest strength is not its military power or fantastic productivity. It’s the American commitment to our founding principles of political and economic freedom. If Mr. Romney can outline to voters how he will use American power to advance those principles, he will go a long way in persuading them he deserves the job of commander in chief.
This gets to the nub of Mitt Romney's foreign policy problem. If one pushes past the overheated rhetoric, then you discover that Romney wants a lot of the same ends as Barack Obama -- a stable, peaceful and free Middle East, for example. But that's not shocking -- any major party president will want the same ends. The differenes are in the means through which a president will achieve those ends. And -- in op-ed after op-ed, in speech after speech -- Romney either elides the means altogether, mentions means that the Obama administration is already using, or just says the word "resolve" a lot. That's insufficient.
Unfortunately, the pre-speech indicators suggest that Team Romney is ignoring Pletka's advice. Ineeed, if CNN's excerpts of Romney's big foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute today are any indication, there's almost no new policy content in this speech.
I'll check back in after the speech, but David Sanger's NYT front-pager today about how the Romney team is managing the foreign policy side of things is pretty dispiriting:
[W]hile the theme Mr. Romney plans to hit the hardest in his speech at V.M.I. — that the Obama era has been one marked by “weakness” and the abandonment of allies — has political appeal, the specific descriptions of what Mr. Romney would do, on issues like drawing red lines for Iran’s nuclear program and threatening to cut off military aid to difficult allies like Pakistan or Egypt if they veer away from American interests, sound at times quite close to Mr. Obama’s approach....
And the speech appears to glide past positions Mr. Romney himself took more than a year ago, when he voiced opposition to expanding the intervention in Libya to hunt down Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi with what he termed insufficient resources. He called it “mission creep and mission muddle,” though within months Mr. Qaddafi was gone. And last spring, Mr. Romney was caught on tape telling donors he believed there was “just no way” a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could work.
Mr. Romney’s Monday speech calls vaguely for support of Libya’s “efforts to forge a lasting government” and to pursue the “terrorists who attacked our consulate in Benghazi and killed Americans.” And he said he would “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security” with Israel. But he does not say what resources he would devote to those tasks.
The shifts, a half dozen of Mr. Romney’s advisers said in interviews, partly reflect the fact that the candidate himself has not deeply engaged in these issues for most of the campaign, certainly not with the enthusiasm, and instincts, he has on domestic economic issues. But they also represent continuing divisions.
Two of Mr. Romney’s advisers said he did not seem to have the strong instincts that he has on economic issues; he resonates best, one said, to the concept of “projecting strength” and “restoring global economic growth.” But he has appeared unconcerned about the widely differing views within his own campaign about whether spreading American-style freedoms in the Middle East or simply managing, and limiting, the rise of Islamist governments should be a major goal.
Simply put, if Mitt Romney can't demonstrate leadership and resolve in commanding the foreign policy camps that are participating in his campaign, I'm somewhat dubious that he can do the same with either Russia or China.
Am I missing anything?
Another day, another bad foreign policy headline for Barack Obama:
With the surge of American troops over and the Taliban still a potent threat, American generals and civilian officials acknowledge that they have all but written off what was once one of the cornerstones of their strategy to end the war here: battering the Taliban into a peace deal.
This comes on the heels of the kerfuffle over the administration's public explanations for the Benghazi consulate attack. When Jon Stewart starts to lampoon the administration on the issue, it's definitely a body blow for the Democrats.
Now, I'm on record as being very skeptical about this gambit -- but I could easily be wrong. As Dave Weigel shrewdly observed a week or so ago, the foreign policy polling showed that Obama's star had dimmed on this issue compared to six months ago. Having embassies and consulates attacked will do that. Indeed, for the first time in this election cycle, a poll came out showing that voters believe Romney would be tougher on terrorism than Obama.
So was I wrong? Not really. On the one hand, I'm actually glad that the president's foreign policy numbers are going down. This means that votrers are actually, you know, paying attention to foreign policy. I'm on record as wanting that to happen. And Obama's numbers should go down when bad things seem to be happening to the United States in the world. The combination of the ongoing loss of life in Syria, the embassy attacks, and bad Afghan strategy highlights the fact that killing Osama bin Laden is not a grand strategy.
But there are two counterpoints to this, one on politics and one on policy. On the politics, it's worth noting that Romney pivoted to foreign policy at a time when his poll numbers have pivoted in a southward direction. So even if Romney is doing comparatively better on terrorism issues, it's not an issue that voters care all that much about.
Second, I suspect that the narrowing of the gap between Romney and Obama is temporary. The reason goes back to this parable:
Two campers are in the woods. In the morning, as they exit their tent, they see a bear rumbling into their campsite. One of the campers immediately starts putting on his shoes. The other camper turns to him and says, "Are you crazy? Even with your shoes, there's no way you can outrun that bear."
The first camper stands up with his shoes now on and says, "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."
If voters make their choice on foreign policy as if it was a referendum on the Obama adminisration, then recvent events would represent a problem for them. But as with domestic policy, I suspect that they do a compare-and-contrast. And here Romney has some issues. He badly botched his initial response to the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi. Politico's story on his campaign wanting to go back to Libya suggests a lack of consensus on exactly how to attack the administration.
This lack of consensus shows up in Romney's latest foreign policy op-ed, which ran in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. There's an extended critique of the Obama administration's approach to the Middle East. That's fine if this was a referendum -- but if it's a choice, then what would Romney do differently? The relevant paragraphs:
In this period of uncertainty, we need to apply a coherent strategy of supporting our partners in the Middle East—that is, both governments and individuals who share our values.
This means restoring our credibility with Iran. When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability—and the regional instability that comes with it—is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us.
It means placing no daylight between the United States and Israel. And it means using the full spectrum of our soft power to encourage liberty and opportunity for those who have for too long known only corruption and oppression. The dignity of work and the ability to steer the course of their lives are the best alternatives to extremism.
But this Middle East policy will be undermined unless we restore the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values. That will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing.
You know what's funny about Romney's proposed foreign policy? It's exactly the same as what the Obama administration is doing right now. Clearly the administration is trying to use its economic power to win some friends in Egypt and hurt some enemies in Iran, for example. Hell, even Jennifer Rubin labelled the op-ed as "boring pablum." Romney doesn't offer a different strategy -- hell, he doesn't really offer up any strategy at all in the op-ed, just a lot of boilerplate rhetoric.
Now boilerplate rhetoric might have actually been enough in previous elections, when the GOP had a brand of foreign policy competency. Romney could simply articulate the message that, "Barack Obama and I both want to advance our interests in the world. He's bungled his chance -- I won't." But not enough voters are going to buy that sales pitch, not after Iraq. And since Romney can't hit Obama as being too hawkish, his only choice is going to be to try to out-hawk Obama. And the American people ain't in the mood for that either.
Barack Obama's foreign policy record is full of blemishes, but it doesn't contain the one thing that would give Mitt Romney an edge on this issue -- a truly catastrophic decision that cost ample amounts of blood and treasure. Without that, Romney would have to be note-perfect on foreign affairs to gain an edge -- and he's been anything but.
Conor Friedersdorf has an provocative essay over at The Atlantic in which he states a few hard truths about the state of the GOP on foreign policy... and then goes to a very strange place. The hard truths first:
President Obama's foreign policy is vulnerable to all sorts of accurate attacks. But Mitt Romney, the Republican Party, and the conservative movement are totally unable to exploit them. This is partly because the last four years have been spent advancing critiques so self-evidently implausible to anyone outside the movement that calling attention to them seems impolite. There is no factual basis for the assertion that Obama rejects American exceptionalism or that he embarked on an apology tour or that he is allied with our Islamist enemy in a "grand jihad" against America; or that his every action is motivated by Kenyan anti-colonialism. And while those critiques are especially inane, they aren't cherry-picked to discredit conservatives; they're actually all critiques advanced by prominent people, publications, and/or Republican politicians.
The fact that the vast majority of conservatives give no indication of having learned anything from the Iraq War is an even more significant reason that the GOP has lost its traditional edge on national security issues, with a majority of Americans telling pollsters they trust Democrats more.
OK, I'm with him so far. But then we get to how Friedersdorf thinks the GOP should ground its criticism:
So what could an opposition party less dysfunctional than Republicans say about Obama's foreign policy?
1) The Afghan surge turned out to be a failure that cost a lot of American lives and money with little if any lasting benefit.
2) In the course of the successful Bin Laden raid, the Obama Administration ran a fake vaccination campaign that failed in its mission to get the fugitive's DNA, failed to stay secret, and undermined public health efforts in Pakistan and elsewhere for a generation -- a catastrophic bungle that could conceivably make the world more vulnerable to a pandemic in the future.
3) Obama's main counterterrorism strategy, secretive CIA drone strikes in multiple Muslim countries, scatters terrorists to more countries than they'd otherwise be in, arguably creates more terrorists than it kills over time, and has definitely killed hundreds of innocent people at minimum.
4) Agree or disagree with the idea of intervening in Libya, the way President Obama went about it violated the U.S. Constitution, the War Powers Resolution, and an Obama campaign promise.
There are a lot more critiques of Obama's foreign policy. It's instructive to focus on these because they're just the sorts of things you can't attack if your party defines itself as most hawkish; totally discounts the importance of things like public health compared to military operations; doesn't pay any attention at all to dead innocents killed by America; and has totally abandoned Madisonian notions of checks and balances when it comes to national security policy (emphasis added).
I don't necessarily disagree that these lines of attacks exist -- but I also don't think that Friedersdorf comprehends the history of the GOP on foreign policy -- and I'm not just talking about the post-Cold War era. As Colin Dueck noted in his book Hard Right, the Republicans have been branding themselves as the more hawkish party since Thomas Dewey faded from the scene. Sure, the Ron Paul wing would love these lines of attack -- but I don't think either the rest of the GOP or the rest of the country for that matter is gonna dislike the drone strategy.
I agree that the GOP has made its mistakes in its foreign policy critiques, but the kind of conceptual pivot that Friedersdorf expects Republicans to make strikes me as pretty absurd.
So what should the GOP do? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know two things:
1) The Republican Party can't summarily reject the hawk brand it's built for more than a half-century;
2) Unless and until the GOP acknowledges that Iraq was a tragedy and a mistake, it will be as enfeebled on foreign policy as the Democratic Party was on this issue for a generation after the Vietnam War went south.
It appears that I owe Mitt Romney a partial apology. In yesterday's blog post I quoted from a video procured by Mother Jones' David Corn regarding Romney's perspective on the peace process between Israel and Palestine. The tape suggested that Romney had zero hope for peace. As Politico's Dylan Byers notes, however, the unedited version of the tape contained the following passage right after Romney had said that an ex-Secretary of State had told him that there was a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. After Romney said he didn't "delve" into it, he then added the following:
But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work. So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we’re trying to force peace on them. Then it’s worth having the discussion. So until then, it’s just wishful thinking (emphasis added).
OK, so it would appear that Romney does proffer a way of getting the two sides to talk. My deepest apologies to Governor Romney for only printing the part of the statement that Mother Jones initially released.
And yet... I have anothert question now. I fear that Romney's "more resolve" strategy -- a theme he's echoed since making these comments in May -- raises more questions than answers.
For exhibit A, let's go to the Financial Times' Najmeh Bozorgmehr, who interviewed Speaker of the Iranian Parliament (and possible future PM) Ali Larijani. Here's what he had to say to Bozorgmehr about Mitt Romney:
Military action against Iran would be “highly costly” for the US and threats issued by Mitt Romney as he tries to become the next American president are campaign rhetoric only and can be largely ignored, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian parliament, has told the FT.
Mr Romney has sought to portray himself as much tougher on Iran than President Barack Obama and more sympathetic to Israel’s concerns. But Mr Larijani is unimpressed, saying the Republican candidate has the “little bit of wisdom” needed to understand the consequences of waging war on the Islamic Republic.
So it would seem that Mr. Larijani doubts Romney's strength and resolve. This is a problem. Romney's Theory of Statecraft seems to be that all U.S. problems in the world can be soled with Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength. Now, even one accepts this premise, the failure of adversaries to believe Romney's promises means he's gonna have to display even more Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength to convince people that he is being strong... and resolute.
The thing is, though, even Romney's allies doubt his strength and resolve... at least, they doubt his strength and resolve with respect to his China policy:
Mitt Romney is hoping his tough talk on China policy will win him votes — but few of his big business donors or fellow Republicans support what he’s saying or believe he’d follow through if elected.
And if he did, many analysts say, he’d likely spark a disastrous and counter-productive trade war that would hurt both American consumers and the workers he says he’s trying to protect....
