Monday, February 9, 2004

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John Lewis Gaddis on Bush

Back in 2002 I highlighted a John Lewis Gaddis essay in Foreign Policy that stoutly defended the National Security Strategy. The Boston Globe reports that post-Iraq, Gaddis hasn't changed his mind:

Every President makes foreign policy. Only a select few, over the sweep of history, design what scholars term grand strategy.

Grand strategy is the blueprint from which policy follows. It envisions a country's mission, defines its interests, and sets its priorities. Part of grand strategy's grandeur lies in its durability: A single grand strategy can shape decades, even centuries, of policy.

Who, then, have been the great grand strategists among American statesmen? According to a slim forthcoming volume by John Lewis Gaddis, the Yale historian whom many describe as the dean of Cold War studies and one of the nation's most eminent diplomatic historians, they are John Quincy Adams, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and George W. Bush....

The Bush doctrine is more serious and sophisticated than its critics acknowledge -- but it is also less novel, Gaddis maintains. Three of its core principles -- preemptive war, unilateralism, and American hegemony -- actually hark back to the early 19th century, to the time of John Quincy Adams....

Gaddis begins ''Surprise, Security, and the American Experience'' (Harvard, March) with the observation that thanks to its geographical isolation, the United States has experienced only three surprise attacks on its soil: the British burning of Washington in 1814, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the terrorist attacks in 2001. Each time, American leaders responded by rethinking grand strategy.

After the British attack on Washington, Gaddis recounts, John Quincy Adams, then secretary of state to James Monroe, perceived that weakly governed states along US borders invited dangers, whether from marauding bands of Native Americans, pirates, and escaped slaves in Florida (before General Andrew Jackson invaded it in 1817), or from European powers who might seize vulnerable territories such as California as staging grounds from which to threaten the United States. And so America achieved its security through territorial expansion -- by filling a perceived power vacuum before hostile powers could do so. Gaddis describes the invasions of such territories as ''preemptive.''

Read the whole thing. Later on in the piece, Walter Russell Mead makes a point that's worth repeating:

What is perhaps most important about the Bush doctrine is also very specific to its era, says Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the forthcoming ''Power, Terror, Peace, and War: America's Grand Strategy in a World at Risk'' (Knopf, April): It shifts the geographical center of American strategy.

''The Cold War was fundamentally about Europe,'' says Mead. ''Whatever happened anywhere in the world, the basic question was how it would affect the standoff with the Soviets in Europe. Now the Bush people are saying that whatever happens anywhere in the world, the question is, how will it affect the Middle East and the war on terror?''

posted by Dan on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM


Bingo. In this century, all of the major threats to US security, and all of the strategic and economic threats as well, arise from Asia ie the near and far east. The hostility of so much of the liberal establishment to the Bush Doctrine is partly due to a longing to live in a eurocentric world that disappeared decades ago. It's about time we shifted our energies and military-diplomatic-political resources to the east.

posted by: tombo on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

ah, yes, but then there's the whole "competence" thing...

posted by: praktike on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Here's the question. Is it better to vote in the man with the right vision and substandard execution, or the man without much vision, but likely better execution.

The answer -- depends on the times. Of course, there's an assumption that Kerry is administratively competent. I'm not sure he has ever held a position that would demonstrate that.

(Lefties -- including you pratkie -- please correct me if I'm wrong.)

posted by: appalled moderate on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

"Here's the question. Is it better to vote in the man with the right vision and substandard execution, or the man without much vision, but likely better execution."

Interesting question, and I agree with you that it depends on the times. However, I don't think it applies, for me at least, in the case of GWB. I find even his vision fatally flawed. I agree with the emphasis on the Middle East and his tying together of the seemingly disparate threats of terrorism, WMD proliferation, and rogue states. I also agree with his determination to maintain US hegemony, his stated (though not really demonstrated) belief that the spread of democracy is the only long-term guarantee of security and, at least in certain cases, to the concept of pre-emption. However, I believe that the other key principle of his doctine - unilateralism - undermines all the rest. Our long-term interests are best served by shaping the world order in our own image, and that necessitates a basic respect for multilateralism and global institutions, which is sorely lacking in Bush's vision. With a commitment to multilateralism, Bush's vision would, I believe, lead to a significant improvement in our security and in the state of the world at large. Without that commitment, however, I think the other components of his vision actually serve to undermine and delay those two goals.

