Wednesday, June 2, 2004
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Does U.S. foreign policy suffer from an ideas deficit?
Greg Djerejian at Belgravia Dispatch seems to think the answer is yes:
In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle.
This may seem like a facetious suggestion, but how about George Kennan's Around the Cragged Hill (1993)?
Kennan's argument is that the Cold War was an abnormal situation. Europe and Japan had been stomped flat, leaving a power vacuum vulnerable to Soviet expansion that only US leadership could prevent. Now that the Cold War is over, and Europe and Japan have recovered, the US should adopt a much more modest foreign policy (while maintaining its alliances with Western Europe and Japan) and focus on tackling its domestic problems. The US should be a "fellow worker in the vineyard" rather than trumpeting itself as the leader of the world, accepting a world with multiple centers of power rather than attempting to maintain American predominance.
Here's a 1999 interview with Kennan.posted by: Russil Wvong on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
The argument is so well laid out here I doubt it's worth buying the book-length version, "Paradise and Power".
posted by: Lane on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
'..we need fresh thinking desparately, don't we?'
old , good ideas (like rewarding friends and punishing enemies) are better than bad, new ones (like 'internationalizing' a war)
think Victor Davis Hanson ..posted by: JonofAtlanta on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Are you looking for a diagnosis and a prescription? If so, I don't see anything that really qualifies. Kagan's diagnosis is Euro-centric and thus of little use in an Asia-entric world. Most of the Democratic Party's thinkers are likewise obsessed with an Alliance that died thirteen years ago.
If you look at the core challenges of our era, you see that all of them arise from and are made more intense by the changes occurring in the near and far east, ie ASIA:
--the spread of WMD and the rise of state-supported apocalyptic terror movements seeking to get and use WMD;
--the sharp upsurge in internal political chaos that threatens external state harmony along an "arc of instability" running from Algeria to Cairo, Ruiyadh, Islamabad, Jakarta and Pyongyang;
--the aging of advanced industrial populations--most acute in Japan and soon in China;
--and probably the most important strategic development of all for the US, the rise of China as key source of industrial demand and Japan Korea and China as key source of US public funding.
Given the absurd preoccupation of the US foreign policy elite with Europe, a region that has little or no serious influence on the above Asia-centered problems, it seems unlikely that we will see a major new direction anytime soon.
If any of our current experts is likely to come up with a new synthesis, it will almost certainly be an Asian-American.
Perhaps Zakaria?posted by: thibaud on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
And what about 9/11 made Huntington obsolete?posted by: Eric on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Here's a brief critique of the Kagan article.posted by: Russil Wvong on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Agree with Jon of Atlanta. Time for us to go back to some basic, tried-and-true principles of realism. In Asia, "sticky" and "sweet" are terms associated with food, not power.
I would recommend that we return to principles of balancing, esp as applied to China and N Korea, and to a political style characterized more by cunning and diplomatic deftness (of the sort that Franklin, Jefferson and others practiced so well) than by Wilsonian rhetoric or Rumsfeldian bluster.
Beyond that I would argue that this nation immediately re-orient its diplomatic, political, intellectual and cultural resources and investment away from Europe and toward the near and far eastern nations. Use the FLAS and maybe the NED models that were applied to E Europe in the latter 20c and apply them to Iran, Pakistan, N Korea etc. Shift about half of the diplomatic experts at our Paris Embassy to New Delhi and Beijing. Encourage as many of our talented young Asian-American grads to enter the Foreign Service and the CIA.
Asian Century now-- about time this nation moved beyond the silly obsessions of our Atlanticist elites and got serious about the region that will determine our security and prosperity.posted by: thibaud on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
You could do far, far worse for a start to a "big-think" project on the war than Steven den Beste's Strategic Overview of the War on Terror.posted by: Crank on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
thibaud & Jon of Atlanta,
I'd also like to see foreign policy groups less fragmented along party lines. They dont have to all vote the same way, but acknowledging when the other side has a good idea would be a positive development.posted by: sam on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
funny, the chronicle ran a story on just that this week (subscription only):
their list seems to be gaddis, nye and mead. add zakaria and robert cooper to that list and you almost have a glut of ideas, not a shortage.posted by: jb on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Guehenno, The End Of The Nation-Stateposted by: alkali on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
"To be sure, there is an ideas deficit right now amidst policy and academic elites." So a bold pre-emptive military strike, directly into the heart of terror central, luring the furtive terrorists to slaughter wasn't an "idea" whose time had come? So daring and direct that socialistic acadamia is still slobbering on their robes, stuttering "we must publish, we must publish".
