Tuesday, November 4, 2003
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Drezner gets results from Jonathan Rauch!
My first TNR Online essay back in February disputed the notion that the Bush administration was instinctively unilateralist. In Reason this week, Jonathan Rauch picks up this theme in "Bush Is No Cowboy," a critique of Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay's new book, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. (link via Glenn Reynolds). The key grafs:
I completely agree that in terms of style, Bush's diplomacy has verged on God-awful. However, Rauch is correct on the substance.posted by Dan on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM
Well, sure, Dan, but style is important. Engagement is important. While that doesn't mean letting other countries hold a veto over American policy, it does mean letting them know we take account of our views even when we don't want something from them right now.
We could fill this thread and many others with criticisms of the foreign policies of other governments, from France's foolish identification of feckless anti-Americanism with its own interests to China's years of refusing to recognize the danger in North Korea's nuclear program to India's stubborn trade protectionism. One thing we cannot say, though, is that the leadership of any of these countries is stupid. They can see as well as we that the Bush administration is focused first of all on domestic American politics. They recognize American leadership is indispensable on any number of international issues, but have seen that this administration usually seeks to exercise it only when there is an immediate payoff in terms of either security or positive domestic press.
But there is something worse about the administration's "style," and this boils down to the President of the United States showing up on the battlefield of ideas unarmed. Vacuums get filled in politics as in nature; in the absence of the kind of persistent, detailed explanation of American motives and objectives that past administrations (admittedly not all of them) have taken care to provide but this one has not, all sorts of alternative theories about American policy circulate in foreign capitals. Some of them are not only wrong, but ridiculous -- but this President gears almost all of his statements for his domestic audience only, hardly ever responds to questions even from the tame White House press corps, and eschews the regular public contact with foreign leaders that past Presidents found invaluable in their pursuit of American interests.
For the record, I think the criticism of the Bush administration as "unilateralist" is wrong for some of the same reasons Rauch does; it presumes the fault for other countries working against our interests lies mostly in Washington, and there is much evidence that this is untrue. But demonstrating to a domestic audience that Bush and his team have too sought to engage other countries on specific issues and living up to the responsibilities America still has as leader of the free world are two different things.posted by: Zathras on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
So what's your complaint about his "style"? Other than the Texas down-home way of talkin' -- which I think is a strategic Good Thing, because people still are under the impression he's an idiot, and that leaves them more or less defenseless -- what difference in "style" would have brought about any different result? His real style issue, and Rausch points out, is that he's doing what he thinks right in the face of intransigence (and I think outright corruption) on the parts of the French, the Beligians, and the Russians.posted by: Charlie on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
If this is such a multilateral effort why are we having to provide more than 130,000 troops and hundreds of billions of dollars? When was the last truly multilateral effort that required an $87 billion appropriation from congress? For all practical purposes this is unilateralism. Unilateralism is not only expensive, it is militarily and politically unsustainable. How long can we keep this many troops deployed without breaking our armed forces? How long will the American people tolerate the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on Iraq for some naive neocon pipe dream, with only a steady stream of body bags sent back to the U.S. in return? Trying to convince yourself that this is some grand multilateral effort is delusional, and I am really getting tired of the innocent having to pay the price for someone else's delusions.
It's more than style.
Substance not Style:
You make Rauch's point. No amount of diplomatic smoothness was going to help get the approval/support of certain countries for our efforts in Iraq, or any other ambitious initiative in the WOT. Thus the mulitlateral complaint is a matter of "leave Saddam as is," and not "speak more obsequiously to the French." This has been obvious all along, although only belatedly to Colin Powell and other good people who tend to think the best of countries that call themselves our friends despite all evidence.
rdsposted by: rds on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Okay let's humanize this. In life, we all know that people around us act in their own percieved self-interest and watch out for themselves first. However we also know that people can cooperate together from enlightened self-interest or when motivated by transcendent concerns.
However we also all know some people who are so self-absorbed, so perfectly narcissitic, that they only put up a facade of cooperation and at the slightest opportunity revert to naked self-aggrandizement, even if it hurts them or is foolish to do so. These egomaniacs we instinctually distrust, because we always know they have an grossly crude ulterior motive and all their interactions are manipulative and without the slightest bit of consideration for others.
Situations may have forced the Bush Administration in order to cooperate or yeild precedence to Colin Powell's internationalist wing. It is only purely expediency that forces them to do so.
