November 22, 2006

Interventionism’s Realistic Future

By Robert D. Kaplan
Wednesday, November 22, 2006; A21

Hard-core foreign policy realists (the kind who say this country should rarely intervene again, anywhere) are hoping that in the wake of our comeuppance in Iraq things will be going their way. That is to say, U.S. foreign policy will be defined by an obdurate caution, coupled with a ruthless, almost mathematical application of balance-of-power principles. You’d think — to hear some of them talk — that we’re about to emulate China, which seeks only energy sources and advantageous trade agreements and cares nothing at all for the moral improvement of regimes in such places as Zimbabwe, Burma and Uzbekistan.

This is nonsense. Our foreign policy is about to experience an adjustment, not a flip-flop. Neither political party will support anything else if it really wants to elect a president in 2008. Just look at the dismay in this country over our failure to intervene in Darfur, even given the burden we already carry in Iraq. To be sure, the recent evidence that our democratic system cannot be violently exported will temper our Wilsonian principles, but it will not bury them. Pure realism — without a hint of optimism or idealism — would immobilize our mass immigrant democracy, which has always seen itself as an agent of change.



August 1, 2006

Bush’s Embrace of Israel Shows Gap With Father (SHERYL GAY STOLBERG, 8/02/06, NY Times)

“He told Sharon in that first meeting that I’ll use force to protect Israel, which was kind of a shock to everybody,” said one person present, given anonymity to speak about a private conversation. “It was like, ‘Whoa, where did that come from?’ “

That embrace of Israel represents a generational and philosophical divide between the Bushes, one that is exacerbating the friction that has been building between their camps of advisers and loyalists over foreign policy more generally. As the president continues to stand by Israel in its campaign against Hezbollah — even after a weekend attack that left many Lebanese civilians dead and provoked international condemnation — some advisers to the father are expressing deep unease with the Israel policies of the son. […]

Unlike the first President Bush, who viewed himself as a neutral arbiter in the delicate politics of the Middle East, the current president sees his role through the prism of the fight against terrorism. This President Bush, unlike his father, also has deep roots in the evangelical Christian community, a staunchly pro-Israeli component of his conservative Republican base.

The first President Bush came to the Oval Office with long diplomatic experience, strong ties to Arab leaders and a realpolitik view that held the United States should pursue its own strategic interests, not high-minded goals like democracy, even if it meant negotiating with undemocratic governments like Syria and Iran.

The current President Bush has practically cut off Syria and Iran, overlaying his fight against terrorism with the aim of creating what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls “a new Middle East.” In allying himself so closely with Israel, he has departed not just from his father’s approach but also from those of all his recent predecessors, who saw themselves first and foremost as brokers in the region.

In a speech Monday in Miami, Mr. Bush offered what turned out to be an implicit criticism of his father’s approach.

“The current crisis is part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror in the Middle East,” Mr. Bush said. “For decades, the status quo in the Middle East permitted tyranny and terror to thrive. And as we saw on September the 11th, the status quo in the Middle East led to death and destruction in the United States.”

What could be more damning than that the Realists are neutral as between a democratic ally and enemy dictatorships?


July 16, 2006

An American Foreign Policy That Both Realists and Idealists Should Fall in Love With (ROBERT WRIGHT, 7/16/06, NY Times)

[I]t’s now possible to build a foreign policy paradigm that comes close to squaring the circle — reconciling the humanitarian aims of idealists with the powerful logic of realists. And adopting this paradigm could make the chaos of the last week less common in the future.

Every paradigm needs a name, and the best name for this one is progressive realism. The label has a nice ring (Who is against progress?) and it aptly suggests bipartisan appeal. This is a realism that could attract many liberals and a progressivism that could attract some conservatives.

With such crossover potential, this paradigm might even help Democrats win a presidential election. But Democrats can embrace it only if they’re willing to annoy an interest group or two and also reject a premise common in Democratic policy circles lately: that the key to a winning foreign policy is to recalibrate the party’s manhood — just take boilerplate liberal foreign policy and add a testosterone patch. Even if that prescription did help win an election, it wouldn’t succeed in protecting America. […]

Progressive realism begins with a cardinal doctrine of traditional realism: the purpose of American foreign policy is to serve American interests. […]

There is a principle here that goes beyond arms control: the national interest can be served by constraints on America’s behavior when they constrain other nations as well. This logic covers the spectrum of international governance, from global warming (we’ll cut carbon dioxide emissions if you will) to war (we’ll refrain from it if you will).