An actual Romney policy, many corporate executives believe, would have the same kind of focus on bringing cases before the World Trade Organization and negotiating behind closed doors — the same approach of Obama and George W. Bush.
“On his first day on the job, Romney is not going to put himself on the immediate defensive with the world’s second largest economy,” said one top financial industry executive who strongly supports Romney....
Romney hopes his tougher words will make Obama look weak. But the question remains whether Romney’s tough talk is just that: talk.
“It’s kind of a head scratcher,” said the senior financial services executive who supports Romney but questions his China policy. “Is this just rhetoric or is this really the view of the candidate?”
Now, to be fair, it's not just Romney supporters who don't believe Romney's resolve on China. A Bloomberg Global Poll of 847 "decision makers in finance, markets and economics" showed that 82% of respondents were skeptical that Romney would designate China as a currency manipulator, for example.
So we have a presidential candidate who thinks the way to get things done is to show resolve -- but neither his allies nor his adversaries believe Romney's own resolve. Which leads to the following question: is it possible that there is simply no amount of Extra-Strength Resolve and Strength that will allow Romney to bend the rest of the world to his will? And if that's the case, what's his fallback option?
In 2012, I've begun to notice that there have been certain instances where events move so rapidly that my blogging about them is futile -- even in the time it takes for me to cogitate and craft a blog post, the situation on the ground changes. This happened with the Chen Guangcheng case, and it happened this week with the rash of protests and violent stormings of U.S. facilities in the Greater Middle East. Now it's certainly possible that I'm losing my fastball, but I think it might be that there are moments when taking a deep breath and stepping back are useful exercises before rendering judgment and analysis.
[Uh, it's been a few days now, so you ready for some judgment and analysis?--ed. Yep. Let's blog this mother!]
The more I think about it, the more bemused I've been by calls for Mitt Romney to give a major speech on foreign policy. Right now, it's the president who needs to deliver a major address. Americans are rightly confused by what the United States is doing in the Middle East, and President Obama had a pretty uneven week. On the one hand, there appears to have been some adroit behind-the-scenes diplomacy on Egypt. On the other hand, there are crisis moments when patience begins to look too much like passivity, and that's beginning to happen to this administration. Sure, there have been times in the past when U.S. embassies and consulates around the world faced even greater threats -- but things still seem pretty uncertain, U.S. lives have been lost, and the only thing that can be said for Barack Obama's leadership this week is that he's not Mitt Romney. Oh, and that the administration's argument that this has been caused by a single stupid Youtube clip is utter horses**t.
The American public is already predisposed towards getting the hell out of the Middle East. Seeing images of consulates burning down, caskets coming home draped in American flags, and Middle East leaders reacting slowly and tepidly to the threat of street mobs will only reinforce this predisposition. Most Americans, facing these images after two long and draining wars in the region, will likely want to reduce the U.S. profile in the Middle East even more.
That would be a mistake, for numerous reasons -- not the least of which is that the U.S. eventually does benefit if these countries manage to transition to genuine electoral democracies. It's telling that in Egypt and Libya it was the losers at the ballot box who created trouble in the streets. A reduction of the U.S. presence in these countries does not necessarily send the best of signals -- just as encouraging the use of deadly force in retaliation wouldn't either.
This strikes me as exactly the kind of "teachable moment" that President Obama used to love. So if I were a foreign policy advisor to president Obama, I'd advise him to deliver a natonally televised speech to the country in which he addressed the following:
1) What measures were being taken to protect U.S. lives at our consulates and embassies across the world;
2) What he thinks the origins of the current conflagrations have been (hint: saying it's a YouTube clip would be a radically incomplete and dishonest answer);
3) Why the United States needs to maintain an active diplomatic, security and commercial presence in the region;
4) What the United States government needs to start doing differently in order to best advance our interests in the region.
Now, obviously, this speech would have to be crafted with an eye towards the region as well -- which is both the beauty and the challenge of it.
Moreover, if I were one of Obama's political advisors, I would sternly warn him against doing this, because the downside risks would be massive. Americans don't care much about foreign policy, and this speech could seem like a distraction from the domestic policy debates of the presidential campaign. Such a speech would have to acknowledge his own administration's foibles and fumbles in the region. The address could easily act as a focal point to trigger another wave of violence and instability.
That said, the U.S. really is stuck in the Middle East -- better to be stuck with full information than with muddling through. Or, at least, full information that we're muddling through.
One of the most frustrating things about Mitt Romney's blunders this week is that they took the pressure off of the Obama administration. When the challenger has set this low of a bar, it's not hard for the administration to claim that they're the adults in the room. Well, it's not enough just to be the adults -- they're the ones in charge, and they're the ones that need to make the case for patience, for persistence, and for diplomatic engagement. Get cracking.
As Fred Kaplan observed in Slate over the weekend, for the first time in a loooooooong time, the Democrats feel more secure on foreign policy and national security issues than the Republicans. When John Kerry starts making derisive references to Rocky IV, you know something strange is going on. As for Barack Obama, his convention acceptance speech was kind of middlin' -- except when he started talking about foreign policy. As Kaplan noted:
President Obama was even more casual in what can fairly be called, at least on these issues, his contempt for the Republican nominee. Romney’s depiction of Russia as America’s “number-one geostrategic foe” reveals that he’s “still stuck in a Cold War mind-warp,” Obama said—adding, in a reference to Romney’s disastrous trip to England this summer, “You might not be ready for diplomacy with Beijing if you can’t visit the Olympics without insulting our closest ally.”
Romney and Ryan “are new to foreign policy,” Obama said, barely containing a smirk. Yes, Obama was once new to it as well, though not as new—he’d at least served actively on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he picked a running mate, Joe Biden, who was seasoned. The more pertinent point the Democrats were making at their convention, though, is that Obama is not remotely new now.
Now, Peter Feaver will dissent, but short of another terrorist attack he's not going to move public opinion on this issue: every head-to-head poll has given Barack Obama a decided advantage on foreign policy and national security. Every one.
The thing is, I've stipulated over and over than Americans don't care all that much about foreign policy. So one has to wonder whether this really matters. It's an election about the economy, and there's no way to sugarcoat the anemic job growth as of late. So this foreign policy advantage won't amount to much, right?
Probably.... but there might be two ways in which foreign policy might affect the electoral outcome. The first, which as been playing out over the last year or so, is that Mitt Romney's relative competency on foreign policy has declined dramatically -- to the point where voters might believe that he's simply "below the bar."
Let's roll the clock back a year. When Romney was in the GOP primary squaring off against foreign affairs neophytes like Herman Cain and Rick Perry, it was pretty easy for him to look competent by comparison. Romney had gone to the bother of collecting foreign policy advisors and produced a real, live foreign policy white paper. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich obsessed about EMPs. Compared to his GOP opponents, Romney seemed competent by comparison.
Since the primary season ended, however, Romney has badly bungled the foreign policy side of his campaign. Whoever was wrangling the foreign policy advisors couldn't get them to shut up when they felt on the outs, so they kept on leaking -- sometimes to flacks who couldn't quite connect the dots. Romney's public pronouncements seemed logic-free and designed to play to the GOP base. Then came July's foreign trip, during which Romney managed to bungle what should have been some lovely photo-ops. During and immediately after this trip, by the way, Obama doubled his lead over Romney in the Real Clear Politics Poll Average. His VP choice, Paul Ryan, has even less foreign policy experience than Romney -- and no, voting for the Iraq war doesn't count. Finally, at the RNC, Romney failed to talk about the troops in Afghanistan, or veterans' issues, or war more generally -- the first time a GOP nominee has failed to do so since 1952.
At the same time that Romney's foreign policy "performance" has declined, the quality of his competition has improved. Romney isn't running against a former pizza exec now; he's running against a sitting president who oversaw the end of the war in Iraq, the successful prosecution of the Libya intervention, a rebalancing of American foreign policy towards the Pacific Rim, and the death of Osama bin Laden.
The trajectory matters because it calls Romney's basic competency on this issue into question, and because it complicates his fall campaign. No, voters don't care a lot about foreign policy, but they do want to be comfortable that the guy they vote for can handle the commander-in-chief test. A year ago, Mitt Romney would have cleared that hurdle with the American public. Now I'm not so sure.
Could the Romney campaign fix this? Sure, they could criticize the president and refine their own positions. But every day the Romney campaign tries to repair the damage is a day they're not talking about the economy. And if voters start thinking about secondary issues, including foreign policy, then Romney could lose some votes.
So the competency question is the first reason foreign policy might matter in this election. I'll blog about the second reason... oh... about 26 hours from now.
Your humble blogger has fiercely resisted getting drawn into the scrum regarding Niall Ferguson's Newsweek jeremiad against Barack Obama. I kinda already said my piece about Ferguson as a polemicist more than a year ago. The
fact-check critical blowback and Ferguson's response and the response to Ferguson's response have been truly nasty. And I'm supposed to be on vacation. There are beaches very close to where I am typing this. The Official Blog Wife will be unhappy -- and you do not want to see the Official Blog Wife unhappy on vacation.
At the moment, however, I find myself alone next to a computer. And I have noticed that most of the commentary has been directed at Ferguson's discussion of the U.S. economy. The foreign policy section of the essay has been comparatively neglected (though see here), and I was curious to see how it held up to a fact-check. So -- quickly, before the Official Blog Family returns from the beach -- let's dive in!
The failures of leadership on economic and fiscal policy over the past four years have had geopolitical consequences. The World Bank expects the U.S. to grow by just 2 percent in 2012. China will grow four times faster than that; India three times faster. By 2017, the International Monetary Fund predicts, the GDP of China will overtake that of the United States.
David Frum has already pointed out -- in a defense of Ferguson, mind you -- the ways in which Ferguson's calculatons of the Chinese economy are... er... geopolitically a bit off. By using purchasing power parity rather than market exchange rates, Ferguson is magnifying China's economic power just a wee bit. Or as Frum puts it, "things are not yet quite so dire as Ferguson fears."
Meanwhile, the fiscal train wreck has already initiated a process of steep cuts in the defense budget, at a time when it is very far from clear that the world has become a safer place—least of all in the Middle East.
You know, it's a funny coincidence, cause I was just perusing the Institute for Economics and Peace's 2012 Global Peace Index, which measures "the extent to which countries are involved
in ongoing domestic and international conflicts." A key conclusion they draw in the 2012 report? "The average level of peacefulness in 2012 is approximately the same as it was in 2007 (p. 37)." So, actually, it is somewhat clear that the world -- and the United States -- remains comparatively safe and secure.
For me the president’s greatest failure has been not to think through the implications of these challenges to American power. Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed—perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize—that all he needed to do was to make touchy-feely speeches around the world explaining to foreigners that he was not George W. Bush.
I discussed whether the Obama administration had a grand strategy at length in Foreign Affairs last year. I think Ferguson has half a point here on the "touchy-feely speeches" Obama delivered in his first year -- but his administration has clearly pivoted (get it?) away from that first-year approach
In Tokyo in November 2009, the president gave his boilerplate hug-a-foreigner speech: “In an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another ... The United States does not seek to contain China ... On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.” Yet by fall 2011, this approach had been jettisoned in favor of a “pivot” back to the Pacific, including risible deployments of troops to Australia and Singapore. From the vantage point of Beijing, neither approach had credibility.
What evidence is there that the rebalancing strategy hasn't worked and lacks credibility? The initial response to the pivot was pretty positive, and it's safe to say that China noticed it. I'm not saying that no evidence exists, mind you. I'm saying that sheer assertion by Ferguson does not in and of itself constiute evidence.
Believing it was his role to repudiate neoconservatism, Obama completely missed the revolutionary wave of Middle Eastern democracy—precisely the wave the neocons had hoped to trigger with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. When revolution broke out—first in Iran, then in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria—the president faced stark alternatives. He could try to catch the wave by lending his support to the youthful revolutionaries and trying to ride it in a direction advantageous to American interests. Or he could do nothing and let the forces of reaction prevail.
In the case of Iran he did nothing, and the thugs of the Islamic Republic ruthlessly crushed the demonstrations. Ditto Syria. In Libya he was cajoled into intervening. In Egypt he tried to have it both ways, exhorting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to leave, then drawing back and recommending an “orderly transition.” The result was a foreign-policy debacle. Not only were Egypt’s elites appalled by what seemed to them a betrayal, but the victors—the Muslim Brotherhood—had nothing to be grateful for. America’s closest Middle Eastern allies—Israel and the Saudis—looked on in amazement.