Accordingly other countries do not trust us, because they sense that we are not trustworthy. That is the true meaning behind the criticism of unilaterism. It is not that they think we are always unilateralist. But they think we are lying between our teeth and at the first opportunity will blatantly discard any agreements in the name of ideological expediency.
And ain't nobody gonna like or trust someone like that. That is what we look like now to the rest of the world, a people governed by egomaniacs who only keep their word when it suits their blatant self-absorbed short-term interests at the expense of everything else. And without consideration for others.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Oldman: Your comment could just as easily be interpreted to be about the other "enlightened" members of the world community, such as France, Germany, etc. How is their position regarding Iraq (from pre-1441 to the present) anything other than naked self-interest (even if it is counterproductive)? The ultimate question is, was the policy sought by the Bush administration the right one (a final resolution of the 12 years of the Iraq mess)? Most would answer yes. No amount of coddling, kowtowing or "diplomacy" would have convinced the French block to do other than what it intended to do all along (practice obstruction, and keep Saddam in power - see Sunday's WaPo). If so, end of discussion.posted by: Reality on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Yes, the U.S. government is seen as being interested in the U.S. first, and others second. This is, of course, the proper role of the U.S government.
Yes, the U.S. cooperates primarily when it is good for the U.S. However, the notion that the U.S., and in particular the Bush administration is putting up a "facade" when they were clear from the get-go on Iraq that they wanted cooperation only on their terms.
What Bush emphatically does not do is mistake a useful process for a useful result. Working multilaterally is a good way to accomplish a given goal... it is *not* a worthwhile goal in and of itself, and most certainly is not something that would make a bad decision somehow transform into a good one.posted by: Craig on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Mr so-called Reality,
This is where your twisted moral relatavism breaks down. Simply because other nations do it, does not mean we should do it. America has been uniquely special not only because of its success in purely materialistic terms, but because it is an endeavour uniquely in human history devoted to the struggle to try to achieve transcendent ideals in practical terms. We did not merely fight WWII to protect our own asses - though surely we did that too - but to make the world safe for Democracy. And however imperfect our results the world was a better place for it, and we were better off too.
Part of America's indispensible role in leadership in international affairs comes from the moral suasion and credibility that stems from this, from other people's respect for our struggle to do the right thing, and their wish to also share our ideals.
When we act nakedly in our self-interest in a corrupt and moreover inept fashion, we lose something that other countries do not in doing so. We lose the power of American ideals, that can both motivate ourselves and win friends from abroad because we might be because of them more trustworthy than the next nation.
If you choose to compare America to the other powers in the world and history as an excuse for her actions, then you are guilty of forgetting that America is profoundly an experiment in attempting to change the very course of human history itself.
This is who we are. This is what it means to be American. That we hold ourselves to that higher standard, even as we acknowledge our mistakes and short-comings.
Oldman: Believe it or not, I do agree that the U.S. should hold itself to a higher standard than other nations. In fact, it did so with regard to Iraq, more so than in any diplomatic scenario in recent years. Bush announced his intentions beforehand; attempted to obtain the support of the world community, and partially succeeded; and took action based upon what he previously said he would do. This clarity of plan and follow through is so unusual, it is apparently disconcerting to those outside (and some within) the U.S. It is so disconcerting that many are confusing honesty with dishonesty, and unilateralism with actions they disagree with.posted by: Reality on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Then we certainly have a basis with which to begin true meetings of the mind. I would respectfully disagree with your characterizations of Bush's policy. To my mind, they were token gestures. If Bush had gone the last mile trying to negotiate cooperation, I don't think that there would be as much doubt in the American public today. Even if we couldn't get help, we could have at least pointed to it and said "See, we did everything reasonable to try to make that work. Here's what we got,"
The more important thing is how we go forward from here. The lack of diplomatic coordination with hard monetary-military policy going forward is continuing to hurt us rather than just being a past ill. Consider, if we had been serious about getting Turkish troops into Iraq I submit we should have done our homework in coordinating and stage-managing it in a better fashion. Instead we kind of stumbled into it, and our fumbling is yet another PR setback.