This doesn’t mean joining the deepest devotees of international law and vowing never to fight a war that lacks backing by the United Nations Security Council. But it does mean that, in the case of Iraq, ignoring the Security Council and international opinion had excessive costs: (1) eroding the norm against invasions not justified by self-defense or imminent threat; (2) throwing away a golden post-9/11 opportunity to strengthen the United Nations’ power as a weapons inspector. The last message we needed to send is the one President Bush sent: countries that succumb to pressure to admit weapons inspectors will be invaded anyway. Peacefully blunting the threats posed by nuclear technologies in North Korea and Iran would be tricky in any event, but this message has made it trickier. (Ever wonder why Iran wants “security guarantees”?)

The administration’s misjudgment in Iraq highlights the distinction — sometimes glossed over by neoconservatives — between transparency and regime change. Had we held off on invasion, demanding in return that United Nations inspections be expanded and extended, we could have rendered Iraq transparent, confirming that it posed no near-term threat. Regime change wasn’t essential. […]

The slaughter in Darfur, though a humanitarian crisis, is also a security issue, given how hospitable collapsed states can be to terrorists. But if addressing the Darfur problem will indeed help thwart terrorism internationally, then the costs of the mission should be shared.

President Bush’s belated diplomatic involvement in Darfur suggests growing enlightenment, but sluggish ad hoc multilateralism isn’t enough. We need multilateral structures capable of decisively forceful intervention and nation building — ideally under the auspices of the United Nations, which has more global legitimacy than other candidates. America should lead in building these structures and thereafter contribute its share, but only its share. To some extent, the nurturing of international institutions and solid international law is simple thrift.

And the accounting rules are subtle. […]

Of course, resources aren’t infinite, and the world has lots of problems. But focusing on national interest helps focus resources. Notwithstanding last week’s carnage in the Middle East, more people have been dying in Sri Lanka’s civil war than in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But given the threat of anti-American Islamist terrorism, forging a lasting two-state solution in the Middle East is a higher priority than bringing lasting peace to Sri Lanka.

This sounds harsh, but it is only acknowledgment of something often left unsaid: a nation’s foreign policy will always favor the interests of its citizens and so fall short of moral perfection. We can at least be thankful that history, by intertwining the fates of peoples, is bringing national interest closer to moral ideals.

The obvious problem for Mr. Wright is that the moral ideals that America seeks to vindicate are Judeo-Christian and that means that it will never be the “purpose of American foreign policy…to serve American interests.” Interests can not be squared with morals. For instance, the Realists are uniformly hostile to Israel because it would serve our “interests” to remove that irritant from the Middle East. American foreign policy, hoever, is and always has been pro-Israel for exclusively moral reasons. Likewise, it couldn’t matter less to our “interests” how many Jews a Hitler kills, how many Shi’ites and Kurds a Saddam kills, how many blacks in Darfur the Arabs kill, how badly Haiti is run, etc… We intervene — over and over and over again, in situations with virtually no strategic implications — because it is morally right, even when it is directly against our own interests.

Our foreign policy in no way approaches moral perfection, but it is morally motivated and an argument against that historical truth is unrealistic.


April 23, 2006

Been there, done that: Talk of a U.S. strike on Iran is eerily reminiscent of the run-up to the Iraq war. (Zbigniew Brzezinski, April 23, 2006, LA Times)

IRAN’S ANNOUNCEMENT that it has enriched a minute amount of uranium has unleashed urgent calls for a preventive U.S. airstrike from the same sources that earlier urged war on Iraq. If there is another terrorist attack in the United States, you can bet your bottom dollar that there also will be immediate charges that Iran was responsible in order to generate public hysteria in favor of military action.

But there are four compelling reasons against a preventive air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities:

First, in the absence of an imminent threat (and the Iranians are at least several years away from having a nuclear arsenal), the attack would be a unilateral act of war. If undertaken without a formal congressional declaration of war, an attack would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the president. Similarly, if undertaken without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, either alone by the United States or in complicity with Israel, it would stamp the perpetrator(s) as an international outlaw(s).