"This is what happens when you get caught by surprise," an anonymous American official told the New York Times in February 2011. “We’ve had endless strategy sessions for the past two years on Mideast peace, on containing Iran. And how many of them factored in the possibility that Egypt moves from stability to turmoil? None.”
Man, there's a lot to unpack here. First, I'm calling bulls**t on the Iran claim. Note to Niall: it's never a good idea to use a Jennifer Rubin talking point. Second, I'm pretty sure the administration has been active in Syria -- just not as active as Ferguson would like. Third, it's waaaaay too soon and simplistic describe Egypt as a "foreign-policy debacle."
Regarding the strategic surprise, Ferguson is telling the truth but not the whole truth. Sure, Obama was caught unawares. So was everyone else. I talked to a lot of high-ranking Israeli leaders/thinkers when I visited the country less than six months before the Arab Spring, and not a single person we talked to even hinted at any kind of pan-Arab uprising. Ferguson attends Herzliya regularly, so I'm curious whether he knows any Israelis who picked up on this.
My point here is that Israel has a powerful incentive to monitor everything going on in the Arab world -- and they didn't pick up on the Arab Spring. Does Ferguson seriously believbe a President McCain would have detected it?
Remarkably the president polls relatively strongly on national security. Yet the public mistakes his administration’s astonishingly uninhibited use of political assassination for a coherent strategy. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, the civilian proportion of drone casualties was 16 percent last year. Ask yourself how the liberal media would have behaved if George W. Bush had used drones this way. Yet somehow it is only ever Republican secretaries of state who are accused of committing “war crimes.”
The real crime is that the assassination program destroys potentially crucial intelligence (as well as antagonizing locals) every time a drone strikes. It symbolizes the administration’s decision to abandon counterinsurgency in favor of a narrow counterterrorism. What that means in practice is the abandonment not only of Iraq but soon of Afghanistan too. Understandably, the men and women who have served there wonder what exactly their sacrifice was for, if any notion that we are nation building has been quietly dumped. Only when both countries sink back into civil war will we realize the real price of Obama’s foreign policy.
Ferguson makes some interesting points here, but can we talk about the elephant in the room? Why does Ferguson think Obama polls well on national security? Killing bin Laden, the Libya war, the rebalancing strategy, and the withdrawal from Iraq are commonly cited. Guess which one on that list Ferguson fails to mention.
As for what veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq think, well, Pew polled vets on this very question in the fall of 2011. The results? "While post-9/11 veterans are more supportive than the general public, just one-third (34%) say that, given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting." Nevertheless, 96% of them felt proud of their military service. So I'm guessing that they want the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan too.
[UPDATE: Damn Pew's deceptive topline results! Looking a bit deeper, I see support for the war in Afghanistan still commands 50% support among post-9/11 veterans. On the other hand, these post-9/11 veterans also overwhelmingly (87%) support the increased use of unmanned drones that Ferguson dislikes so much.]
America under this president is a superpower in retreat, if not retirement. Small wonder 46 percent of Americans—and 63 percent of Chinese—believe that China already has replaced the U.S. as the world’s leading superpower or eventually will.
I like using survey data to bolster my arguments just as much as the next guy -- but I'm also willing to say quite clearly when the public is wrong about something -- and they're wrong about this. Furthermore, Ferguson knows this perception is wrong. We know from the previous paragraph that he doesn't care for public attitudes when he disagrees with them, but he uses it here. The reason? This time it supports his argument.
My verdict: the foreign policy section isn't as bad as the domestic policy section of Ferguson's article, but it's still sloppy. Ferguson makes a lot of lazy assertions without backing them up with facts. Some of the facts he uses are a bad fit for the arguments he's trying to make. And he values similar data points differently depending on whether they support his argument or not.
There are some good critiques that can be made of the Obama administration's foreign policy, and Ferguson skirts close to some of them. But Romney supporters can do better.
Mitt Romney kicked off his "see, I do too know something about foreign policy" world tour today. Before his homage to Barack Obama's 2008 tour, however, he gave what was labeled as a "major foreign policy address" at the VFW convention. Mark Halperin has the text. I'll just comment on a few pieces of it:
[W]hen it comes to national security and foreign policy, as with our economy, the last few years have been a time of declining influence and missed opportunity.
Just consider some of the challenges I discussed at your last national convention:
Since then, has the American economy recovered?
Has our ability to shape world events been enhanced, or diminished?
Have we gained greater confidence among our allies, and greater respect from our adversaries?
And, perhaps most importantly, has the most severe security threat facing America and our friends, a nuclear-armed Iran, become more or less likely? (emphasis added)
OK, stop, hold it right there. Now Iran is "the most severe security threat"? Is that better or worse than Russia being the number one geopolitical foe?
[Note to self: if Romney loses in November, propose co-hosting awards show with him on Fox News -- call it "The Greatest American Enemies." Categories would include "Greatest Geopolitical Threat," "Greatest Security Threat," "Greatest Existential Threat," and "Best Supporting Threat in Comedy or Musical." Ratings gold.]
I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country. I am not ashamed of American power. I take pride that throughout history our power has brought justice where there was tyranny, peace where there was conflict, and hope where there was affliction and despair. I do not view America as just one more point on the strategic map, one more power to be balanced. I believe our country is the greatest force for good the world has ever known, and that our influence is needed as much now as ever. And I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century.
Somewhere, the realist wing of Romney's foreign policy advisors are drowning in whiskey.
[S]adly, this president has diminished American leadership, and we are reaping the consequences. The world is dangerous, destructive, chaotic.
In an American Century, we have the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, we secure peace through our strength. And if by absolute necessity we must employ it, we must wield our strength with resolve. In an American Century, we lead the free world and the free world leads the entire world.
If we do not have the strength or vision to lead, then other powers will take our place, pulling history in a very different direction. A just and peaceful world depends on a strong and confident America. I pledge to you that if I become commander-in-chief, the United States of America will fulfill its duty, and its destiny.
That sound you hear is Bob Kagan smiling somewhere.
After secret operational details of the bin Laden raid were given to reporters, Secretary Gates walked into the West Wing and told the Obama team to “shut up.” He added a colorful word for emphasis.
Lives of American servicemen and women are at stake. But astonishingly, the administration failed to change its ways. More top-secret operations were leaked, even some involving covert action in Iran.
This isn’t a partisan issue; it’s a national security crisis. And yesterday, Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said, quote, “I think the White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks.”
Bully for Romney. This is totally fair issue, and the response I'm hearing from Obama loyalists that "Bush did it too" is pretty weak beer.
I'm going to skip the "Obama is abandoning out allies" and "I would act differently in Afghanistan" sections, because they're pretty much unchanged from what Romney has said in the past. Which means, by the way, that he's exaggerating both the discontent of our allies and the differences he has with Obama's Afghanistan policy.
On to China:
We face another continuing challenge in a rising China. China is attentive to the interests of its government – but it too often disregards the rights of its people. It is selective in the freedoms it allows; and, as with its one-child policy, it can be ruthless in crushing the freedoms it denies. In conducting trade with America, it permits flagrant patent and copyright violations … forestalls American businesses from competing in its market … and manipulates its currency to obtain unfair advantage. It is in our mutual interest for China to be a partner for a stable and secure world, and we welcome its participation in trade. But the cheating must finally be brought to a stop. President Obama hasn’t done it and won’t do it. I will (emphasis added)
The bolded section represents the nicest thing Romney has said about China during the campaign. I'd also note with some surprise that he didn't mention his pledge to label China as a currency manipulator on day one.
Now to the Middle East.
Egypt is at the center of this historical drama. In many ways, it has the power to tip the balance in the Arab world toward freedom and modernity. As president, I will not only direct the billions in assistance we give to Egypt toward that goal, but I will also work with partner nations to place conditions on their assistance as well. Unifying our collective influence behind a common purpose will foster the development of a government that represents all Egyptians, maintains peace with Israel, and promotes peace throughout the region. The United States is willing to help Egypt support peace and prosperity, but we will not be complicit in oppression and instability.
I put this in here because I haven't the faintest clue what it means in terms of actual policy beyond "aid to Egypt will be conditional on something." Conditional on what, exactly? How is this different from current policy?
And finally, we get to a kernel of Romney's strategic thinking:
It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace.
I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might.
This is very simple: if you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your President. You have that President today.
If this really is Romney's foreign policy philosophy, then he's right, it's a pretty sharp contrast with the incumbent. Not the "strongest nation on earth" business, but rather the importance of resolve. I'm not sure, however, that this is the contrast he wants. The last time someone ran foreign policy based on this philosophy was during the first term of the Bush administration. It didn't end well.
After the speech, Chuck Todd tweeted that "The Romney VFW speech felt like it was aimed at GOP voters, not swing voters." I'd agree. Foreign policy doesn't matter that much to swing voters, but rhetoric like this is a great way to appeal to and energize the base. If Romney were to actually follow through on this speech, then the consequences would range from insignificant to quite serious. But it could be that Romney simply doesn't care about foreign policy all that much, and is using these kind of speeches strictly as a tool to cater to key political constitutencies.
What do you think?
The Romney campaign has come in for a fair amount of criticism in the past week or so. Most of this is fairly typical summer doldrums stuff, but some of it has to do with Romney's foreign-policy musings -- or lack thereof. On this issue in particular, William Kristol, Gerry Seib, Fred Kaplan, and, er, your humble blogger have been pillorying the campaign for a near-complete lack of substance.
According to Politico's Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, the Romney campaign seems to have been listening:
Mitt Romney’s campaign is considering a major foreign policy offensive at the end of the month that would take him to five countries over three continents and mark his first move away from a campaign message devoted almost singularly to criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, sources tell POLITICO.
The tentative plan being discussed internally would have Romney begin his roll-out with a news-making address at the VFW convention later this month in Reno, Nev. The presumptive GOP nominee then is slated to travel to London for the start of the Olympics and to give a speech in Great Britain on U.S. foreign policy.
Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia. Romney officials had considered a stop in Afghanistan on the journey, but that’s now unlikely.
Sources stressed that the trip was still being planned but will be finalized internally this week, and some of the details are subject to change. While Romney is likely to lash Obama in his VFW speech, he’s expected to restrain his remarks about the president when speaking abroad.
Huh. Now, obviously, I can't comment on the content of any of these speeches. Still, the country selections are themselves revealing, as Burns & Haberman elaborate on in their Politico story. How do those choices stack up? Laura Rozen was a bit skeptical, tweeting that "his reported itinerary only seems 25 yrs out of date." Kristol responded in the Politico story by urging Romney to go to Afghanistan.
My initial response falls more into the Larry David camp on this one. The goal of a trip like this is twofold: to try to demonstrate some kind of foreign-policy gravitas, and to draw a distinction between one's foreign-policy views and that of the opponents. The second part is really tricky to do overseas, because one of the few norms of comity left in Washington is that public officials aren't supposed to criticize a sitting president's foreign policy in foreign lands. Romney can finesse this by going to countries where he thinks he can foster a stronger bilateral relationship, in contrast to Obama (it would be more awkward for him to go to countries where he thinks the U.S. should be less friendly, so I think we can rule out stops in Moscow and Beijing).
By that standard, this is a decent list. The stops in Israel and Poland highlight the frictions the Obama administration's rebalancing and reset strategies have created in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Going to Germany allows Romney to ding Obama on economic policy, as Romney is clearly more sympatico with Angela Merkel's austerity strategy.
If I were planning the itinerary, however, I'd suggest two additional stops. First, India. That's another country where bilateral relations have cooled off a bit during the Obama years. It's also one of the BRIC economies, which would allow Romney to disprove Laura Rozen's charge of being out-of-touch with current geopolitical realities. Second, Seoul. This would allow Romney to blast North Korea with invective while talking about his vision for the Pacific Rim.
What do you think? Where would you have Romney go visit?
Dear Governor Romney,
Congratulations on securing the GOP nomination and earning a roughly 50/50 shot at becoming president in January 2013. It was an ugly primary fight, but you're passed it and have been consolidating your right flank. Politically speaking, nicely done.
Now, I know you want this campaign to be about the economy, the economy, and the economy, but can we talk about foreign policy for just a little bit? Because if you don't talk about international relations, your advisors are gonna continue to bitch and moan to the press, like they did this week to Rich Oppel at the New York Times and Eli Lake at Daily Beast.
This will be an ongoing problem for you, because an emerging meme is that your campaign has remarkably little policy content. Your campaign didn't handle immigration terribly well, for example. Indeed, on foreign policy, you've actually been a bit more forthcoming than on other policy dimensions. The thing is, what you've said in recent months has prompted... er... well... either mockery or derision. No one knows whether you're the second coming of neoconservatism or a more realpolitik foreign policy leader. This lack of certainty is making a lot of people itchy.