I'm not asking that the Bush Admin go back and apologize or try to turn back the clock. All I'm asking is that they do their homework in executing skillfully their policy in the future. In fact, if they were open to it I would help them do it- even if it meant helping inadvertantly reelect George W. Bush. My point is not to bash the Bush Administration, but to advocate the best outcome for America.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
We are currently trying to win the WOT in keeping with America's highest ideals (that is, victory comes with the spread of freedom in the ME). The President's speeches since 9/11 have made it crystal clear what we are doing (and to think freedom can come to the ME without a forceable defeat of the principal totalitarian state in the region is, I think, naive). To shrink from these efforts to avoid verbal abuse from Europe would be the worst indictment of us all. We would lose claim to the national character you so eloquently describe, but which you apparently do not recognize in action.posted by: rds on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
I greatly appreciate your sentiments regarding doing what is best for the country. That wish is one that the left, and many of the most vociferous critics of Bush, patently do not share. Are there specific areas where the administration could have acted more skillfully, and with a lighter touch? Of course. But it would have made no difference whatsoever. The choice on Iraq was a clarifying moment in history, one that divided those who were serious about action from those who were content with empty threats. (I'm referring to nations, not individuals, although the same can apply.) What would you (or a Gore administration, for example), have done that would be both substantively different and ultimately successful?
Thank you for the positive discussion.
Realityposted by: Reality on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Thank you also for the discussion respectful of differences of opinion, civility, and a shared desire for America's greatness and goodness. I continue to disagree that this is a done deal however. Execution and follow through are areas which I am crucially concerned with. The best ideas are so much empty air, or worse blunders, without high minded consistency in applying them. Unlike many critics of this Administration, I do not accuse them of malificient intent or failed vision. I do doubt their pragmatic execution. This doubt is shared even at very high levels of the GOP and is not a mere partisan friviolity.
If we would not stumble, then we must watch our step on the ground even as we gaze upwards at the starry heavens. The Devil *is* in the details.
I too morosely share the sentiment that I wish that we had a decent opposition in partnering to bring about a new future. If Republicans have been able to take unfair advantage sometimes, some of the fault must lie with a pathetically uninspiring Democratic party.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
“If Bush had gone the last mile trying to negotiate cooperation, I don't think that there would be as much doubt in the American public today. Even if we couldn't get help, we could have at least pointed to it and said "See, we did everything reasonable to try to make that work. Here's what we got,"”
Books contended that we bombed the World Trade Center ourselves are flying off the bookshelves. We and the Israelis are perceived to be the greatest threats to world peace! The French and perhaps a few other of the Old European nations are no longer our trusted allies. Instead, they may even be enemies that shy away from militarily attacking us.posted by: David Thomson on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
While I disagree substantially with the strategic policy choices made by the current GOP leadership, my main issue is not policy formation but policy execution. Unlike many critics of the Administration, I do give them high marks for good intentions. However, we all know where the road paved solely with good intentions leads.
If so asked, I myself would lend a helping hand or voice even if uncredited and unpaid for to the present efforts changing not one iota of policy choice but only the details of policy execution. I feel that things can be done better, even if we put aside the choice of what we should do. As for serving without being asked, at this time that would be counterproductive as it would only lead to pursuing not *wrong* policies but pursuing policies *ineptly*.
My devotion to my nation calls for no less than such service, for whatever our policies are not as important at this crucial moment so much as that they actually succeed. Nothing succeeds like success. And nothing else satisfies.
Or to paraphrase the immortal words of another oldman, "Try? Losers whine about how they tried. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen!"
;-)posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
No doubt that the Gauls have had a resentment of Americans, stemming partly from their loss of national face in WWII for a long time. However you are confusing cause and effect. What we are talking about here is not losing the far extreme that can never be satisfied. What we are talking about is losing not only the middle but even some of those inclined towards us.
The behavior you describe is not justified but surely is neither refuted by American policy execution. And it could be so easily, without compromising core policy objectives. Even though I disagree with the Administration on policy, my greatest concern is their lack of skill in executing said policy. They have done some things right, which their supporters like you inevitably point to but the much touted schools in Iraq are of little use when parents keep home from school chidren for fear of bomb threats. Not all metrics are equal.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
rds: you wrote "We are currently trying to win the WOT in keeping with America's highest ideals". I think this is part of the problem here. The rest of the world has difficulty seeing exactly how invading Iraq has anything to do with the war on terror. It looks to me like a desperate measure, without any rationale, unless you buy into the whole neocon "reshaping the Middle East" theory.posted by: Stu on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
“What we are talking about is losing not only the middle but even some of those inclined towards us. “
What evidence do you possess to back up this assertion? I doubt if you could find one poll to even slightly support your view that our alleged rudeness or lack of diplomatic manners turned off those who agree with us regarding the radical Islamic and Mid Eastern socialist threat. On the contrary, the consensus opinion of the more “moderate” Old European disposition is that America and Israel are responsible for most of the world’s troubles. Shucks, in other words, these Europeans reflect the pervasive mindset of the national Democrat Party!