It’s nonsense, of course, but were it really the case that a Democrat wouldn’t attack Iranian nuclear facilities, or any other suchh enemy, without the UN okay they’d never win another election. Giving France, China, and Russia veto over our national interest would be an act of political suicide. The reality is that a President Gore or Kerry would be likewise preparing an attack and the only difference is that they’d have the full support of the other party.


February 7, 2006

The Promise of Liberty: The ballot is not infallible, but it has broken the Arab pact with tyranny (FOUAD AJAMI, February 7, 2006, Opinion Journal)

It was not historical naiveté that had given birth to the Bush administration’s campaign for democracy in Arab lands. In truth, it was cruel necessity, for the campaign was born of the terrors of 9/11. America had made a bargain with Arab autocracies, and the bargain had failed. It was young men reared in schools and prisons in the very shadow of these Arab autocracies who came America’s way on 9/11. We had been told that it was either the autocracies or the furies of terror. We were awakened to the terrible recognition that the autocracies and the terror were twins, that the rulers in Arab lands were sly men who displaced the furies of their people onto foreign lands and peoples.

This had been the truth that President Bush underscored in his landmark speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on Nov. 6, 2003, proclaiming this prudent Wilsonianism in Arab lands: “Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place for stagnation, resentment and violence for export.” Nothing in Palestine, nothing that has thus far played out in Iraq, and scant little of what happened in other Arab lands, negates the truth at the heart of this push for democratic reform. The “realists” tell us that this is all doomed, that the laws of gravity in the region will prevail, that autocracy, deeply ingrained in the Arab-Muslim lands, is sure to carry the day. Modern liberalism has joined this smug realism, and driven by an animus toward the American leader waging this campaign for liberty, now asserts the built-in authoritarianism of Arab society.

Hitherto, we had granted the Arab world absolution from the laws of historical improvement. We had ceded it a crippling “exceptionalism.” We explained away our complicity in its historical decay as the price paid for access to its oil, and as the indulgence owed some immutable “Islamic” tradition. To be fair, we could not find our way to its politically literate classes, for they were given to a defective political tradition. American power now ventures into uncharted territory; we have shaken up that world, and broken the pact with tyranny. In the shadow of American power, ordinary men and women who had known nothing but the caprice of rulers and the charlatanism of intellectual classes have gone out to proclaim that tyranny is neither fated, nor “written.”

The ballot is not infallible, and in Palestine we have now seen it reflect the atavisms of that society and the revolt against bandits and pretenders who had draped their predatory ways in the garb of secularism. But we can’t hide behind “anthropology” and moral and political relativism. We can no longer claim that this is Araby, self-contained and immutable, under an eternal sky. We have rolled history’s dice in the region, challenged its stagnant ways. And even where the ballot has not gone–in the Arabian Peninsula to be exact–there now can be felt a breeze of human and political improvement.

The belligerence that was loose in the peninsula two or three years earlier appears milder now, as new ideas of tolerance struggle to take hold. This assertion by George W. Bush that despotism need not be the Arab destiny is about the only bond between the United States and the Arab world. In its optimism, this diplomacy of freedom recalls that brief moment after the Great War when Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points held out the promise of liberty to those Arab and Muslim lands. To be sure, there are the “usual suspects” among the Arabs who are averse to the message and to the American messenger, and our pollsters and reporters know the way to them. But this crowd does not reflect the broader demand for a new political way. We have given tyranny the patience of decades. Surely we ought to be able to extend a measure of indulgence to freedom’s meandering path.

The promise of Realism is that we can join with dictators to oppress the other forever. But it’s a false promise and an un-American/un-Christian desire. Arabs aren’t going to prove anymore immutably antidemocratic than blacks, Catholics, Slavs, Asians, Africans, etc. before them did.


November 28, 2005

BREAKING RANKS: What turned Brent Scowcroft against the Bush Administration? (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, 2005-10-31, The New Yorker)

Scowcroft is a protégé of Henry Kissinger—he was his deputy when Kissinger was Richard Nixon’s national-security adviser. Like Kissinger, he is a purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy: the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest, and that moral considerations are secondary at best. […]

The war began on January 16, 1991. An air campaign that lasted five weeks greatly weakened Iraq’s military capabilities. On February 24th, General Schwarzkopf, the commander of American and allied forces, unleashed a ground attack that quickly turned into a rout; the Iraqi Army collapsed, and its soldiers fled Kuwait on foot. The road to Baghdad was clear, but, on Bush’s instruction, the Americans did not take it. Although Bush had publicly compared Saddam to Hitler, the goal was never to liberate Iraq from his rule. “Our military didn’t want any part of occupying that big Arab country, and the only way to get Saddam was to go all the way to Baghdad,” James Baker told me recently.