One of your consistent themes has been to bash President Obama because "his positions in foreign policy have not communicated American strength and resolve." The thing is, if you can't even control your own foreign policy advisors from blabbing to anyone and everyone who writes about foreign policy, well, then you're not really communicating strength and resolve either, are you?
We agree that this election should primarily be about the economy. But I suspect we also agree that voters need to be comfortable with a presidential candidate as a commander-in-chief and a foreign policy leader. After four years, President Obama has carved out a record that is not without blemishes but is pretty clearly above the bar in terms of foreign policy competence. The burden is on you to demonstrate that you can be above the bar as well. So far, all you've demonstrated is that you might be better at foreign policy than Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, or Rick Perry, which is a really low bar.
President Obama has made a hash of his policy towards Israel and Palestine. Relations with Pakistan, Russia, India and Canada have cooled off considerably since the Bush years. America's relationship with Latin America and Africa seems uncertain at best. Cybersecurity remains an inchoate mess. On foreign economic policy, it's not clear at all that Obama can get the G-20 to agree on anything and the Doha trade round is dead, dead, dead. There's clearly room for improvement, and American foreign policy benefits from a vigorous marketplace of ideas. So show some leadership, get your team in line, and articulate a foreign policy vision that goes beyond the vague nostrums of "An American Century."
Seriously, get it together.
Daniel W. Drezner
Your humble blogger has been underwhelmed with Mitt Romney's foreign policy pronouncements to date. Sure, I thought what he was saying was far better than most of the rest of the GOP 2012 field, but that's like complimenting Moe on being the smart Stooge.
The past month or so have not helped matters. During this period, Romney has continued to harp on Obama's non-existent "apology tour", published an op-ed on China that the Hulk could have drafted, and labeled a dysfunctional and demographically dying state our number one geopolitical foe.
In fairness, the Romney campaign has a tough task. Obama's foreign policy has been far from perfect, but he's hit the key notes reasonably well. U.S. standing abroad has risen considerably, Osama bin Laden is dead, U.S. grand strategy has pivoted towards the most dynamic region in the world, and his Secretary of State is a badass texter. There are angles where Romney could try to hit Obama - the Iraq withdrawal, the planned drawdown in Afghanistan -- except that the American public overwhelmingly endorses these moves. That ground is not fertile. This has reduced the Romney campaign to do little but shout "Iran is dangerous! Israel is getting thrown under the bus!!" a lot. The fact that the Obama White House seems delighted to highlight this stuff is not a good sign for the Romney folk.
This is a shame. Foreign policy might actually matter in this campaign, and it would be nice if there was a genuine debate. For that to happen, however, the Romney campaign needs to actually mount a substantive critique as opposed to a purely oppositional one. They need to seize on an issue and show how it represents the flaws of Obama's foreign policy approach.
Might I suggest North Korea? From today's New York Times front-pager by Mark Landler and Jane Perlez:
With North Korea poised to launch a long-range missile despite a widespread international protest, the Obama administration is trying to play down the propaganda value for North Korea’s leaders and head off criticism of its abortive diplomatic opening to Pyongyang in late February....
[T]he administration’s options are limited. The United States will not seek further sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, this official said, because North Korea is already heavily sanctioned and Washington needs to preserve its political capital with China and Russia to win their backing for future measures against Syria and Iran. The more likely scenario at the United Nations is a weaker statement from the Council president.
With North Korea telling reporters that it had begun fueling the rocket, the launching appeared imminent, confronting the Obama administration with a new diplomatic crisis after an agreement that American officials had hoped would open a new chapter with a traditionally hostile and unpredictable nation.
White House officials moved aggressively to deflect criticism of that deal, which offered North Korea food aid in return for a pledge to suspend work on its uranium enrichment program and to allow international inspectors into the country.
Unlike the administration of President George W. Bush, this official said, the Obama administration did not give the North Koreans anything before they violated the agreement by announcing plans to go ahead with the satellite launching. And, he added, the administration expects the North Koreans to abide by the other terms of the deal if it hopes, as it has said, for a fuller diplomatic dialogue.
Still, for President Obama, who prided himself on not falling into the trap of previous presidents in dealing with North Korea, the diplomatic dead end has been a frustrating episode: proof that a change in leadership in Pyongyang has done nothing to change its penchant for flouting United Nations resolutions, paying no heed to its biggest patron, China, and reneging on deals with the United States.
This is an issue that the Romney campaign should be all over. The administration's policy of "strategic patience" followed by "let's make a deal with Kim the Younger" has not worked well. The DPRK highlights the Obama administration's reluctance to talk tough with China and the ways in which its nonproliferation policy seems to be... troubled. This is taking place in the most strategically interesting part of the world. In other words, this is an issue where Obama's record has been radically imperfect and a solid critique should resonate. Sure, there's no magic solution or anything, but attacking Obama on this issue is at least a way for Romney to articulate exactly what he means when he signals his hawkishness.
So let's see how the Romney campaign responds. Disappointingly, North Korea was not even mentioned in the Romney foreign policy team's open letter to Obama, and it's nowhere on Romney's campaign blog. If that doesn't change by the end of this week, then I'll know I don't really need to take his foreign policy pronouncements all that seriously.
I'm daring you, Mitt Romney. I'm double-dog-daring you. Let's see if and your team have got the foreign policy goods or not.
The genesis of this blog post is a bit arcane. In response to news reports about proposed changes in U.S. defense doctrine, Andrew Exum jokingly suggested "replacing the 'Two Wars' strategy with a 'Who Wants Some? You? How About You, Tough Guy?' strategy" on Twitter. This led to other suggested mottos, expressed in YouTube videos, which eventually led to me issuing a grandiose call: suggest the YouTube clip that "best encapsulates American grand strategy."
Yeah, that should bring you up to speed.
Below you will find the
ten eleven suggested clips that resonated the most for me, with some further elaboration by your humble blogger. WARNING: some profanity. Then again, if the profane is offensive to you, it's best that you not think too hard about American foreign policy.
A penetrating critique of the orrery of errors that have befallen American foreign policy as of late. Clearly, the United States is trying to conduct its international affairs in a sea of darkness, lacking crucial information to light the way. Despite the best efforts to get all the components of American power into alignment, it's hard to pull off.
Steve Saideman linked to this scene from Crocodile Dundee:
The new or not so new defense strategy of having enough of a military to fight one war while deterring or spoiling an adversary's plans requires a "bigger knife" not to use but to dissuade challengers.
Such a grand strategy also plays to the U.S.'s current strength -- dominating conventional war through bigger and better weapons. In the video, Croc Dundee is confronted not by one mugger but several (and one can read race into this if one wants, since the mugger was African-American, and most threats to the U.S. are by non-white folks). His big knife spoils the plans of each of them. Sounds like a good use of resources.
I think it works as an example of soft power and American exceptionalism. Via her affirmations Jessica demonstrates that Americans think America is awesome -- and therefore, why the rest of the world will/should want the same things Americans want.
FP's Michael Cohen proffers this climactic speech from Animal House:
Not bad, actually. Note that Bluto's inspiring speech has no appreciable effect on the apathetic Deltas at first. Only when other elites -- like Otter -- indicate their support, does the rest of the country -- I mean, fraternity -- rally around the flag. A subtle exegesis of how elite consensus can drive the mass public into stupid, futile gestures.
An utterly brilliant exposition of the ways in which the best strategy in the world will be subverted by the cowboy who shoots first and asks questons later. Indeed, this clip works on two levels. On the one hand, you can think of it as the struggles that go on within the U.S. foreign policy bureaucracy to make sure everyone is on the same page -- and the ways in which hawkish actors can unilaterally set the agenda. Or, look at it as an exegesis of how the United States, through its willingness to take immediate aggressive action, can exacerbate tensions among its less powerful allies. This exuberance can breed resentment among America's partners, but often, Washington doesn't care, because, well, at least we ain't chicken.
Hmmm ... I'm intrigued. This appears to be a subtle indictment of the idealpolitik that occasionally governs American foreign policy. After all, Ray is trying to "think of the most harmless thing ... something that could never destroy us." Naturally, this leads to the creation of an entity that causes his paranormal colleagues to be "terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought." Think of this as a potential metaphor of both liberal and neoconservative enthusiasm for democracy promotion. Sure, it sounds good in your head, but then you see who winds up doing well in the post-Arab Spring political environment, it's easy to lose the capacity for rational choice.
Ha, I bet you think you've been rickrolled. Think again! Rick Astley smartly presaged one of the central dilemmas of America's post-Cold War foreign policy: how do you get nervous allies to believe that the United States will honor its overseas obligations? You have to
have attractive bleach-blonde back-up singers reassure them that "a full commitment's what I'm thinking of" and that "you'll never get this from any other guy." You have to pledge, repeatedly, that America is "never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down." Furthermore, the United States is "never gonna run around and desert you." This kind of reassurance mechanism, done with the proper tone and in harmony with other voices, can make even the wariest of allies vault over political barriers and do backflips in celebration of their alliances with the United States.
Steven suggests that, at a minimum, this explains public discourse on grand strategy, and he has a point. On the one hand, you have an angry public that appears to be willing to fabricate evidence to justify taking aggressive action. On the other hand, you have elites that reject the absence of any logic to justify action. Instrad, they rely on their own galactically stupid set of axioms to guide their thinking.
Sure, the song is an obvious choice, but as he notes, it was no accident that he chose this version. The joyful version makes light of America's exuberance for all things American. That's not the point of this clip -- it suggests the dark side of American exceptionalism, the burden that the United States faces as it tries to preserve global order in a world gone amok by odd, tacit alliances between terrorists and rogue states.
In less than three seconds, this clip hints at a myriad number of rich textual interpretations. Does the dog represent what happens when force is used, dragging the rest of the country along? Or, perhaps the canine symbolizes the big influence of small allies. Actors that the United States thinks it has under its thumb are actually driving foreign policy more than you would think. Without question, however, critics of the Obama administration would conclude that this clip is the definitive explication of the perils that come with "leading from behind."
Like most of these seemingly short clips, Wueger's submission works on two levels. On the one hand, it demonstrates the ways in which hegemonic power allows some actors to be able to pursue policies that small actors simply cannot. In this comparison, this clip reminds the viewer of the many global public goods that a hegemonic actor might feel obligated to provide. Compare Bus 62 with the U.S. Navy after the 2004 tsunami, for example. On the other hand, hegemonic power can also have unanticipated negative externalities. Sure, Bus 62 simply plows through the barrier. However, it does so without helping the other people stuck in traffic, and, like a boss, nearly plows over the person in the way. A cautionary tale about the uses and possible abuses of power.
OK, readers, what are your suggestions?
It's time to admit that I'm getting old. I feel the aches and pains from workouts a bit more keenly. I have to Google acronyms I see on Twitter all the time. No matter how hard I try, I just don't feel comfortable wearing an untucked shirt with a blazer. Only now am I discovering Alison Brie, which makes me way behind the curve. Most importantly, however, I find myself reading threat assessments made by junior international relations scholars and shaking my head at these young-security-kids-with-their-having-no-memory-of-the-Cold-War.
To explain where I'm coming from, here's what I wrote a little more than a year ago:
Terrorism and piracy are certainly security concerns -- but they don't compare to the Cold War. A nuclear Iran is a major regional headache, but it's not the Cold War. A generation from now, maybe China poses as serious a threat as the Cold War Soviet Union. Maybe. That's a generation away, however....
I'm about to say something that might be controversial for people under the age of 25, but here goes. You know the threats posed to the United States by a rising China, a nuclear Iran, terrorists and piracy? You could put all of them together and they don't equal the perceived threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
I'll stand by that statement, and I'm not the only one here at FP to believe it. Over the past week, however, I'm seeing some
young whippersnappers junior scholars evince a different estimate of threats to U.S. national security.
Over at Shadow Government, Paul Miller has a four-part series -- count 'em, one, two, three, four -- of blog posts arguing that the world is a more dangerous place now than before. He sums up his argument in this concluding section:
Essentially, the United States thus faces two great families of threats today: first, the nuclear-armed authoritarian powers, of which there are at least twice as many as there were during the Cold War; second, the aggregate consequences of state failure and the rise of non-state actors in much of the world, which is a wholly new development since the Cold War. On both counts, the world is more dangerous than it was before 1989. Essentially take the Cold War, add in several more players with nukes, and then throw in radicalized Islam, rampant state failure, and the global economic recession, and you have today.