"Of course, there's an assumption that Kerry is administratively competent. I'm not sure he has ever held a position that would demonstrate that."

Perhaps not, if by administration you mean holding an executive office. However, his time in the Senate has demonstrated, to my satisfaction at least, that he is considerably more knowledgable on the issues than Bush, and therefore more likely to be competent in his own right. Likewise, all protests to the contrary, I do believe that the ability to communicate effectively is a significant indicator of general competence. And finally, as I said before, I believe that multilateral cooperation will be key to our long-term success, and there is simply no way that Bush can go forward on that front as effectively as Kerry, given his own personality and given all the bridges that he's burned.

posted by: Dave on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Mead is correct that the Cold War was fundamentally about Europe, and underscores the damage that the massive American diversion of time, blood and resources to Southeast Asia in the 1960s did.

I don't question the primacy of the fight against terrorism right now. But the great challenges to America's future will not arise from the Middle East, a region that produces oil, terrorists and virtually nothing else we have any reason either to value or to fear. The commitments we have made there we cannot simply abandon, but I fear the pursuit of unattainable objectives (e.g. durable liberal democracies in the backward cultures of the Arab world) has the potential to absorb resources we do not have in the abundance some people seem to think we do.

As to the Bush doctrine itself, I suspect the two academics Dan quotes are making more of it than is there. Though fully reflecting the worldview of some Bush administration appointees the Bush doctrine was essentially a response to a public relations emergency, the perceived need for the President to be able to point to a theoretical basis for his policy toward terrorism. It is thus neither as sweeping as its detractors fear nor as novel as its admirers claim. It will lead the United States into no major actions that would not be undertaken anyway; in cases where its literal application would lead to a damaging crisis it will be (and is already) ignored.

posted by: Zathras on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]


Well, the decision is easier for you then.

I view a multilateral approach as a means, rather than an end, mainly because I don't subscribe to the philosophy of "Tain't Whatcha Do, It's The Way Thatcha Do It." Sometimes, to do what is right for the United States, the US has to act unilaterally. One can debate the merits or demerits of the Iraqi operation, but I think it is unrealistic to believe that that war was going to be fought with Security Council approval. If you think Iraq was a good idea, the failure ultimately to use the UN should not bother you. If you think Iraq was a bad idea, the fact France signed on to it probably would not have made it a good idea.

This said, it's certainly one of the competence problems that Bush allows Rumsfeld to make old Europe remarks, or stiffs Chirac whenever he can.

Kerry has stated that he views the terrorist problem as better handled as a criminal/interpol sort of thing, rather than as a war. To my mind -- wrong vision.

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

The UN Security Council is only marginally relevant to an Asia-centric world and will remain so until Europe has one UNSC seat and Asia has three.

Credit Rumsfeld with at least this much: he grasps the core principle that we need to shift our attention and resources away from western European nations that will not help us and cannot harm us toward near and far eastern nations whose posture toward us matters hugely. We pay inordinate attention to the Germans and the French, and very little attention to India and Turkey--this should be reversed ASAP.

posted by: tombo on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]


You stated:

"With a commitment to multilateralism, Bush's vision would, I believe, lead to a significant improvement in our security and in the state of the world at large."