"Bush as militaristic cowboy rueful that he couldn't march into Damascus and Teheran because the going in Iraq got a tad rough...)" Nothing ruins a good argument like a audacious pile of crap. It sure saves time though, being able to skim quickly through all those "ideas".posted by: RD on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
I think we need to acknowledge how big a paradigm shift has occurred due to the power wielded by so-called multi-national corporations. While political sc. types are busy preaching to their particular choirs at their think tank seminars, the multi-nationals are blazing their own paths and almost subliminally inducing the elected folk to follow (when they are not being outright bribed by K streeters). Do the politicians and the think tankers really believe they are directing China policy?posted by: moog on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Until the Democratic party decides to stop being irresponsible about security matters (i.e., the persistant refusal of Democrats to advocate anything concrete that they are for while criticizing everything the President does), I don't see how any of this is going to change. It seems unlikely to expect any consensus or bold new idea anytime soon. Moreover, since the parties do not agree on the ultimate goals of our foreign policy, how can we expect there to be any idea relative to the means of achieving said goals which will not meet with a firestorm of criticism as soon as it is advanced?posted by: Ben on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Strikes me that we are embarked right now on a bold forward-looking foreign policy based on some of the most original thinking since the Reagan administration smashed the Cold War paradigm in the 80's. If there is a dearth of good thinking it's on the part of war critics who simply cannot come up with a constructive alternative. But what do you expect of the Left? Their position in academia today is analagous to that of the Aristotelians who dominated the European universities during the early Enlightenment. Marx did all their thinking for them 150 years ago and they are left with the task of enforcing orthodoxy. Meanwhile the real world passes them by.posted by: rob in Mass on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Concur with Jon of Atlanta and thibaud:
X article? What's so hard to Pyscho-Analyze about the Caliphites?posted by: Tommy G on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Why, jb - where do you think dan got the idea?posted by: TommyG on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
RD, I too misread the "Bush=cowboy" line first time. This, actually, was being used as an example of the "partisan rancor and hyperbolic rhetoric" that has contributed to the lack of "fresh thinking".
The biggest problem I have with Kerry's ideas is I have no confidence in his commitment to them. I am unable to believe that he believes in anything other than getting elected.
As to the call to return to old ideas, wouldn't that, in a sense, be a new idea given that it is counter to established paradigms? Kind of like how I always laughed at the idea of opposition to the established government being called counter-revolutionary.posted by: submandave on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
I'd suggest a work that's an oracle, but not a manual, namely Philip Bobbit's The Shield of Achilles, now a major motion picture.
His tying together of domestic policy - a changed economic and constitutional order - with a warning of a necessity for reduced liberties and prophecy of an open-ended war against any groupuscules, not just the Islamicists, using the new tools of terror.posted by: Peter Nolan on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Old school diplomacy, however nostalgically enticing, is no longer a viable approach to diplomacy or foreign policy. It is based on the premise that a state’s (the US or other’s) nationalistic goals and abilities is enough to drive & implement. This is no longer true. Nationalistic agenda is still a very real component, the major. But nationalist doctrine ignores the influence of a very real and growing secondary power-base – international corporate doctrine. Particularly in addressing the rising challenges outlined above in Asia, the economic and corporate agenda, and it’s influence on the political power-base and policy in the US will drive sizably US policy in this region.
Therefore, I’d submit that any fundamental theory of policy for today’s world needs to incorporate global economic trends and consider multi-national corporate goals, strategies and tactics to be viable. Old school does not.
There are many on list much better versed in the literature than I. Whom would you recommend that does balance nationalistic and global / corporate agendas and their impact on policy?
'old , good ideas (like rewarding friends and punishing enemies) are better than bad, new ones (like 'internationalizing' a war)
think Victor Davis Hanson ..'
Victor Davis Hanson hardly strikes me as a great model for foreign policy. A good writer (when not using purple prose), and a good, if somewhat Western-centric historian (when not indulging in rhetorical hyperbole), but someone too willing to fit facts to his theory.
And internationalizing a war is hardly a new policy. For nearly 500 years, England managed to keep itself safe from invasion largely through internationalizing wars and recognizing that friends and enemies are transitory. Thus, England would team up with Germany, Spain and Russia against France (Napoleonic wars), with Russia and France against Germany (WW I and WW II), with France and Germany and the US against Russia (Cold war).