I recognize that the world doesn't feel as dangerous as it did during the Cold War. During the Cold War we all knew about the threat and lived with a constant awareness-usually shoved to the back of ours minds to preserve our sanity-that we might die an instantaneous firey death at any moment. We no longer feel that way.
Our feelings are wrong. The Cold War engaged our emotions more because it was simple, easily understood, and, as an ideological contest, demanded we take sides and laid claim to our loyalties. Today's environment is more complex and many-sided and so it is harder to feel the threat the same way we used to. Nonetheless, the danger is real.
Meh. Actually, meh squared.
To be fair to Miller, I do think he is getting at something that has changed over time during the post-Cold War era. First, the threat envorinment does seem higher now than twenty years ago, as the Soviet Union was about to collapse. China is more economically powerful, Russia is more revanchist, North, Korea, Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons, the barriers to entry for non-state actors to wreak havoc has gone up. The likelihood of a conventional great power war is lower, but the likelihood of a serious attack on American soil seems higher than in late 1991. So in terms of trend, it does feel like the world is less safe.
What's also changed, however, is the tight coupling of the Cold War security environment (ironically, just as the security environment has become more loosely coupled, the global political economy has become more tightly coupled). Because the U.S. and U.S.S.R. were such implacable adversaries and because they knew it, the possibility of a small dispute -- Berlin, Cuba, a downed Korean airliner -- escalating very quickly was ever-present. The possibility of an accident triggering all-out nuclear war was also higher than was realized at the time. The current threat environment is more loosely interconnected, in that a small conflict seems less likely to immediately ramp up into another Cuban Missile Crisis. Indeed, the events of the past year support that point. Saudi Arabia essentially invaded Bahrain, and Iran did.... very little about it. The United States deployed special forces into the heart of Pakistan's military complex. The aftermath of that is undeniably uglier, but it's not we-are-at-DEFCON-ONE kind of ugly. Miller might be more accurate in saying that there is a greater chance of a security dust-up in today's complex threat environment, but there's a much lower likelihood of those dust-ups spiraling out of control.
In Miller's calculations, it seems that any country with a nuclear weapon constitutes an equal level of threat. But that's dubious on multiple grounds. First, none of the emerging nuclear states have anywhere close to a second-strike capability. If they were to use their nukes against the United States, I think they know that there's an excellent chance that they don't survive the counterstrike. Second, the counter Miller provides is that these authoritarian leaders are extra-super-crazy. I'm not going to defend either the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei or Kim the Younger, but are these leaders more crazy than either Mao or Stalin or Kim Jong Il? Those are three of the worst leaders in history -- and none of them came close to using nuclear weapons. Finally, the Pakistan case is instructive -- even after getting nukes, and even after getting very cozy with radical terrorist groups, that country has refrained from escalating hostilities with India to the point of another general war.
As for the non-state threats, they are disturbing, but I'd posit that on this front the United States really is safer now than it was a decade ago. The only organization capable of launching a coordinated terrorist strike against the United States is now a husk of its former self. Indeed, I'd wager that Miller's emotions, or his memory of 9/11, are getting in the way of dispassionate analysis.
In essence, Miller conflates the number of possible threats with a greater magnitude of threats. I agree that there are more independent threats to the United States out there at present, but combined, they don't stack up to the Soviet threat. To put it another way, I prefer avoiding a swarm of mosquitoes to one really ravenous bear.
In related exaggerated threat analysis, Matthew Kroenig argues in Foreign Affairs that an airstrike on Iran might be the best of a bad set of options in dealing with Iran. This has set poor Stephen Walt around the bend in response, as op-eds advocating an attack on Iran are wont to do.
I've generally found both sides of the "attack Iran" debate to be equally dyspeptic, but in this case I do find Kroenig's logic to be a bit odd. Here's his arguments for why a nuclear Iran is bad and containment is more problematic than a military attack:
Some states in the region are doubting U.S. resolve to stop the program and are shifting their allegiances to Tehran. Others have begun to discuss launching their own nuclear initiatives to counter a possible Iranian bomb. For those nations and the United States itself, the threat will only continue to grow as Tehran moves closer to its goal. A nuclear-armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East. With atomic power behind it, Iran could threaten any U.S. political or military initiative in the Middle East with nuclear war, forcing Washington to think twice before acting in the region. Iran’s regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia, would likely decide to acquire their own nuclear arsenals, sparking an arms race. To constrain its geopolitical rivals, Iran could choose to spur proliferation by transferring nuclear technology to its allies -- other countries and terrorist groups alike. Having the bomb would give Iran greater cover for conventional aggression and coercive diplomacy, and the battles between its terrorist proxies and Israel, for example, could escalate. And Iran and Israel lack nearly all the safeguards that helped the United States and the Soviet Union avoid a nuclear exchange during the Cold War -- secure second-strike capabilities, clear lines of communication, long flight times for ballistic missiles from one country to the other, and experience managing nuclear arsenals. To be sure, a nuclear-armed Iran would not intentionally launch a suicidal nuclear war. But the volatile nuclear balance between Iran and Israel could easily spiral out of control as a crisis unfolds, resulting in a nuclear exchange between the two countries that could draw the United States in, as well.
These security threats would require Washington to contain Tehran. Yet deterrence would come at a heavy price. To keep the Iranian threat at bay, the United States would need to deploy naval and ground units and potentially nuclear weapons across the Middle East, keeping a large force in the area for decades to come. Alongside those troops, the United States would have to permanently deploy significant intelligence assets to monitor any attempts by Iran to transfer its nuclear technology. And it would also need to devote perhaps billions of dollars to improving its allies’ capability to defend themselves. This might include helping Israel construct submarine-launched ballistic missiles and hardened ballistic missile silos to ensure that it can maintain a secure second-strike capability. Most of all, to make containment credible, the United States would need to extend its nuclear umbrella to its partners in the region, pledging to defend them with military force should Iran launch an attack (emphasis added).
OK, first, exactly who is bandwagoning with Iran? Seriously, who? Kroenig provides no evidence, and I'm scratching my head to think of any data points. The SCAF regime in Egypt has been a bit more friendly, but Turkey's distancing is far more significant and debilitating for Tehran's grand strategy. Iran's sole Arab ally is in serious trouble, and its own economy is faltering badly. The notion that time is on Iran 's side seems badly off.
Second, Kroenig presume that a nuclear Iran would be more aggressive in the region and more likely to have a nuclear exchange with Iran. I will again point to India/Pakistan. Despite similar religious divides, and despite the presence of pliable non-state actors, those two countries have successfully kept a nuclear peace. Kroenig might have an argument that Israel/Iran is different, but it's not in this essay. Indeed, the bolded section contradicts Kroenig's own argument -- if Iran is not prepared to use its nuclear weapons, it seems unlikely that it will escalate crises to the point where its bluff is called. If Kroenig's own scholarship suggests that America's nuclear superiority would still be an effective deterrent, then I'm not sure why he portrays the Iran threat in such menacing terms.
There's more, but this post is long enough anyway. Both Kroenig and Miller are correct to highlight current threats. But, to put it gently, until all of these threats, combined, can cause this to happen in under an hour, I'm sleeping soundly.
Am I missing anything?
With the passing of APSA and the dawning of Labor Day, it's time for people to go back to school and Think Deep Thoughts. In the realm of international relations theory, Thanassis Cambanis' essay in the Sunday Boston Globe Ideas section is a great starter course for thinking about the way the world works. His basic thesis:
Instead of a flurry of new thinking at the highest echelons of the foreign policy establishment, the major decisions of the past two administrations have been generated from the same tool kit of foreign policy ideas that have dominated the world for decades. Washington’s strategic debates - between neoconservatives and liberals, between interventionists and realists - are essentially struggles among ideas and strategies held over from the era when nation-states were the only significant actors on the world stage. As ideas, none of them were designed to deal effectively with a world in which states are grappling with powerful entities that operate beyond their control....
As yet, no major new theory has taken root in the most influential policy circles to explain how America should act in this kind of world, in which Wikileaks has made a mockery of the diplomatic pouch and Silicon Valley rivals Washington for cultural influence. But there are at least some signs that people in power are starting to try in earnest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has openly integrated the search for a new paradigm into her policy making. In universities, think tanks, and the government, thinkers trying to grapple with this fluid world structure are finally getting attention in the circles where their ideas could shape policy.
Read the whole, provocative thing -- if you agree with Cambanis' arguments, then it certainly represents a data point in favor of Anne-Marie Slauighter's vision of how world politics operates.
My onlytweak of Cambanis' essay is that he repeatedly stresses the need for a new generation of strategic concepts and international relations theories to guide U.S. grand strategy, and then lists as examples the following:
Joseph Nye, a Harvard political scientist who served in the Carter and Clinton administrations and has advised Secretary of State Clinton, was one of the pioneers. In the 1990s, he coined the term “soft power,” arguing that sometimes the most effective way for America to promote its interests would be through influencing global health and the environment, or culture and education. His latest book, “The Future of Power,” counsels that America can preserve its influence if it reconceives its institutions and priorities to deal with a world where the energy is shifting from the West to the East, as well as from states to non-state actors. Michael Doyle at Columbia University, a seminal theorist whose idea of a “democratic peace” in the 1990s crucially inflected policy with the belief that democracies don’t fight each other, now talks about the notion of an age of the “empowered individual,” where lone actors can alter the trajectory of states and of history as never before. Stephen Walt, also at Harvard, argues that in the new era America simply needs to start by acknowledging its limits: that with less muscle and less extra money, the first step will be to streamline its goals in a way that so far politicians have been loath to do.
No offense to Joseph Nye, Michael Doyle, and Steve Walt -- these are Great Men of interntional relaions thought. The notions that Cambanis lists here, however, are not "new" in any sense. Which leads me to wonder whether Cambanis has defined the problem correctly. Is it that international relations theory has gone stale... or is it simply that the wrong set of existing theories are in vogue today?
What do you think?
whored mingled enough with the magazine world to understand that publishing "best/worst" lists are fun and engaging. Some choices will be universally acknowledged, others will provoke controversy and debate, and so forth. Lists are always going to engage the readers. It's almost impossible to get them wrong.
I bring this up because The Atlantic's list of the best and worst foreign policy presidents of the past century is really, really wrong.
Democracy Arsenal's Michael Cohen cobbled together the list. Here are his criteria:
After reaching out to host of historians, foreign policy experts, academics and various think tankers here's one stab at answering a question which, in many respects, has no right answer. How you choose the best and worst foreign policy President depends in large measure on what values inform your vision of what a good foreign policy looks like. If you're a foreign policy idealist, Wilson would seem pretty good; a foreign policy realist; you might cast a vote for George H.W Bush or even Richard Nixon. If you prefer your presidents to talk tough, Harry Truman might be your man; if you prefer a more modest and less partisan figure, Dwight Eisenhower might float your boat.
As my list suggests, I tend to lean toward the more restrained, pragmatic realists who are suspicious about the use of force. Conversely, I'm more wary of not only the idealistic and ideologically driven presidents, but also those who use foreign policy, most destructively, as a tool of domestic politics.
OK, fair enough. Here's his list:
The Five Best Presidents: 1) FDR; 2) Dwight Eisenhower; 3) George H.W. Bush; 4) Ronald Reagan; 5) John F. Kennedy
The Five Worst Presidents: 1) LBJ; 2) Jimmy Carter; 3) Woodrow Wilson; 4) Harry Truman; 5) Richard Nixon.
I'll let Tom Ricks rebut the JFK assessment on his own blog. I'll let my readers make other objections -- and there are many ones to make -- with most of he list. My problem is with the assessment of Harry Truman as, somehow, one of the five worst foreign policy presidents of the last century.
Here's Cohen's explanation -- let's do this by paragraph, shall we?
Harry Truman has in the nearly 50 years since he left the White House grown significantly in the estimation of both the public and many historians. To be sure, he deserves enormous credit for protecting and stabilizing Western Europe with the Marshall Plan and the creation of NATO. These are signal achievements but as historians from Robert Dallek and Walter Lafeber to Fredrik Logevall have suggested there is a pretty significant downside to Truman's presidency as well.
One must stop here or a second and admire Cohen's ability to glom most of Truman's foreign policy accomplishments into a single sentence. That takes some doing. One could have at least noted that in the span of five years Truman and his foreign policy advisors created pragmatic institutions that not only withstood the Cold War but prospered even after it ended. Nope, nothing on that point. That takes some serious doing.