Afterward, Bush was criticized for the decision to end the ground war at its hundredth hour. Even some officials of the Administration were unhappy at what they saw as a premature end to the fighting. In “Rise of the Vulcans,” James Mann recounts that Paul Wolfowitz and I. Lewis Libby, who were then aides to Cheney, believed that a coup d’état might have occurred had the Bush Administration waited to announce that the war was over.

At the time, though, no one close to Bush expressed doubts about the ending of the war, much less about its strategic goal. “For a bunch of years, a lot of people who should know better have said that we had an alternative,” Powell told me. “We didn’t. The simple reason is we were operating under a U.N. mandate that did not provide for any such thing. We put together a strong coalition of Gulf states, and Egypt and Syria, and they signed up for a very specific issue—expelling Iraq from Kuwait. Nor did President Bush ever consider it.”

A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. […]

Rice’s conversion to the world view of George W. Bush is still a mystery, however. Privately, many of her ex-colleagues from the first President Bush’s National Security Council say that it is rooted in her Christian faith, which leads her to see the world in moralistic terms, much as the President does. Although she was tutored by a national-security adviser, Scowcroft, who thought it intemperate of Ronald Reagan to call the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” she now works comfortably for a President who speaks in terms of “evildoers” and the “axis of evil.”

Rice’s split with her former National Security Council colleagues was made evident at a dinner in early September of 2002, at 1789, a Georgetown restaurant. Scowcroft, Rice, and several people from the first Bush Administration were there. The conversation, turning to the current Administration’s impending plans for Iraq, became heated. Finally, Rice said, irritably, “The world is a messy place, and someone has to clean it up.” The remark stunned the other guests. Scowcroft, as he later told friends, was flummoxed by Rice’s “evangelical tone.”

Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for Rice. He did note, however, that her “expertise is in the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle East.” Rice, through a spokesman, said, “Sure, we’ve had some differences, and that’s understandable. But he’s a good friend and is going to stay a good friend.”

Yet the two do not see each other much anymore. According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not, apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged. “We were having dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state atomized enough that it can’t be a problem.” Scowcroft added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”

They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”

Tell it to an Israeli, a Marsh Arab, a Kurd, a Kuwaiti….


November 11, 2005

Is There a Doctrine in the Haass? (Michael Young, 11/11/05, Tech Central Station)

Haass and Scowcroft worry that democratization leads to instability, and for realists that is far worse than leaving predictable despots in peace and in place. The Bush administration has done itself few favors by botching postwar stabilization in Iraq, and critics charge that democracy there has failed to reverse this. However, in harking back to a time when democracy was not an American priority in the Middle East, Haass and Scowcroft sound almost as outdated as if they had prescribed containment to cure the region’s woes. The democratic genie is already out of the bottle, and any serious foreign policy strategy must take that into consideration.

Even Haass himself, in writing that integration must advance political freedoms and change the behavior of rogue states, concedes more of state sovereignty than realists like: the U.S. should push for change where it can, he insists, including democratization, but not if this dents national security interests. The question is how do you define such interests in the Middle East? For the Bush administration, democracy, by reducing Arab frustration and limiting America’s truck with thugs, is vital because it helps erode the impetus for anti-American terrorism; for the realists, stability, access to oil, and reliable alliances are preferable, though democracy might lose out.

Yet thanks to the Bush administration, democracy is now a living, breathing part of the Middle East’s dynamics; there is no going back to the region presided over by Scowcroft and President George H.W. Bush; a time when Saddam Hussein was allowed to survive politically after his forces were removed from Kuwait; when Shiites and Kurds were left to be slaughtered by the Baathist regime, for fear that Saddam’s ouster might somehow generate instability; when Lebanon was offered to Syria in exchange for Hafiz al-Assad’s agreement to participate in the Gulf war coalition. […]

The problem with the realist foreign policy critique is that, by tending to be mechanistic, it is often blind to the more intangible impulses the U.S. generates through its actions. Haass may be right in regarding the blanket implementation of democracy as an unneeded problem in relations with certain countries. But he is wrong in assuming that the U.S. is still at a stage, particularly in the Middle East, where it can forecast how the peoples of the region will address such issues as liberty and democracy. Neither the Iraqis, nor for that matter the Lebanese, embraced these values in the past year for the sake of the Bush administration; they did so because the U.S. offered them a chance to advance their own self-interest that was too good to miss.

