Monday, December 30, 2002

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WHAT'S SO WRONG ABOUT U.S. FOREIGN POLICY?: The growth of anti-Americanism as a successful campaign tactic has prompted some musings about whether U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration is too aggressive, too unilateral, and/or too tone-deaf. Josh Marshall argues yes; Jackson Diehl and Glenn Reynolds say no. Let's review the list, shall we?

Too aggressive? Hardly. Too aggressive implies that the force of arms is used when alternative means of statecraft, including diplomacy, could be used as effective substitutes. One would be hard-pressed to find such an instance over the past two years. Consider:
-- When a U.S. spy plane was shot down over China, the crisis was defused without even a threat of force;
-- Given that the Taliban hosted the Al Qaeda netowrk, and given that the regime was dependant on Al Qaeda's resources, one can hardly call our response too aggressive;
-- For two of the three members of the axis of evil -- North Korea and Iran -- there has been no American provocations, unless one count the Axis of Evil Speech itself. Of course, given these governments' behavior in the past year, it's hard to debate that classification;
-- There are several "allied" governments -- Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen -- where regime change might not be such a bad idea, but the Bush administration has been silent;
-- On Iraq, there is no question that the administration has taken an aggressive posture -- since 9/11. Prior to that date, as Diehl points out, the administration was actually pursuing a dovish policy on Iraqi sanctions.
I'm not seeing a whole lot of unchecked aggression here.

Too unilateralist? Not recently. In its first six months, the administration committed the cardinal sin of assuming that it should reflexively oppose any policy initiative supported by the Clinton administration. No doubt, this led to some process-oriented mistakes, such as pulling out of the Kyoto Protocol. However, both domestic and foreign critics need to get over their first impression on this score. Consider:
-- U.S. actions against Al Qaeda and Afghanistan came witrh the backing of NATO and the UN Security Council;
-- All U.S. actions to date against Iraq have gone through the U.N. Security Council -- which, it should be added, did not act like a rubber stamp on the issue.
-- The U.S. position on terrorist financing has to reinforce multilateral institutions;
-- On North Korea, the administration has consistently pushed for a multilateral approach -- to the apparent consternation of the North Koreans;
-- In the Balkans, the U.S. has consistently deferred to the EU on policy positions, agreeing to withhold aid unless Milosevic was extradited to the Hague, for example.
-- More than one expert has pointed out that Bush's National Security Strategy is actually more multilateralist than the previous administration's.
-- U.S. foreign economic policy, on the whole, has been consistently multilateral. The U.S. jump-started the latest round of WTO negotiations, advocated vigorously for a hemispheric trade zone, and pushed for more concessionary spending from the international financial institutions. [Ahem, what about the steel tariffs and the farm bill?--ed. Definitely unilateral, but compared to the protectionist trade policies of that monument to multilateralism, the European Union, the U.S. looks like the more responsible actor].
At worst, the U.S. can be accused of threatening to act in a unilateral manner if it doesn't get some of what it wants through multilateral institutions. Which is pretty much how all great powers have acted since the invention of multilateral institutions.

[The Financial Times agrees with this assessment (link via Sullivan): "Under his [Bush's] leadership, the US has acted more multilaterally, more cautiously and more wisely than many had feared after the provocation of September 11 2001."]

Too tone deaf? Depends on who's listening. The broad majority of Americans support a U.S. foreign policy built on peaceful ideals carried out in a multilateral manner. A broad majority of Americans also supports Bush's foreign policy. A vocal minority of Americans and a lot of foreigners don't like either Bush or his foreign policy. What gives?

Let me start with an anecdote. A few weeks ago, a high-ranking White House official gave a talk on homeland security at a University of Chicago workshop on security. This person is respected among international relations specialists, so there was no ivory tower animosity. Nevertheless, the talk didn't go well. The presenter's cocksure demeanor and refusal to recognize the valid questions from the audience led me -- an administration supporter -- to find the administration's arrogance insufferable. It's this arrogance, this refusal to even consider the value of alternative viewpoints, that causes so many within the chattering classes to label it tone-deaf.

This boils down to the following criticism: this administration doesn't take the time to listen carefully to an alternative position and then delineate in full why that position is wrong -- it just says so at the outset. In diplomacy, such things matter. At the same time, as I've previously posted, there's a reason this administration seems so sure of itself -- it has a good read of the current threats to the U.S. As Diehl points out, "In a recent meeting at The Post, my colleague David Broder asked a senior administration official why Bush had come to embrace "an almost imperial role" for the United States. The answer was long, eloquent, and revealing. 'A few years ago, there were great debates about what would be the threats of the post-Cold War world, would it be the rise of another great power, would it be humanitarian needs or ethnic conflicts,' the official said. 'And I think we now know: The threats are terrorism and national states with weapons of mass destruction and the possible union of those two forces.'

'It's pretty clear that the United States is the single most powerful country in international relations for a very long time. . . . [It]is the only state capable of dealing with that kind of chaotic environment and providing some kind of order. I think there is an understanding that that is America's responsibility, just like it was America standing between Nazi Germany and a takeover of all of Europe. No, we don't have to do it alone. But the United States has to lead that.'"

When weak states become a security risk, the hegemonic power has to be involved everywhere. The administration knows this. I suspect that it's critics do as well, but they either don't like the implications of such a policy, or -- more likely -- they don't like the people currently in charge. So the tone-deaf charge is a mutual one. The administration might not be the best listeners of other views, but the administration's critics are also hard of hearing. Because the critics are equally tone-deaf, they fail to notice policies that contradict their entrenched about this administration.

posted by Dan on 12.30.02 at 11:23 PM