Am I exaggerating? After all, isn’t Joseph Lieberman a Democrat. Isn’t Dick Gephardt a supporter of our military effort? Am I actually saying that the Democrat Party essentially considers our country to be a war mongering entity looking for trouble? Yup, that’s exactly the case. Today’s Democrat Party leaders worry more about complying with Old European “enlightened views” than adhering to American values.
“...but the much touted schools in Iraq are of little use when parents keep home from school children for fear of bomb threats. “
Nothing could be further from the truth. You must be getting your news reports form Indymedia. The situation in Iraq is far much better than before the war. Far fewer Iraqis are losing their lives. The children are no longer being inundated with pro-Saddam propaganda in the classroom. Young girls are not being raped by Baathist thugs.posted by: David Thomson on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Ah, Mr Oldman, always a treat to see *you* use words like "metrics". You hear a (indy)media - and here I think you've pegged it, Mr. Thompson- report on a kid that is afraid to go to school, and Viola! The administration's policy is a failure.
But wait, that's not right, you don't disagree with administration policy, you merely wish it was consistent.
Yes, That must be what's wrong: the president needs advise from you on consistancy.
Good luck with him, Mr. Reality. I assure you, your initail suspicion was correct. Kudos to you, as always, Thompson.
"The scientific validity of [a] study is entirely aside the point."
posted by: Art Wellesley on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Bush is not going it alone. He is setting his agenda and then looking for support, rather than the other way around.
I agree with Rauch that this is what Bush has done, and I wouldn't argue strenuously that it's necessarily the wrong way to go. The question is, does this qualify as "multilateralist"? Simply asking for help in a pre-determined, inevitable course of action hardly seems to justify the use of that term. In my idiolect, a true multilateralist would seek the advice of other nations, and maybe even abandon a course of action if s/he couldn't muster significant international support for it.posted by: KenB on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
It's not as if determining an agenda and then seeking support for it were a new thing in the history of the American Presidency, much as George Bush's aspiring spinmeisters say and perhaps even think it is. Truman did this; so did Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan. They didn't draw the hostility that Bush has, even though all of them threw bigger, sharper curves at friendly governments (e.g. Suez, "Nixon shocks" over China and economics, Star Wars) than anything Bush has done.
Maybe this reflects the decline of European civilization, or life in the post-Cold War world. Maybe, though, it reflects the fact that consultation with friendly governments and effective presentation of America's case are not incompatible with decisive action -- they just are beyond the capabilities of this President to manage at the same time. Previous Presidents didn't let whole areas of policy slide into Neutral for years at a time while they dealt with pressing world crises either, yet the Bush administration has made no movement toward dealing with our immigration problems with Mexico and let the last round of trade talks collapse with barely a sound.
It's no big mystery why this is. It's painted in bold colors any time President Bush speaks without a text. He doesn't know enough about important policy issues; he's too lazy to learn them, and after a soft life of privilege he doesn't think he should have to. He has legions of people willing to make excuses for him and impute deep strategic thinking at work behind what appear on the surface to be frequent haphazard improvisations concerning every aspect of being President except preparing for the 2004 campaign. I suppose that in other countries there are many people who take these imputations seriously, which may be the source of some of the theories about a new "Bush doctrine" of unilateralism or even imperialism. The reality is a lot more prosaic, just a story of a small man in a big job.posted by: Zathras on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
"What evidence do you possess to back up this assertion? I doubt if you could find one poll to even slightly support your view that our alleged rudeness or lack of diplomatic manners turned off those who agree with us regarding the radical Islamic and Mid Eastern socialist threat."
Emphasis (caps) added.
If your best objection is taking out of context a statement that clearly defined the objective or point as showing support for Dan's choice of political views, then all you got is a whole lot of nothing.
If you may not have picked it up, science either well-done or ill-done cannot decide choices of values or measure their desirability. These choices are ones that science cannot address. It is people who must make these choices. I reiterate my support for Daniel despite my occasional skepticism regarding his occasional missteps as a choice of values.
Frankly your little personal snit doesn't mean sh*t to me. Some worthless drone like you Wellesley, you just resent that others won't take you seriously when its apparent you don't even take yourself seriously.
