Friday, October 25, 2002

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The merits of Bush's grand strategy

Multilateralist. Cooperative. Innovative. Sophisticated. Not the adjectives most foreign policy analysts have associated with the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. Unless you're John Lewis Gaddis.

Gaddis knows a thing or two about grand strategies, and his review of the 2002 Bush strategy in the latest issue of Foreign Policy makes for bracing reading. Gaddis compares the Bush strategy to the previous set of strategy documents from the Clinton administration. His assessment:

The differences are revealing. The Bush objectives speak of defending, preserving, and extending peace; the Clinton statement seems simply to assume peace. Bush calls for cooperation among great powers; Clinton never uses that term. Bush specifies the encouragement of free and open societies on every continent; Clinton contents himself with "promoting" democracy and human rights "abroad." Even in these first few lines, then, the Bush NSS comes across as more forceful, more carefully crafted, and--unexpectedly--more multilateral than its immediate predecessor. It's a tip-off that there're interesting things going on here.

After a detailed review of the strategy document, Gaddis summarizes:

The Bush NSS, therefore, differs in several ways from its recent predecessors. First, it's proactive. It rejects the Clinton administration's assumption that since the movement toward democracy and market economics had become irreversible in the post-Cold War era, all the United States had to do was 'engage' with the rest of the world to "enlarge" those processes. Second, its parts for the most part interconnect. There's a coherence in the Bush strategy that the Clinton national security team--notable for its simultaneous cultivation and humiliation of Russia--never achieved. Third, Bush's analysis of how hegemony works and what causes terrorism is in tune with serious academic thinking, despite the fact that many academics haven't noticed this yet. Fourth, the Bush administration, unlike several of its predecessors, sees no contradiction between power and principles. It is, in this sense, thoroughly Wilsonian. Finally, the new strategy is candid. This administration speaks plainly, at times eloquently, with no attempt to be polite or diplomatic or 'nuanced.' What you hear and what you read is pretty much what you can expect to get.

Gaddis isn't naïve; in the article, he also delineates the potential flaws in the strategy. But this is a ringing endorsement from the dean of diplomatic historians. Given the criticisms various academics/policy analysts have levied against the strategy, it's a refreshing tonic.

UPDATE: John Smith has a long quasi-fisking of Gaddis' essay. I disagree, but he does make a cogent point about Gaddis' misuse of Agincourt as a historical analogy. Of course, historical analogies have been abused on all sides of this debate.

posted by Dan on 10.25.02 at 02:06 PM