No, we don't need more Victor Davis Hanson's who combine Wilsonian idealism with the strategic insight of Kaiser Wilhelm the IInd. What we need is the equivalent of the British masters of the Great Game.posted by: Jon Juzlak on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
'So a bold pre-emptive military strike, directly into the heart of terror central, luring the furtive terrorists to slaughter wasn't an "idea" whose time had come? '
If you're talking about Afghanistan, absolutely it was an idea whose time had completely and truly come.
If you're talking about Iraq, this so called idea becomes considerably more dubious beacause
-- We already had one Venus fly trap for terrorists, in Afghanistan, we emphatically didn't need another.
FWIW, my somewhat pessmisitic take is that just as Britain bankrupted itself maintaining a large Empire, and the Soviet Union did likewise over Afghanistan (and Cuba!!), we could end up doing the same. The future may go to India and CHina.
India has its own problems with Islamic terror -- but they are more tractable than ours because they can strike up a political solution, while no such solution is possible with Al Qaeda. China has only a small set of problems with Islamic terror. IF the 2 piggyback on the American war on terror ,they may end up catching up to us in a few decades.posted by: MikeSch on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
One major point that every foreign policy expert needs to be cognizant of is the growing demographic change in many Western countries. Many West European countries are likely to become more and more Islamic. If these Algerians or Turks or Moroccans are not assimilated, you end up with the explosive problems of American ghettos combined with Islamic Radicalim. x
The US has similar demographic tends, but a) its much larger b) the fastest population growth in the US is in Christian Hispanics, Hindu Indians, and Buddhist/only mildly religious Chinese. What impact will the demographic change have on US policy ? We already know that US policy vis-a-vis Ireland or Israel is impacted greatly by domestic lobbies. What happens to US policy wrt Mexico, if 30 % of US citizens are of MExican origin ? How will the Indo-Pak conflict look if Indians influence American policy. At that though, America's problems look far more manageable than those of Europe.posted by: Sibley on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
“The US should be a "fellow worker in the vineyard" rather than trumpeting itself as the leader of the world, accepting a world with multiple centers of power rather than attempting to maintain American predominance.”
George Kennan became something of a jerk a few decades after writing his famous Soviet Union containment thesis. So much so, that he virtually contradicted himself. I strongly urge everyone to read the brilliant “VIXI: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger” by Richard Pipes. This giant of a man taught at Harvard University and for some inexplicable reason was not intellectually damaged by the experience. This is what Pipes says about the silly Kennan:
“His principal character flaw was inordinate vanity---the greatest enemy of the intellectual because it places gratification of the ego above truth.”
“He (Kennan) increasingly apologized for Soviet actions and in effect repudiated his own containment policy: at one point he said that on reflection his famous “Mr. X” article he found it hard to believe he had written it.”
We are the leader of the world. This is a cold fact and there is no sense denying the obvious. Russil Wvong is a Canadian and his country is merely a free loader on the world stage. The planet would be in utter chaos if we waited for Mr. Wvong’s fellow citizens to do their share. Niall Ferguson is right on target to argue that the United States is an empire---and should freely admit it---and also act like an empire. He actually complains that our present policies are too “imperialism lite.”posted by: David Thomson on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
"But nationalist doctrine ignores the influence of a very real and growing secondary power-base – international corporate doctrine"
There is no "international corporate doctrine". As any oil company exec knows, multinational corporations can adapt to any kind of environment, be it Nigeria or Colombia or Russia or Saudi. Corporations do not drive foreign policy, although they may constrain policy options in some instances. This is because
1) international trade remains a relatively small--in most cases, tiny-- portion of every major nation's economic output (in the US case I think the share is 12% of GDP; certainly smaller for France) and
2) as economies become more advanced, ie more complicated and more dynamic, the leading corporations in those economies have proportionally less influence over their internal political processes.
On point # 1, look at the Iraq War. Every world oil exec favored the French-Russian approach, ie dropping sanctions and doing business with Saddam. Lot of clout they had, eh?
On point # 2, look at GM. It used to be that Truman or Eisenhower could set hsi economic agenda by soliciting the views of the Chairmen of GM, Chase Manhattan Bank, US Steel (remember them?), Westinghouse (and them?), ITT (remember them?) and a few other giants. Today most of those companies are either dead or merged away; in any case their market share and corresponding influence are far less than in either the late 19c or the first half of the 20c. GM used to have 60%+ of the US auto market and now have about 26% (and falling). Even Microsoft is a minnow compared to the power that whales like Morgan and Mellon and Carnegie wielded in their day.