And sure, old President Bush could do allot worse than listen to me - like as in how he's doing worse than that right now this very moment. However it's a path-dependent sort of thing. Someone prone to this sort of muddling isn't highly likely to listen to someone competent. If they were, it is less likely that they would have gotten into this situation in the first place.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Your diagnosis strikes uncomfortably close to the truth. Unlike his more extreme critics, I do not accuse GW Bush of being dumb. He can be very clever, canny, and socially sophisticated when it comes to getting his way. He tends to drop that facade however when it doesn't suit his purposes, and some of his so-called mis-steps are more like he didn't give a damn.
In addition, he either doesn't care to or is unable to master certain difficult subjects such as policy, management, academic subjects, etc. It doesn't make much difference, because the end result is an indifference to and a insensitivity to the details on which any venture turn.
The Devil is in the details and certainly President Bush is bedeviled by the details of carrying out what he's set out to do.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Just an observation, but have you ever even used the phrase "path-dependent" before?
Well, before you read it in Dan's november 4th Dan's post on KBR's job getting savvy?
You can say want you want about Art, but I think I've got your number, Mr. High-brow.posted by: tommyg on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Yes, changing the politics of the Middle East is one of the two strategic reasons for the Iraqi war (WMD being the other). The political change is a long-term project, of which Iraq is the indispensable first step. The landscape of ideas in the ME is poison to us, and it was poison prior to 9/11. The only way to win the war of ideas is to (1) give birth to a genuine liberal political model in a major country at the heart of the region, and (2) reposition the US as the enemy of tyranny in that part of the world. Deposing Saddam accomplishes point (2) in the long run of history, and point (1) is what is proving so hard just now. Difficult as it looks now, there is no way either goal was going to happen just by talking, b/c why would anyone there listen to us? A new model must emerge in the region to take the political lead. Iraq is hoped to be that leader.posted by: stu on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
" I completely agree that in terms of style, Bush's diplomacy has verged on God-awful ..."
With whom are you in agreement?
Certainly not with me (not that that matters a whit).
I got a graduate degree in physics from an accredited American university. What does that tell you about the possibility that I may have calculated path-independent and path-dependent integrals on multi-dimensional manifolds before? If your guess is that I have done so, and used the term path-dependence in a very rigorous way your guess would be right.
Yes I was using that word to pull in Dan's article into the discussion. Only thing I hooked though was you for a sucker. Guess that's what I get for bottom fishing. Art is way out of his depth. And by way I mean deep dark ocean depth. Get on another path Tommyq cause you don't want to go there with me.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
oh, I don't know...something about the value of degrees?
Nice resume, oldman. Anyway - thanks for the admission, and validation. No minor in PoliSci, I gather?posted by: tommyg on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Rauch (and others) stretch the meaning of 'multilateral' to ridiculousness when asking for help in a predetermined course of action becomes 'multilateralism'.
"Im goin' to the store. Anybody else wanna go? No? Ok, bye" isn't a multilateral decision.
Wuposted by: Carleton Wu on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Quite right, Carly, my friend. However, you might check the context - and the origin - in oldman's "AH" attack of Art Wells above. But then, you're already aware of it, right? And have only chosen to comment on my follow-up.
Fair enough. Seein's how we're all in a commentin' mood, and as long as we're on the subject of context, perhaps you'd care to offer comment on how determination, pre- or otherwise, affects courses of action in the great game, where the only score kept is that of a rival planting his flag in your capitol?
Remind us lower hominids what exactly is the inherent value of multi-lateralism again?posted by: TommyG on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
I hate to break it to your ignorant ass but allot of Economics took its modeling directly from physics. Physicists like myself have worked in many different fields - like economics, organizational analysis, industrial manufacturing analysis, and historical evaluation - all of which I've done for pay at one time or another because it's easy to go from physics to one of the above.
So what did you know? Nothing. Not much at all. The term path dependence in these fields is closely related to the same concept in the mathematics of physical sciences.
Except it's easier, cause as another physicist working in economics pointed out to me "it's mostly simple curves or straight lines." Yeah it is. Like your rather narrow minded interpretation.posted by: Oldman on 11.04.03 at 11:23 AM [permalink]
Good grief, oldman, you are angry. Again with the resume. Please work out your self-esteem issues with a licensed counselor.
And let's try to keep the forum a little more on-topic, eh? If you feel the need to tell me all about yourself, then simply write me. Don't bore everyone else with your "back-in-the-day" monologue.
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