I believe you are laboring under a misaprehension. First I would contend that any President sitting in the Whitehouse would strongly consider attacking Iraq after 9\11. Clinton used to talk in those terms when he was still in office long before 9\11. Second, no amount of pouring oil on the waters or silver tongued diplomacy would have overcome the objections of the French and Russians IMO on the Iraq war. The problem is not so much Bush is a unilateralist, rather that when push comes to shove, other nation states are (surprise!) vested in their own self interests and quite unilateral in their pursuit of them, at least as much as the US is sitting uinder any given President.

posted by: Graham on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Does anyone believe that Kerry and the old Clinton foreign policy pros are serious about shifting our attention away from the French and Germans, toward nations like India and Turkey? Somehow I doubt that a man who views AQ as essentially a criminal, not a military, organization has a serious grip on how this century's correlation of forces is shaping up.

posted by: tombo on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Ya, I tend to see multilateralism as both means and end, and insufficient as either in isolation. Of course, sometimes you have to give more weight to one than the other, which is why I supported the Iraq War, despite the UN's recalcitrance. Conversely, I opposed Bush's withdrawl from Kyoto, even though I thought the substance of the agreement was lousy, because I felt it was important to preserve the integrity of the process and the principle of collective action. I tend to be a "little from column A, little from column B" kind of guy, depending on the circumstances, but it does sound like I put more stock in the desirability of multilaterism in its own right than you do.

As for Kerry's apparent emphasis on small-scale actions and the intel/police-work approach to terrorism, my thinking on this goes back to the issue of timing that you raised. I agree that this approach might have been out of place in 2002, but it's perfect for 2004. The reality is that our resources are stretched right now, and, neo-con dreams and paleo-lib fears aside, we're simply not going to be invading any more countries in the near future. We've done that part of it. We took out the Taliban, eliminated the future threat of Iraq, and have sufficiently shaken up the Middle East and demonstrated our strength/forcefulness. Now comes the part where we do the long, dreary work of rebuilding those countries and shaping the resulting disorder in the larger Muslim/Arab world into something better. Whether it's Kerry or Bush in the White House for the next four years, special ops, police/intel work and heavy diplomacy will be the strategy. Given Bush's obvious impatience and distaste for that kind of nuanced approach, I think Kerry will do a better job from this point forward, which is obviously what the next election is all about.

posted by: Dave on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]


I think you're right that pretty much any of the major players in Presidential politics over the last 10 years would have seriously considered getting rid of Hussein once and for all after 9/11 provided the justification. I don't concede, however, that Clinton, Gore, Kerry, et. al. would have been just as unsuccessful as Bush at getting the UN on board. Germany was only a staunch opponent because Bush's deep unpopularity with the German electorate prompted Schroder to pursue an anti-US line of rhetoric for his own political gain. Without that anti-Bush undercurrent, I don't think Germany would have lined up so strongly against us, and, without German support early on, I don't think France would have been brave enough to go it alone. (Russia, remember, was a fence-sitter until well into the game.)

Now, there's obviously no way to know whether someone else would ultimately have been successful at getting UN support. There were definite realpolitik reasons for France and other countries to oppose the US. Nevertheless, in basically every Western European country, anti-Bush sentiment became indistinguishable from anti-US sentiment. Without Bush, I don't think the anti-US sentiment would have risen like it did, and hence the opposition at the UN would not have had as much of a popular base to build on. We might not have won in the end anyway, but at least our chances would have been better.

posted by: Dave on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]


Kyoto imposed obligations on the United Staes, that, if implemented, would have had very substantial (and surprisingly undebated) effects on our economy. Clinton -- adding substance to the term Clintonian -- allowed the treaty to be signed and refused to submit it to Congress, unless it was changed. Europe (and that's where this thing came from) refused to budge. I tend to blame Gore more than anyone else for this snafu. He had the credentials to not sign this thing, and maybe force Europe into modifying the treaty into something that could be signed.

Personally,I took much more umbrage at the unilateral withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the International Criminal Court -- both actions that struck me as unnecessary provocations.

One question for you, Dave. Are you comfortable that Kerry will prove a multilateralist on trade?

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Granted, Kyoto was a seriously flawed agreement, and I don't think it should have been implemented as written. Still, Bush could have pursued Clinton's strategy of simply refusing to submit it to Congress without completely backing out of the process. I think it's in his nature to eschew diplomatic incrementalism in favor of sweeping decrees and "bold" moves. He didn't like Kyoto, the ICC or the ABM treaty, so, rather than gradually work through the issues over several years, he just swept them off the table entirely, which in turn produced the entirely predictable backlash we've seen ever since.