The key actor remains the nation-state and will remain so for decades to come.posted by: thibaud on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
[Ad hominem arguments skipped.]
"Niall Ferguson is right on target to argue that the United States is an empire---and should freely admit it---and also act like an empire."
Seriously. What benefit would an overseas empire have for Americans? The US has a huge domestic market, lots of capital, plenty of natural resources. What does it need an empire for?
The vital interest of the US overseas is that the whole force of Europe (and Asia) not be wielded by a single hand, to paraphrase Jefferson. This is why it was in the interests of the US to contain Soviet expansion during the Cold War, and to fight Nazi Germany during World War II, and to fight Imperial Germany during World War I. But as long as there's multiple powers in Europe and Asia to balance each other, why does the US need to overreach itself by trying to turn the Middle East into an American sphere of influence?posted by: Russil Wvong on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
I think "empire" is misleading. The challenge is to impose order on that anarchic collection of failing and failed states that runs across Europe's southern tier through south Asia to selected east Asian states. The UN cannot do this; regional powers cannot do this; the Europeans in most cases refuse to help us do so.
Which leaves us with some form of unilateral US intervention that comprises equal parts nation-building, pre-emptive military action, and intelligent containment of the toxic political waste that such failing regimes create.
What distinguishes this from "empire" is that there is no support, either internationally or within the US, for actual viceroys or other long-term US governors in the territories along this arc of instability. However, Ferguson is right to point out that only the US can realistically take on the necessary burden of seeking to impose order before a nation such as Saudi blows up, or has 25% of the world's oil production capacity blown up, or before Dr Khan sells nuclear technology via intermediaries to (AQ) (Iran) (Libya) (Algeria) (???), or before Egypt suffers a revolution led by Islamic Brotherhood types, or any of a dozen other fires breaks out.
Something between a cunning "offshore balancer" in Mersheimer's phrase and an aggressive nation-builder is needed. I don't think there's a neat slogan or historical parallel that will help us here.
“...why does the US need to overreach itself by trying to turn the Middle East into an American sphere of influence?”
Nature abhors a vacuum. Either the United States does it---or it may not get done at all. I don’t want the radical Islamists filling the vacuum. The Old Europeans and other such second rate countries have embraced mediocrity. They have no desire of doing anything but wallowing in their pathetic socialist milieus. Does this thrill me? Nope, but I long ago realized that “America First” isolationism will result in Armageddon. This is what occurred previous to WWII, and I will do whatever is reasonable to make sure that we don’t repeat this mistake of the 1930s.posted by: David Thomson on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
thax for link Dan. Here's my brief take re: your comments to my original post:
"In the past three years, there have actually been a fair number of big-think books from very disparate points of view out there on grand strategy -- John Mearsheimer, Michael Mandelbaum, Charles Kupchan, Fareed Zakaria, Robert Kagan, Joseph Nye, John Lewis Gaddis, countless others. My readers are invited to suggest which article/book they think most closely approximates the Kennan mantle." [emphasis added]
Countless others? Really?
And the mere fact that there is such a bouillabaisse/hodgepodge of attempted "grand strategy" iterations actually helps support my point that fundamental policy re-thinks are necessitated.
Bottom line: None of these guys "approximate the Kennan mantle." They all fall short.
If one did, you wouldn't have to ask your readers whether Zakaria, Kagan, Nye, Gaddis, Mandelbaum, Mearsheimer, etc deserved the Kennan-mantle.
Rather, a clear victor would have emerged. None of the works you mention come close to providing an overarching foreign policy vision that would guide (as did Kennan's X telegram) US policy for many decades.
True, perhaps, today's world is more complex than the bipolar division of power Kennan grappled with. But I still contend policymakers/thinkers/think-tankers should be doing better.
Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations", perhaps, come close (and is tempting to view as still relevant post 9/11 as one of your commenters points out)--but doesn't do the trick in my view.
I hope to detail why at Belgravia Dispatch soon.
Happy travels in DC.
There's a prof at the Naval War College (forgot his name; Michael Barone wrote a piece on him recently) who divides the world between the orderly states and the disorderly nations/territories/regimes. Mexico, Russia, Indonesia are part of the former, Colombia, Georgia, and Burma are part of the latter. Most of the arab and muslim states would probably fall into the disorderly category. Saudi's certainly on the edge, as is Egypt. Iran and Pakistan are already there.