OK, let's move onto Truman's alleged defects:
First there was Korea. An impulsive response to a cross-border attack that re-shaped American foreign policy. It was the final nail in the coffin of the more modest containment strategy proposed by George Kennan and by default enshrined the notion that the US had a responsibility to contain Communism wherever it showed its fangs. But while the decision to go to war can be considered a debatable one; the failure in rein in Douglas MacArthur's push to the Yalu River, which triggered a Chinese intervention is a disaster that can't be washed away (even by Truman's later decision to fire the general). Considering that more than 20 million North Koreans continue to live in terrible hardship today because of that decision only compounds the mistake (emphasis added).
Why yes, that's so true. Had Truman not decided to respond in force in Korea, there wouldn't be 20 million North Koreans living in terrible hardship -- there would be at least 60 million Koreans living in terrible hardship.
Seriously, this line of reasoning makes no sense to me. I understand but strongly disagree with the logic that intervening in Korea was a mistake. I understand and kinda agree with the contention that crossing the 38th parallel was exceedingly costly in terms of blood and treasure. I simply can't understand, however, the argument that had the U.S. not made that push, North Korea would have evolved differently. Would Kim-Il Sung have abandoned juche if MacArthur hadn't tried for the Yalu?
Speaking of MacArthur, you can't acknowledge Truman's failure to rein him in without also acknowledging that by firing MacArthur, Truman cemented civilian control over the military just as the size of the U.S. military was reaching a new high.
Beyond Korea, the Truman Doctrine and its declaration that it was the "policy of the United States to support free people who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures" laid the groundwork for the limitless definition of US national interests that unfolded over the next 60 years. As Kennan would later note, it was one thing to contain Communism in Europe (a goal on which Truman succeeded). It was quite another to broaden that goal to the rest of the world. There is, as a result, a straight line between Truman's foreign policy choices and the war in Vietnam.
Right, this is why Eisenhower felt compelled to intervene in Vietnam during Dien Bien Phu -- oh, wait, as Cohen points out in his Eisenhower write-up, he did the exact opposite of that. I don't buy straight-line arguments that take two decades to play out.
Then there was Truman's use of anti-Communist rhetoric for political advantage that turned what might have been a balance of power, geo-political clash into an ideological one. This, of course, also helped to politicize the Cold War in the United States and heightened the issue of anti-Communism. Indeed, few Presidents more flagrantly used foreign policy as a political punching bag as frequently as Truman.
I'd be more charitable towards this point if Cohen hadn't also said that Eisenhower "used Cold War fears to push for national highway system and more money for higher education, two smart national security investments." When is using foreign policy fears at home good and when is it bad, exactly? Based on Cohen's list, I can't tell.
Finally, ask yourself a counter-factual: how would the Cold War have unfolded if FDR had lived out his fourth term, rather than having the inexperienced Truman become the leader of the Free World? It's not hard to imagine that the tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, so deftly handled by FDR during WWII, would have been minimized and a less militarist and dangerous conflict might have emerged. At the very least, as Robert Dallek points out even if superpower, ideological conflict between the US and Soviet Union was inevitable, Truman never really sought to find an alternative (emphasis added).
Again, I'm not sure what to make of this. First, Cohen acknowledged that FDR "sold out the Eastern Europe countries at Yalta." Does he believe that FDR would have somehow been able to repulse Stalin in Iran, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere without a Cold War -- or do those countries not matter?
Second, if the bipolar distribution of power made superpower conflict inevitable, why exactly should Truman be blamed for not dickering around with alternatives that would have crashed and burned? According to this logic, Truman is one of the five worst foreign policy presidents of the last century because he failed to pursue unfeasible options. I'm sorry, but clearly I don't get it.
In his blog post explaining the list, Cohen acknowledges that:
I'm probably far too generous to John F. Kennedy, who makes the best list, and far too harsh to Richard Nixon, who makes the worst list. This is a pretty fair critique and if I had my druthers I'd put both men somewhere in the middle, but the need for editorial symmetry was too strong!
Fair enough -- but I'm sorry, listing Harry Truman as one of the five-worst foreign policy presidents is absurd.
Am, I missing anything?
Despite Fareed Zakaria's best efforts, it seems that foreign policy commentators can't stop offering advice on American grand strategy.
Richard Haass provides the latest salvo in Time. After arguing that no other great power can offer a serious revisionist challenge to the current system, concluding, "Today's great powers are not all that great." With that set-up, he proposes a grand strategy of "Restoration":
The U.S. would continue to carry out an active foreign policy—to create international arrangements to manage the challenges inherent in globalization, to invigorate alliances and partnerships, to deal with the threats posed by an aggressive North Korea, a nuclear-armed Iran and a failing Pakistan.
But under a doctrine of restoration, there would be fewer wars of choice—armed interventions when either the interests at stake are less than vital or when there are alternative policies that appear viable. Recent wars of choice include Vietnam, the second Iraq war and the current Libyan intervention. There would, however, continue to be wars of necessity, which involve vital interests when no alternatives to using military force exist. Modern wars of necessity include the first Iraq war and Afghanistan after 9/11....
Restoration is not just about acting more discriminating abroad; it is even more about doing the right things at home. The principal focus would be on restoring the fiscal foundations of American power. The current situation is unsustainable, leaving the U.S. vulnerable either to market forces that could impose higher interest rates and draconian spending cuts or to the pressures of one or more central banks motivated by economic or conceivably political concerns.
Reducing discretionary domestic spending would constitute one piece of any fiscal plan. But cuts need to be smart: domestic spending is desirable when it is an investment in the U.S.'s human and physical future and competitiveness. This includes targeted spending on public education, including at the community-college and university levels; modernizing transportation and energy infrastructures; and increasing energy efficiency while decreasing dependence on Middle East oil. Spending cuts should focus on entitlements and defense. Further deficit reductions can be achieved by reducing so-called tax expenditures such as health care plans and mortgage deductions. The goal should be to reduce the deficit by some $300 billion per year until the budget is balanced but for interest payments on the debt.
Adopting a doctrine of restoration for several years would help the U.S. shore up the economic foundations of its power.
[Hasss' argument is] derivative of what journalist Peter Beinart called a “solvency doctrine” back in 2009. He wrote, “No matter what grand visions Obama may harbor to remake the world, the central mission of his foreign policy--at least at first--will be to get it out of the red.” None of these plans or explanations is perfect, of course, but taken together, they seem to me good starting points for what a grand strategy for the U.S. should look like, namely a focus on tending to the sources of American power rather than on making more commitments that draw on it.
Color me skeptical. It's not that I don't like the ideas behind Haass' argument -- they're sympatico with a welter of realpolitik-friendly strategies that have been promulgated at regular intervals.
There are two currently insurmountable political problems with Haass' strategy, however. The first is that it is ridiculously hard for the U.S. government to draw down military commitments -- particularly if the U.S. military doesn't want to do it. It's worth remembering that Barack Obama entered office with a worldview that closely matched Haass' restoration idea -- and yet, in the end, he expanded U.S. operations in Afghanistan and attacked Libya to boot. The U.S. military strongly supported the former, while Obama's foreign policy advisors jump-started the latter. [So, you're saying that if a powerful executive-branch foreign-policy actor favors the use of military statecraft, it's gonna happen?--ed. Um... yeah, I guess I am.]
The second is that a restoration strategy is really a focus on domestic policy. And, as I noted in the pages of Foreign Affairs:
The most significant challenge to Obama's grand strategy is likely to emerge at home rather than abroad. Viable grand strategies need to rest on a wellspring of domestic support. The biggest problem with Obama's new grand strategy is its troublesome domestic politics....
By focusing on renewing the United States' domestic strength, the Obama administration has introduced more partisan politics into the equation. There is still some truth to the aphorism that politics stops at the water's edge. But if the administration argues that the key to U.S. foreign policy is the domestic economy, then it increases the likelihood of domestic discord. Based on the tenor of the debates about the rising levels of U.S. debt, the possibility that the president can hammer out a grand bargain over fiscal and tax policies is looking increasingly remote.
I wrote that a few months ago, and of course as the debtopocalypse approaches, I'm sure things will improve in our domestic political discour--- HA HA HA HA HA HA HA... I'm sorry, I couldn't finish that sentence, I was
crying bitter tears laughing too hard.
Restoration won't be happening anytime during this session of Congress... or perhaps ever. The real problem in today's political climate is devising a grand strategy that is sustainable both domestically and internationally. I'm reluctantly coming around to Peter Trubowitz and Charles Kupchan's conclusion that the bipartisan political foundations for a viable grand strategy are badly eroded.
As FP's indefatigable Josh Rogin reported yesterday, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty will " deliver a major address on foreign policy on Tuesday in what his top aides are billing as a rebuttal to what they see as President Barack Obama's flawed May 19 speech.
Your humble blogger will be listening in -- live!!-- and will provide real-time updates on the blog and on Twitter.
I'll be looking for two things from this speech. First, how does Pawlenty straddle between his more neocon-friendly foreign policy approach with the stronger streak of retrenchment rhetoric that permeates the current GOP primary voter? Will he at least sound isolationism-curious, or will he conclude that the Tea Party's influence is waning? As I said before, my money is that he'll cozy up to this wing by sounding protectionist trade themes. The foreign policy pickings of Pawlenty's website are pretty slim.
Second, will Pawlenty score any Trumpie nominations? He came veeeeery close during the New Hampshire debate with his casual assertion that the United States could grow at 5% a year for a decade because China and Brazil had done it -- ignoring the vast differences in economic development between the United States and those two BRIC economies.
The speech will begin at 9:30 AM, so tune in
so my life has meaning so you can learn what a GOP candidate thinks about the world!
[UPDATE] Live-tweets below, summary analysis at the bottom:
9:33 AM: Pawlenty starts by praising CFR #itsbeensoooooolongsinceIheardarepublicandothat
9:34 AM: T-Paw on U.S. in Middle East: "now is not the time to retreat from freedom's rise."
9:36 AM: T-Paw ain't coddling Tea Partiers -- bashes members of GOP for "out-isolating" Democrats.
9:37 AM: T-Paw: "History teaches us there is no such thing as stable oppression."#haveyouheardofthedarkages
9:38 AM: T-Paw blasts Obama for being silent during Iran's 2009 Green Movement, cutting democracy aid to Egypt during same year.
9:42 AM: T-Paw has four categories of ME countries. Category 1: emerging democracies in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Iraq. US must support democracy.
9:43 AM: T-Paw makes shrewd point that revolution in Egypt has caused a populist rejection of economic reforms that Mubarak instituted in past decade
9:44 AM: On Libya, T-Paw rejects "leading from behind" (GASP!!) recognizing TNC, and using full weight of U.S. force to ensure regime change.
9:45 AM: T-Paw's second category -- the monarchies. Claims Jordan, Morocco are engaging in "real reforms" Paging @blakehounshell
9:46 AM: T-Paw observes that U.S.-Saudi relaions are a a new low, but NOT because of Arab Spring. Apparently due to Obama cozying up to Iran. Hmm...
9:48 AM: T-Paw's Category 3: anti-US states of Iran, Syria. Blasts Obama for staying too close to Bashir Assad for too long. #fairpoint
9:49 AM: T-Paw's Category 3: anti-US states of Iran, Syria. Blasts Obama for staying too close to Bashir Assad for too long. #fairpoint
9:50 AM: T-Paw argues for "more forceful sanctions" to push business elites in Syria away from Assad regime #yeahthatwilldoit
9:52 AM: On Iran, T-Paw also calls for new, tougher sanctions as a policy solution. #sanctionsarenomagicbullet
9:52 AM: T-Paw's Category 4 is.... Israel!!! "Nowhere is Obama's lack of judgment clearer"
9:53 AM: T-Paw: Obama's Israel-Palestinan obsession is absurd - Arab Spring shows that conflict is NOT at the heart of the Middle East
9:54 AM: T-Paw: Peace will only come to Israel/Palestine when everyone in the region recognizes the US totally has Israel's back
9:57 AM: T-Paw: "America is exceptional, and we have the moral clarity to lead the world."
9:58 AM: T-Paw says that everyone should listen to David Petraeus the most on Afghanistan
9:59 AM: T-Paw goes off on Republican isolationists, arguing that one party focusing on decline & retrenchment is enough.
10:00 AM: Jon Meacham is moderating the Q&A. His first response to T-Paw: "Withdrawal? Decline? Retrenchment? Really?"
10:05 AM: Pawlenty acknowledges that autocracies can't be converted into democracies overnight, "takes generations."
10:08 AM: T-Paw: War on Terror will require a long, "episodic" commitment
10:10 AM: Asked about worse possibilities after Assad, T-Paw responds, "No one ever asked who would follow Hitler."