As for Kerry's commitment to free trade, yes, I'm comfortable that he'd do a decent job in that area. He's obviously politically answerable to some protectionist interests, but I think free trade and globalisation have reached the level of mainstream common wisdom. It would be difficult in the extreme for him to back away from it in any meaningful way, assuming he even wanted to. In addition, I think he'd actually be better for the cause of free trade in the long run than Bush would be. Whatever the substantive merits of free trade versus "fair" trade, public perception in the developing world will be enormously important. If it looks like we're not sensitive to environmental and labor concerns, it will be difficult for us to advance the agenda. Kerry would ease those concerns in a way Bush can't and won't, thus smoothing the way for substantive progress.

posted by: Dave on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

"We took out the Taliban, eliminated the future threat of Iraq, and have sufficiently shaken up the Middle East and demonstrated our strength/forcefulness."

Not so fast. So we remove the stick (Bush) and use only carrots (Kerry)? The hardliners in Iran are hoping for a Kerry win as is Hezbollah. I don't think it's possible to say Bush did the hard work so now the Dems can have it easy. Whatever the reality may or may not be, the perception in the M.E. is that Bush is tough, whoever might replace him won't be.

posted by: Syl on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Gaddis, Mead, Drezner and...Tombo?

Well, you're in good company anyhow and thanks...It's the point that Thomson has been making all this time but I just never recieved it until tracking across Tombo's great distillation of the Dan's thread at the top of the posts on Gaddis and Mead.

The left doesn't want to have to send their kids to posh summer camps to learn Arabic IOT stay relevant - they want French.

Who'd a thunk their hostility to current Int Affairs was that selfish?

Oh, that's right, Dave Thomson did. He's been trying to get it through my head all along

posted by: Tommy G on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

I notice a false dichotomy among many observers here and elsewhere between the "war" vs. "intel" approach to the WOT. Fact is, both Kerry and Bush support both war (Afghanistan was a military campaign that every Democrat supported) and intel (9/11 was, ultimately, a failure of domestic law enforcement and intelligence - we knew who these guys were and what their intentions were, yet we couldn't pull the resources together to nab them; and this is both Clinton's and Bush's fault). The difference is somewhat rhetorical: Kerry specifically mentioned that he sees the WOT as primarily an intel/police effort but that military action is sometimes necessary too. The reality of Bush's approach is actually quite similar, with the exception of Iraq, which to my mind, has demonstrated the risk of veering too far toward the military side. The philosophical differences between Bush and Kerry on the WOT just aren't that great, despite the heated campaign rhetoric. Application and specifics may be a different story but the vision thing does not separate them.

posted by: Elrod on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

“The philosophical differences between Bush and Kerry on the WOT just aren't that great, despite the heated campaign rhetoric. Application and specifics may be a different story but the vision thing does not separate them.”

Nope, that’s simply inaccurate. President Bush perceives our conflict with the Islamic militants as a war that must be won. Senator Kerry candidly describes it as nothing more than a matter for the police to resolve. The President is very anxious to act multilaterally---but he refuses to grovel before the Old Europeans like France and Germany. Kerry, regretfully, will not hesitate to allow Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin to dictate American foreign policy. Lastly, the polls indicate that the Democrat Party tends toward pacifism. Few of their voters place a high priority on fighting the terrorists.

posted by: David Thomson on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Syl: "I don't think it's possible to say Bush did the hard work so now the Dems can have it easy."

Just so there's no confusion, I actually meant that Bush did the easy part, and now it's up to the Dems to do the hard stuff. Given our military strength, overthrowing the Taliban and Hussein wasn't difficult. Putting the pieces together into something better, on the other hand, is going to be a major undertaking that requires a much more nuanced approach than I think Bush is tempermentally capable of providing.

posted by: Dave on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

The war in Afghanistan and Iraq was the easy part?