The point is that both the pre-emptive strike approach and the nation-building approach are required to keep ths anarchic world from drowning us. But while we have superb pre-emptive capabilities, we (at this point) lack a disciplined and well-organized cadre of civil affairs experts who can build up where we have smashed apart a toxic or failed state.
Two books come immediately to mind:
1) Civilization and its Enemies
2) Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies
Although Kagan's "Paradise and Power" and Berman's "Terror and Liberalism" also rank...posted by: Salamantis on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
“There's a prof at the Naval War College (forgot his name; Michael Barone wrote a piece on him recently) who divides the world between the orderly states and the disorderly nations/territories/regimes.”
Thomas P. M. Barnett is the name you are looking for. It took me no more than a few seconds to find this information on Google.com. I merely inserted the following query into the search area: Michael Barone naval war college:
“(Thomas) Barnett's new map divides the world into two parts: "the functioning core" and the "nonintegrating gap." The core consists of economically advanced or growing countries that are linked to the global economy and bound to the rule-sets of international trade. The United States, Canada, and Mexico are part of the core; so are Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile. All of Europe is in the core except for the Balkans. So is Russia and the western parts of the former Soviet Union. The major nations in East Asia—Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China—plus Hong Kong are in the core, as is India. So are South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. There are a couple of anomalies in the map: North Korea is pictured within the core, Singapore and Thailand outside.
The rest of the world is the nonintegrating gap—outside the global economy, not bound to the rule-sets of international trade. In the Western Hemisphere it includes the Caribbean, Central America, Guyana, Venezuela, and the Andean countries plus Paraguay. It includes all of Africa except South Africa. It includes the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. And it includes the arc of countries from Bangladesh through Southeast Asia, the Philippines, and Indonesia.”
Now that I’ve criticized your less than admirable internet search abilities---I must thank you for the information. I find Michael Barone’s piece most intriguing.posted by: David Thomson on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Lee Harris' Civilization and Its Enemies.
Because of the bunny.posted by: Tom Holsinger on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
My non-facetious answer:
It is amazing that a government wrote this.
We have not merely an effective grand strategy, but IMO the best one for the post 9/11 world.
Implementation is another story. The Bush admnistration either does not understand that salesmanship is an element of statesmenship, or is incapable of the former.
"And which political genius sought to rally the American people with the stirring news that Iraq was now sending a representative to the World Trade Organization? That was worth at least five points right there.
http://www.hillnews.com/morris/060204.aspxposted by: Tom Holsinger on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
MikeSch, good stuff but greatly debatable.-- We already had one Venus fly trap for terrorists, in Afghanistan, we emphatically didn't need another.
Afghanistan is a death trap. No soul, a virtual killing field waste land. I think you talked yourself out of it when you brought in Russia.
Practically no? This argument doesn't hold up. Iraq was a national safe house, training ground and willing financial resource for any terrorist group that knocked on Saddam's door.
What makes this hard to fathom is that poor old stupid Saddam never quite realized that he had created the most absolute perfect opportunity for us to face our demons. The Perfect Dupe. Here's America with it's usual conundrum having been attacked and no one to retaliate against. Then lo and behold. There may not be another situation so easily taken advantage of again in the history of man.
And I also picked up along the way that some 20,000 terrorists had been trained in various rogue countries, including Iraq and we've killed off a couple thousand of them. Like one military leader proclaimed, let them come and we'll kill them here.
My idea sources, short of bloggerdom is less exotic than most of those posted. I like James Q. Wilson and his thoughts on national differences as developed through politics, culture and constitutional factors. And all the mutations of a bureaucracy. Isn't it amazing how quickly bureaucracy has filled the power void in Iraq. Humans are strange creatures indeed.
I second Tom's nomination of the National Security Strategy of the United States.
If we are using Kennan's " X" article as the standard, proposing an epochal shift in American Foreign Policy, then that was it. Actually...the Strategy is like a combination of NSC-68 and the " X " article so it more than fits the bill.posted by: mark safranski on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
My Liberty Dad blog has added a new phrase: A World Without Dictators.
In the history of mankind, we have never had such a world. The entire range of relationships between people and their governments could change, drastically, when the world is without dictators.
It could happen in my lifetime; I'm inspired by the speeches of Pres. Bush (via Tom H). Like:
I of course can search but was slammed for time yesterday (besides, I waste enough time chatting as it is). Thx for the legwork
tposted by: thibaud on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Thomas P.M. Barnett's book, _The Pentagon's New Map_ (as discussed by others above) is likely the best sort of "Mr. X"-type piece. Worth reading/thinking about.