10:11 AM: BREAKING: Pawlenty pledges US will not invade every Middle Eastern country. #phew
10:15 AM: BREAKING: Pawlenty really does not like "cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all" foreign policy strategies #anticookieist
10:19 AM: Pawlenty: U.S. should "not necessarily" use military force in Syria.
10:21 AM: Pawlenty thinks Obama "dithered for a month" at the moment when U.S. force could have pushed Khaddafy out.
10:27 AM: James Traub from @FP_Magazine asks what to do about elections leading to anti-Israeli leaders in ME. T-Paw: start early, think long-term
My final assessment: Pawlenty successfully skirted a Trumpie nomination -- he exaggerated Obama's cozying up to Iran, but that's pretty much GOP boilerplate at this point. Pawlenty was also quite outspoken in attacking "isolationists' within the GOP as well.
The occasionally overheated piece of rhetoric aside, this was a reasonably coherent speech that placed way too much faith in the ability of more sanctions to force out regimes in Iran and Syria.
What do you think?
In response to my critical post from last week, I see that Ted Galen Carpenter has doubled down on his thesis that, "China benefits from U.S. policy blunders." Let's go through his main points, shall we?
America’s global popularity is still at anemic levels—and the initial euphoria about Barack Obama has faded noticeably. And as shown in the Pew Research Center’s 2010 survey of global attitudes, America’s reputation in the Muslim world is not just anemic, it is hideous. That’s 2010, Dan, not 2006.
Two responses. First, the poll data Carpenter cites reflects attitudes about Barack Obama in particular and not the United States in general. Since what we're both concerned with is America's soft power rather than Obama's, let's take a look at the BBC's latest World Service Country Rating Poll, since that asks the more appropriate survey question:
Views of the US continued their overall improvement in 2011, according to the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll of 27 countries around the world.
Of the countries surveyed, 18 hold predominantly positive views of the US, seven hold negative views and two are divided. On average , 49 per cent of people have positive views of US influence in the world--up four points from 2010--and 31 per cent hold negative views. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.
In 2007 a slight majority (54%) had a negative view of the United States and only close to three in ten (28%) had a positive view; America was among the countries with the lowest ratings. Views began to rise in 2008, with positive views rising to 32% on average, and now the USA is in a middle tier position, ranking substantially higher than China (emphases added)
Oh, and that's 2011 data, Ted.
Carpernter emphasizes the Middle East, and it's certainly true that U.S. favorability there remains quite low. Even in that region, however, the latest data suggests things aren't getting worse, except in the country where the data is OBE:
As views of the USA continue to improve globally, the upwards trend is also apparent in Muslim countries. For the first time, a majority of Indonesians are now positive about the USA's role in the world (58%, a rise of 22 points over the last year). Negative views of the USA in Turkey have dropped sharply from 70 per cent to 49 per cent, while negative views in Pakistan of the USA have also fallen slightly, from 52 per cent to 46 per cent. Conversely, Egypt, after a lift in 2009 and 2010, has reverted to a predominantly negative view of the USA, with 50 per cent of Egyptians considering that the USA's role in the world is mostly negative.
As for China's ability to exploit the current situation, here's Carpenter's response:
China has shown recent signs of dialing back some of the more objectionable features of its policy. That stands in marked contrast to the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan, Washington’s transparent efforts to maintain an outsized presence in Iraq after the scheduled withdrawal of its military forces, and the new intervention in Libya. In terms of intrusive policies, China doesn’t begin to compete with the United States....
[China's] weaknesses do not include running $1.5 trillion annual budget deficits (much less having much of that debt funded by one’s principal geopolitical competitor). Nor do China’s weaknesses include overstretching its military forces in Middle Eastern and South-Central Asian snake pits. Those are actions that the United States has taken, and it is naïve in the extreme to assume that China does not benefit strategically and financially from such folly. Yet, oddly, Drezner addresses none of those points contained in my TNI piece.
Carpenter's point about U.S. military overextension is a good one, and is a concern I share. Our disagreement is on the magnitude of the policy externalities that flow from this overextension. Carpenter thinks it's disastrous; I think it's regrettable but not at the root of imminent U.S. decline to China.
First, it's worth noting that while defense spending plays a supporting role in the worsening U.S. fiscal situation, tax cuts and domestic expenditures are far more culpable. Second, I have looked at whether China's holdings of U.S. debt lead to geopolitical weakness -- and concluded that this concern has been vastly exaggerated.
Third, again, looking at global public opinion, there's evidence that China's economic rise has provoked far more anxiety than Carpenter realizes. As Chinese power continues to grow (and that's going to happen regardless of U.S. strategy), more and more countries will be willing to balance with the United States regardless of past military errors. Indeed, the "nationalistic swagger" that Carpenter references among Chinese policy circles is going to exacerbate and not retard this trend.
I agree with Carpenter that it would be better for the U.S. to reduce its overseas military posture, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, China has profited surprisingly little from these missteps, and will experience greater geopolitical pushhback over time. I'm also disappointed that Carpenter failed to address the question of how democratizing nations in the Middle East will view a China that continues to act in an authoritarian manner -- particularly towards its own Muslim population in Xinjiang. It's not a coincidence that Iranian protestors started chanting "Death to China!" back in 2009.
The bottom line is that Carpenter's analysis exhibits far too much of the doomsaying and pessimistic thinking that plagues American realists and their cheerleaders.
See, back in early 2009, I wrote one of the earlier posts about whether there was an Obama Doctrine or not. Glenn Thrush quoted that post in Politico last week, which led to a lot of media inquiries on the matter. Regardless of what I say on the subject, the topic du jour appears to be whether there is now an Obama Doctrine and how it holds up as a grand strategy.
I don't have the time today to write up my substantive thoughts on the matter, but I do think it would be useful to at least define the terms properly.
First, on the Obama Doctrine -- unfortunately, foreign policy discourse being what it is, that "XXX Doctrine" has devolved into a meaningless catchphrase coined by news outlets the first time that an administration initiates military or quasi-military force.* Whenever that happens, the news networks go into paroxysms of speculation about whether such action signals a new doctrine. Based on Obama's speech last night, it seems pretty clear that the answer to that question on Libya is a clear "no," so I don't think we need to go there.
Second, even if Libya did lead to an Obama Doctrine, that doesn't equate to a grand strategy. The Reagan Doctrine, for example, had actual policy content -- it meant the arming and aiding of anti-communist guerillas in peripheral communist countries like Nicaragua or Afghanistan. Not even the fiercest Reagan acolyte would agree that the Reagan Doctrine was America's grand strategy during the 1980's. It was rather a policy that was part of the larger strategy of containing Soviet communism.
Obama did not clearly articulate a grand strategy last night (and just as well, since his delivery was pretty weak). He has tried to do so in his previous speeches and strategy documents, with variable results. Far more important that what is said at the beginning of an administration is how Big Decisions are articulated ex post.
In that sense, Dan Nexon is right to say that Obama shouldn't have articulated a grand strategy out of what was clearly an exceptional decision due to exceptional circumstances. That said, if I were Obama's foreign policy team, I'd start thinking very hard about a speech
without the phrase "false choice" in it that clearly prioritizes American interests and values. Because unless the president defines his grand strategy, pundits will be more than happy to define it -- badly -- for him.
*Clear exceptions include those doctrines clearly articulated or embraced by Monroe, Teddy Roosevelt, Truman, Nixon, and Reagan.
President Obama is scheduled to address the country this evening on Libya, and the odds are pretty good that Ben Rhodes will be writing the bulk of the speech. I'm sure the speech will be interesting, full of false choices for the Obama administration to surmount and the like.
Still, what I'd love to see is Rhodes' first draft -- you know, the one where he just spits out exactly what he thinks Obama is thinking on Libya, warts and all.
Well, fortunately, due to your humble blogger's vast
and imaginary network of sources inside the Beltway, I have secured a copy of that first draft of the speech, reprinted below for your edification:
FIRST NOTES/DRAFT OF POTUS LIBYA SPEECH
By Benjamin Rhodes
I'm addressing you, my fellow Americans, because my administration's message on our
war limited humanitarian interventionkinetic military action in Libya has truly and totally sucked. Seriously, I'm gobsmacked at how f***ing incoherent we've been in communicating our rationale to the foreign policy community and the American public. The bickering within my administration and within the international coalition has not helped -- sweet Jesus, multilateralism can be a royal pain in the butt sometimes. No wonder public support has been relatively anemic (although there's also the fact that I'm launching another war when all Americans care about right now is the domestic economy).
How bad is it? I'm getting hit by the neocons for moving without Congressional permission less than a week after I was getting hit by them for not moving quickly enough!! Thank God for Newt Gingrich, or I'd look really bad. Now I'm getting flak from the left on not being consistent with R2P when, in fact, anyone who knows anything about R2P knows that I'm doing the best I can. Seriously, I'm supposed to intervene militarily in Bahrain and Syria too? Sure, right after I send the 82nd Airborne to liberate Tibet. At least I can ignore the criticism from those who went on junkets to Tripoli last year. Hypocrisy sure is a bitch, huh?
What kills me, what absolutely kills me, is that in just ten days, without any boots on the ground, we've accomplished one whole hell of a lot. First off, if we hadn't intervened, the rebels would have been routed in Benghazi, and Khaddafy would be in control of the entire country again. OK, so maybe the "100,000 dead" figure was a bit exaggerated, but surely the fall of Benghazi would have created hundreds of thousands of Libya refugees flowing into Egypt, which is exactly what that country doesn't need right now. Anyone who doesn't realize that the situation in Libya and the situation in Egypt are connected is a f***ing moron (which, since we forgot to mention this fact for an awfully long time, apparently includes my messaging shop).
Now, the situation on the ground looks pretty much like how things looked during the high tide of the Libyan rebellion. So long as our air support continues, that's now the worst-case scenario -- and you know what, that's actually pretty tolerable. It would mean that the rebels would control about 70% of Libya's oil reserves and that the regions of the country most hostile to Khaddafy would be free of his grip. Over time, sanctions will start to hit Khaddafy's resources, the Libya Transitional Council can get its act together, and we can burden-share with NATO a hell of a lot more. The Libyans don't want our boots on the ground any more than we want to have them there -- so further escalation is not in the cards.
All the while -- and remember, this is the worst-case scenario -- the United States will have accomplished two direct deliverables and quite a few positive policy externalities. Directly, we averted a humanitarian disaster and created a buffer in eastern Libya that eases any economic or humanitarian pressure on Egypt (which is where our strategic interest lies).
In many ways, the policy externalities are even bigger. The biggest bonus is that, for once, our hard power is actually augmenting our soft power. Those images on Al Jazeera of Libyans saying thank you to the United States -- that's pure soft power gold. When you compare how the U.S. government has handled the Arab Revolutions to Al Qaeda or Iran, the contrast is pretty stark. What's happened in Libya has helped to obscure our more realpolitik response in, say Bahrain. Oh, and we managed to find a purpose for NATO.
Is this messy? Duh, of course! Could this intervention distract us from The Big Picture? Maybe for the past week and this week, sure, but it's not like Iran or China is really exploiting what's going on in the Middle East -- they're too busy trying to pretend it's not happening domestically. As for North Korea learning that it's a mistake to give up their nukes, I'm pretty sure they'd learned that lesson way back in 2003, thank you very much.
Look, I'd have loved for the messaging to be clearer, and in retrospect it would have been good if we'd had asked Congress for authorization, but this is what happens when you make foreign policy on the fly in a region wracked by revolution. It's not perfect, but if you think about the counterfactuals real hard, I'm fully confident that the benefits massively outweigh the costs of this intervention. So there.
In Theories of International Politics and Zombies, I noted that "one can only speculate" what great power governments were doing to prepare for the contingency of an attack of the undead. One could argue that the absence of any mention of zombies in the Wikileaks cables suggests that no planning has taken place -- but one would assume that scenarios involving the undead would be classified as Top Secret or higher.
Courtesy of the New York Times' William Glaberson, however, we now know that the State of New York is thinking seriously about this problem:
Major disasters like terrorist attacks and mass epidemics raise confounding issues for rescuers, doctors and government officials. They also pose bewildering legal questions, including some that may be painful to consider, like how the courts would decide who gets life-saving medicine if there are more victims than supplies.
But courts, like fire departments and homicide detectives, exist in part for gruesome what-ifs. So this month, an official state legal manual was published in New York to serve as a guide for judges and lawyers who could face grim questions in another terrorist attack, a major radiological or chemical contamination or a widespread epidemic.