Wow, there's revisionism at it's greatest. How about all the talking heads opining about how we were gonna get dragged down into a quagmire in Afghanistan just like the Russians? How about all the scare reports about Saddam using those WMD's (that the same people are now saying "See? We told you he didn't have any.") to kill thousands of troops. The horror stories of a protracted street-to-street battle in Baghdad?

Why was that the easy part? Obviously the easiest thing would have been to have let the status-quo of no inspections and an ever-more-inneffective containment policy continue to slide along. Maybe we could have even lobbed a cruise-missile or two just for the heck of it.

posted by: Rob Crocker on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Tommy G - that may be the root of the problem. Europhiles can't make much sense of Asia, as it defies their eurocentric, PC definitions of social and political progress.

Just as they fail to see that Asian-Americans might actually be more capitalist and more religious than the average native-born American, the standard left-lib European has trouble reconciling his belief that "anti-imperialist" third world nations can be expected to line up against the US with the fact that China, India and the tigers are slightly more keen to cooperate with the US than to challenge us.

Oh, and yes, there's the vacation issue. Shanghai and Mumbai are a real drag compared to Provence and Tuscany.

posted by: tombo on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Hoo boy Dave, where do I start?

Kerry? If he's really under the impression that

Osama bin Laden = John Dillinger

Then I, for one, don't want him anywhere near the Oval Office.

"Bush's obvious impatience"??? I seem to recall Bush saying something about a commitment of years or decades. His Democrat opponents are the ones beside themselves with the twitches because we haven't managed to turn Iraq into Germany or Japan in less than a year.

"Mulilateralism"? Kindly have the grace to admit that this is liberal codespeak for 'always ask permission from France and Germany first.' There might have been some faint hope of turning the Germans around, but the French were never going to go along with toppling Saddam, even if Bill Clinton had been doing the asking - Saddam had already bought them.

The Iraq Coalition includes nearly all of Europe, plus Japan. Leaving out Japan for a moment, just taking the U.K., Italy, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic we have 85% as much total GNP as the Axis of Weasel and 40% more population.

I'm surprised you don't appreciate the very French nature of the strategy Bush is employing in the Middle East. It's straight out of Marshal Foch's playbook from WWI when French troops needed firing squads to motivate them to continue bayonet charges into German machine guns. "I had to shoot a few," he said, "pour encourager les autres (to encourage the others)."

Having taken down Saddam and demonstrated a willingness to stick around and clean up the mess afterward has already provided Bush decisive leverage on Khadaffi. I suspect that such is true, less publicly at this point, of other current occupants of shaky thrones and undemocratically acquired offices in the region. The word has definitely been passed in the Middle East - any current ruler who wants to grow old and die in bed had best start figuring out how to quit being Louis XIV and how to start being Thomas Jefferson.

posted by: Dick Eagleson on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Re: J. L. Gaddis:
I have to say, take what he says with a grain of salt. It's unclear why Gaddis is the preeminent Cold War historian. His opus, "We Now Know", besides having a ridiculous title, is, well, terrible. It focuses totally on, well, US-Soviet relations (with a nod to China here and there). I mean, it even describes things like Hungary 1956 as important only inasmuch it affects US-Soviet relations. He systematically ignores the inner conflicts of the Eastern-bloc societies, and overall his ideas are neither interesting nor original. He also is a tremendously lazy teacher, who thinks it's ok to "teach" a class solely by showing students excerpts from CNN documentaries.

Full disclosure, I also think Gaddis is personally an asshole, both for the contempt he shows his students by "teaching" through CNN, and also because his ego got in such a bunch over one lolely assistant professor criticizing him (my mentor when I was an undergrad), then he single-handedly (well, he and Paul Kennedy, who once wrote an equally wrong-headed book :)) got this man fired and ruined his career in academia.

Dan, realize you're lucky you're a poly sci prof at UC and not a history prof at Yale.

posted by: Goldberg on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

Tony Blankly wrote an article on this topic in the Washington Ties yesterday. Boortz makes mention of it on his site this morning. worth checking out.

posted by: Bithead on 02.09.04 at 06:15 PM [permalink]

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