Check out his blog/website:
It includes a link to his excellent C-SPAN Book Notes appeareance.posted by: lancer on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Jon Juzlak (and others):
my earlier comment was intended to stress the (admittedly small) rhetorical point that the 'newness' of a 'new vision' is not in and of itself an argument in its favor..
the reference to Hanson was off-the-cuff ...
as was the reference to 'internationalizing' of the war, my point: what does it mean? -- Juzlak seems to think it means traditional alliances and points to British alliances, among them WWI (without question the greatest disaster in English history) as proof of its efficacy (!)
my point was one Orwell might make, thinking of the blather from the left : 'fraudalent alliance' , 'internationalize' , ad nauseum..
otherwise, I (like most everyone) is interested in the answer to the question: 'how does the US proceed in the post Cold-War period' and have been waiting now for about 15 years to get the answer
I enjoyed the thread ..posted by: JonofAtlanta on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Our biggest threat is not China or the EU (!) but anarchy along that arc of instability from Algeria to Pakistan to Pyongyang.
Our second biggest threat, related to the first, is a chain of consequences that would cause the Asian central banks to dump their Treasury holdings. That would be more devastating to our security and our social and political stability than a hundred 9/11s.
I blame Henry Kissinger for the foreign policy ideas deficit.
I'm quite serious. Generations of academics and journalists who spent months earnestly reading and debating George Kennan's "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" forget that when Kennan wrote it American foreign policy was being run by George Marshall and Dean Acheson, the first of whom would never have considered himself a theorist while the other would have poured contempt on the idea. Kennan made a useful contribution, but that's all it was; he himself was able to contribute but little to translating his insights into policy.
Every one of the people Dan names is what Kennan was, competent to consider and manipulate ideas but not much help in implementing them -- and certainly not in looking back over their theories to distinguish their genuine insights from the things they got wrong. Thirty years ago the only American able to relate a "big-think" conceptual framework of foreign policy to the actual conduct of foreign policy was Henry Kissinger. That's still true.
The problem with Kissinger, so adept a bureaucratic combatant when he was in government, is that when it comes to public political controversy he has been something of a wimp. He never accepted the permanence of his exile from power after Gerald Ford left the White House, and to this day retains a fatal reluctance to clash publicly with conservative Republicans when he thinks he is right and they are wrong -- as he evidently does, as best one can tell, frequently. In reality no amount of public reticence or personal genuflection would ever have secured for Kissinger a return to office in a Republican administration, especially not one in which neoconservatives whose formative foreign policy experiences were battles against Kissinger's own policies were ascendant. All his circumspection about the immediate issues in American foreign policy has been for nothing.
This is not to say that Kissinger has always been right in the past. But what current foreign policy thinkers like those Dan mentions here lack most is the ability to relate ends to means: they can articulate purposes for American policy and suggest tactical moves toward those purposes, but are at sea when it comes to how to sustaining public and institutional support for the policy directions they advocate. Kissinger is not the end of all wisdom on foreign affairs, but he is where it starts. There are plenty of sharp people thinking about foreign policy -- Dan mentions only a few of them -- but they can make their best contributions not by imagining new conceptual frameworks for foreign policy but by taking as their starting points Kissinger's ideas about policy based on national interest that incorporates national values to the extent necessary for the American public to support it. For the fact that few of them do this now Kissinger himself is largely to blame.posted by: Zathras on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
Good post. What we lack is a coherent, disciplined and focused civil affairs bureaucracy that can manage the kind of nation-building challenges we now face in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we will face when the House of Saud falls and when Iran and Pakistan blow up.
The problem is that this kind of entity fits poorly with our national self-image and values. This isn't the Peace Corps; neither is it a military strike force.
This is rather a permanent set of Washington-based elites that by definition know better than the US people or their elected representatives how you create stability and all the democratic and market infrastructure needed to turn around a failed state and bring it into the world economy.
In effect this is what the UN and its friends imagines that organization to be, but with an American face: benign, technocratic, paternalistic but on the side of democracy. Perhaps the best way to create this organization is to pool diplomatic and technical resources from the US, UK, Australia and other Commonwealth nations, also India and a few regional powers like Brazil and Turkey. It could gradually be extended to the French and other continental Euros and could then evolve into a 20- or 30-member consultative body that would replace the UN.posted by: thibaud on 06.02.04 at 11:54 AM [permalink]
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