Quarantines. The closing of businesses. Mass evacuations. Warrantless searches of homes. The slaughter of infected animals and the seizing of property. When laws can be suspended and whether infectious people can be isolated against their will or subjected to mandatory treatment. It is all there, in dry legalese, in the manual, published by the state court system and the state bar association.
Uh-huh... this is for "radiological" or "chemical" contaminations. Ok. Right. Wake up and smell the rotting corpses of the undead, people!!!!!
Seriously, fhe foreword of the New York State Public Health Legal Manual (.pdf) opens with the following explanation/justification:
In today's world, we face many natural and man-made catastrophic threats, including the very real possibility of a global influenza outbreak or other public health emergency that could infect millions of people. While it is impossible to predict the timing or severity of the next public health emergency, our government has a responsibility to anticipate and prepare for such events. An important element of this planning process is advance coordination between public health authorities and our judicial and legal systems. The major actors in any public health crisis must understand the governing laws ahead of time, and must know what their respective legal roles and responsibilities are. What is the scope of the government's emergency and police powers? When may these be invoked, and by which officials? What are the rights of people who may be quarantined or isolated by government and public health officials?
These questions must be researched and answered now-not in the midst of an emergency-so that the responsible authorities have a readymade resource to help them make quick, effective decisions that protect the public interest.
Are planning documents like this useful? Yes and no. On the one hand, this kind of thing is a classic example of what Lee Clarke would refer to as a "fantasy document." In Mission Improbable: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster, Clarke argued that plans like these have little chance of success, because an actual crisis contains too much randomness to plan out in advance. They serve primarily as a way for the state to soothe the the public that Someone Is In Charge and will provide control, order, and stability. Similarly, Anthony Cordesman argued in October 2001 that pre-crisis government efforts to handle this kind of emergency are likely to disintegrate once the actual crisis emerges.
On the other hand, as many contributors argued in Avoiding Trivia, even if the plans themselves never work out, the effort to plan can be useful both for crisis and non-crisis situations. This kind of exercise forces bureaucrats and officials to think about what standard operatijngf procedures won't be so standard in a post-disaster environment. It also serves as a form of mental aerobics to prepare to the truly unknown unknowns.
So, on the one hand, kudos to the New York State legal community for thinking about these questions. On the other hand, I doubt that things will go according to plan. Plus, I'm really curious to hear whether they think habeas corpus applies to the living dead.
Your humble blogger has been
negligent remiss in not discussing the developing situation in the Ivory Coast. As near as I can figure, the state of play is as follows:
1) There was a presidential election last November
2) Everyone and their mother recognizes that Alassane Ouattara defeated current ruler Laurent Gbagbo... except for Gbagbo.
3) Ouattara is now holed up in the Hotel du Golf under the protection of UN peacekeepers and private security forces. Despite mounting pressure from the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Ecowas, Gbagbo is acting like he ain't going anywhere.
Now we have this BBC report:
The UN-recognised president-elect of Ivory Coast has called for a West African special forces operation to remove incumbent leader Laurent Gbagbo.
Alassane Ouattara's administration says the time for discussion with Mr Gbagbo, who is refusing to step down following November's election, is over.
The West African regional body Ecowas has threatened to force Mr Gbagbo out, but is trying mediation efforts first....
Mr Ouattara, who has many supporters in northern Ivory Coast, said it was just a question of removing Mr Gbagbo from power and taking control of key buildings like the presidential palace.
"Legitimate force doesn't mean a force against Ivorians," Mr Ouattara told reporters on Thursday, AFP news agency reports.
"It's a force to remove Laurent Gbagbo and that's been done elsewhere, in Africa and in Latin America, there are non-violent special operations which allow simply to take the unwanted person and take him elsewhere."
However, Ecowas does not have the sophisticated equipment and personnel needed for a special forces operation, our reporter says.
This raises a somewhat awkward question -- could this be one of those cases where neoconservatives have a valid point about the use of force? The past decade of U.S. military misadventures has clearly dulled the appetite for new military missions among the mass public, most of the foreign policy community and, well, me. That said, this could be one of those cases when unilateral U.S. force might be the best available policy option. [But what about ECOWAS?--ed. Sure, if they could gear up, that would be even better. As the BBC suggests, however, it's not clear that they have the capability to do so.]
Note my stress on the word "could" in that last sentence -- the Ivory Coast has been wracked by civil conflict during this past decade and U.S. action could just make things worse. But I'm not sure about that assertion either.
What do you think?
John Mearsheimer has the lead essay in the latest issue of The National Interest. Entitled "Imperial by Design," the main thesis is not going to shock anyone familiar with Mearsheimer's theoretical and policy writings over the past two decades:
The root cause of America's troubles is that it adopted a flawed grand strategy after the Cold War. From the Clinton administration on, the United States rejected [grand strategies of offshore balancing or selective engagement], instead pursuing global dominance, or what might alternatively be called global hegemony, which was not just doomed to fail, but likely to backfire in dangerous ways if it relied too heavily on military force to achieve its ambitious agenda.
The rest of the article details the flawed strategies pursued by the Clinton and Bush administrations, and then closes with this warning:
The United States needs a new grand strategy. Global dominance is a prescription for endless trouble -- especially in its neoconservative variant. Unfortunately, the Obama administration is populated from top to bottom with liberal imperialists who remain committed to trying to govern the world, albeit with less emphasis on big-stick diplomacy and more emphasis on working with allies and international institutions. In effect, they want to bring back Bill Clinton's grand strategy....
President Obama is making a serious mistake heading down this road. He should instead return to the grand strategy of offshore balancing, which has served this country well for most of its history and offers the best formula for dealing with the threats facing America -- whether it be terrorism, nuclear proliferation or a traditional great-power rival.
Mearsheimer's essay has drawn praise from others at FP, but I confess to finding it conceptually fuzzier than most of his other work.
He's positing that a global dominance strategy doesn't work, and that the post-Cold War era demonstrates that it doesn't work. To demonstrate this, however, he focuses the overwhelming majority of the essay on the Bush administration. Fair enough, except that he's arguing that Obama is copying Bill Clinton and not George W. Bush. Here is the entirety of Mearsheimer's discussion of the Clinton period:
Bill Clinton was the first president to govern exclusively in the post-Cold War world, and his administration pursued global dominance from start to finish. Yet Clinton's foreign-policy team was comprised of liberal imperialists; so, although the president and his lieutenants made clear that they were bent on ruling the world-blatantly reflected in former-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's well-known comment that "if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future"-they employed military force reluctantly and prudently. They may have been gung ho about pushing the unipolar moment onward and upward, but for all their enthusiasm, even these democracy promoters soon saw that nation building was no easy task.
During his first year in office, Clinton carelessly allowed the United States to get involved in nation building in Somalia. But when eighteen American soldiers were killed in a firefight in Mogadishu in October 1993 (famously rendered in Black Hawk Down), he immediately pulled U.S. troops out of the country. In fact, the administration was so spooked by the fiasco that it refused to intervene during the Rwandan genocide in the spring of 1994, even though the cost of doing so would have been small. Yes, Clinton did commit American forces to Haiti in September 1994 to help remove a brutal military regime, but he had to overcome significant congressional opposition and he went to great lengths to get a U.N. resolution supporting a multinational intervention force. Most of the American troops were out of Haiti by March 1996, and at no time was there a serious attempt at nation building.
Clinton did talk tough during the 1992 presidential campaign about using American power against Serbia to halt the fighting in Bosnia, but after taking office, he dragged his feet and only used airpower in 1995 to end the fighting. He went to war against Serbia for a second time in 1999 -- this time over Kosovo -- and once again would only rely on airpower, despite pressure to deploy ground forces from his NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
By early 1998, the neoconservatives were pressuring Clinton to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein. The president endorsed the long-term goal of ousting the Iraqi leader, but he refused to go to war to make that happen. The United States under Bill Clinton was, as Richard Haass put it, a "reluctant sheriff." (emphasis added)
There are some factual errors in this account (Clinton did not pull out immediately after the Black Hawk Down incident -- in fact, he bolstered U.S. forces and then withdrew six months later). More importantly, however, the policies described in this section suggest that Mearsheimer is going Vizzini on the phrase "global dominance." There's very little in the quoted section that bears resemblance to the bolded statement -- at best, it looks imperial by accident rather than design. That doesn't sound like a global dominance strategy to me -- and nowhere in this section does Mearsheimer describe the strategic costs that came with Clinton's approach.
(Maybe one could argue that Clinton's reluctant successes in Bosnia and Kosovo paradoxically bolstered Americans' faith in the utility of force, and that this faith paved the way for neoconservatism to pursue a more militarized approach. But Mearsheimer doesn't make that argument, and I don't think it holds up terribly well).
Mearsheimer is warning us that Obama is trying to replicate Clinton's grand strategy (though he offers minimal evidence to support this assertion). His implicit argument is that Clinton's strategy was a disaster, but he provides no evidence to support this assertion, and I don't think it's obviously correct either.
Instead, Mearsheimer devotes page after page to chronicling the errors of the Bush administration's grand strategy. Which is fine, but after the 5,476th evisceration of the neoconservative grand strategy, diminishing marginal returns do start to kick in. Bush 43's errors of strategy, management and implementation are pretty sui generis, to the point where it's dangerous to generalize from the Bush administration to the entire post-Cold War era.
Maybe offshore balancing is the right grand strategy to pursue, the Clintonian approach was blinkered, and Obama's approach is flawed. These are good propositions to debate and argue. The tragedy of Mearsheimer's "Imperial By Design" is that all of these points are asserted rather than argued.
FP's Josh Rogin ably summarizes the State Department's rollout of the first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), an exercise that was clearly inspired by the Defense Department's Quadrennial Defense Review. This was Anne-Marie Slaughter's signal achievement during her tenure as Director of Policy Planning,* which leads to the obvious question of whether it really matters.
The QDDR is dedicated to Rickard Holbrooke, who passed away earlier this week. In a revealing Financial Times article, Brain Katulis of the Center for American Progress makes a particularly telling point about the arc of Holbrooke's career:
"If you compare Holbrooke's tenure in his job as representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and compare it to what he was able to do in the 1990s on Bosnia, you really see that the balance of power in the interim had shifted from the state department to the Pentagon," said Brian Katulis at the Centre for American Progress in Washington.
Katulis hits upon a theme that has been a source of concern here at this blog for a good long while. For at least a decade, there's been a vicious feedback loop: State loses operational authority and capabilities because of poor funding, which leads to more tasks for Defense, which leads to even more lopsided funding between the two bureaucracies, which leads to an even greater disparity in responsibilities, and so forth.
Will the QDDR change that? That's sorta the point of the whole exercise -- the phrase "civilian power" appears 281 times in the QDDR. I'm dubious -- the only way this works is through greater staffing and greater funding for U.S. foreign aid, and in this Age of Austerity, the first things that get cut are.... diplomats and foreign aid funding.
I'd love to see Hillary Clinton make the case to Congress than an extra $50 billion for State would improve American foreign policy enough to cut, say, $100 billion for DoD. I'd love a free pony too, for all the likelihood that this will happen.
I'm not the only one who's dubious. The Christian Science Monitor's Howard LaFranchi ends his story on the QDDR as follows:
[E]xperts, as well as some military officials, have pointed out that the concept of "civilian power" sounds good, but that the US diplomatic corps is not prepared and doesn't have the numbers to take over many tasks from the military.
Clinton acknowledges that the shift in priorities and organization is "a work in progress," but she also emphasizes that someone will be designated at both the State Department and at USAID to oversee implementation. "I am determined that this report will not merely gather dust, like so many others," she said. And she wants Congress to approve making the QDDR a regular and required State Department policy-review process.
Slaughter echoed those words in a humorous sum-up with reporters. "I'm pretty sure you're thinking, 'I've heard this before,' " she said - a big plan to change the way a government agency works. "But this is different."
The big difference, she insisted, is that Clinton has given the reorganization top priority: "She knows ... we can't afford to continue working in the way we have been."
Reading the QDDR, it's clear that there's a hope that Foggy Bottom will scrape together more resources through wringing greater efficiencies out of the current budget. This is certainly possible -- no one is going to label the State Department a lean, mean fighting bureaucratic machine -- but color me skeptical that there's all that much savings of "government waste" in them thar hills.
To be fair, however, one report is not going to change a dynamic that's been building for more than a decade. It's only a first step. Still first steps are better than no steps. We'll see if this remains Clinton's top priority.
*I have no inside knowledge about this, but am simply assuming that Slaughter will be returning to her academic haunts after the standard two-year leave has expired -- in other words, in early 2011.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.