That is why any future U.S. administration, in failing to make democracy a cornerstone of its doctrine, risks being left behind by a region far less timid than those like Haass perceive.

In his brilliant book, The Shield of Achilles, Phillip Bobbitt notes that one of the reasons that traditional sovereignty, of which realists are so enamored, is a dead letter is because:

Any set of rules that forbids the use of American force in virtually all contexts in which the United States is likely to find itself moved by moral considerations in the current era will forfeit its claim on our moral sense.

The same must be said of our grand strategy, which George W. Bush rightly recognizes must be based on the promotion of liberty abroad in order to comport with our national character. On the other hand, there will always be those who insist we should only intervene when our own national security is at risk, which is why presidents have ended up having to make accompanyingly false cases for war in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, etc.


November 9, 2005

Is There a Doctrine in the House? (RICHARD N. HAASS, 11/08/05, NY Times)

WHAT policy should the United States adopt toward China’s rise? How should we greet India’s emergence, Japan’s new assertiveness, Europe’s drift or the possible decline of Russia? How can the United States reduce terrorism, promote trade, stop nuclear proliferation and increase freedom?

These are among the toughest questions on the foreign policy agenda, and right now Washington is trying to answer them without a compass. Containment, the doctrine of resisting Soviet and communist expansion, survived some four decades of challenge, but could not survive its own success. What we need is a foreign policy for both the post-cold-war and the post-9/11 world.

It’s a curious thing: your personal dislike for our comprehensive and coherent strategy doesn’t actually make it cease to exist.

MORE (via Mike Daley):
A Foreign Policy Needs a Domestic Policy (Bruce Kesler, The American Enterprise)

Richard Perle, a key player in all things Iraq, minces few words:

Notwithstanding the caricature of the Bush Doctrine, portrayed by its critics as a menacing unilateralism serving a crusade to impose democracy by force, Bush has correctly understood that the dictatorships and autocracies of the Middle East are the soil in which lethal extremism and the passion for holy war have taken root and spread. He is under no illusion that democratic reform will come quickly or easily, or that it can be imposed from outside by military means. In pressing for reform, he has stood up against the counsel of inaction, self-designated as sophistication, from foreign offices around the world—including those of our European and ‘moderate’ Arab allies—and rather too often even from our own diplomatic establishment. Such counsel would leave the dictators in place for as long as they can cling to power or, worse still, have us collaborate with them and their secret services, or negotiate for their voluntary restraint, in the vain and by now discredited hope that we can thereby purchase safety for our citizens.

Another longtime observer, Richard Pipes, comments, “I do not recall a period in modern history when United States foreign policy has been under such relentless attack from abroad and at home as in the administration of George W. Bush.”

Pipes’s next sentence, at first, struck me as too partisan: “At home, the criticism is mainly inspired by Democratic frustration over Republican electoral triumphs and the feeling that the Republicans’ aggressive foreign policy is what makes them vulnerable.”

But then, Senate Democrat Minority Leader Harry Reid pulled the U.S. Senate into secret session to demand, “a searching and comprehensive investigation about how the Bush Administration brought this country to war.”

In doing so, Reid ensured that November 1, 2005, would forever be remembered as the day that the Democrat Party officially declared war on the war in Iraq. They’re now repeating their 1972 game plan of openly coalescing around eviscerating the war policy for which they’ve lost guts.

As Henry Kissinger reflected back in August, “America’s emotional exhaustion with the [Vietnam] war and the domestic travail of Watergate had reduced economic and military aid to Vietnam by two-thirds, and Congress prohibited military support, even via airpower, to the besieged ally.”


November 4, 2005

The Freedom Crusade (David C. Hendrickson & Robert W. Tucker, Fall 2005, The National Interest)

A central question raised by the Bush Doctrine is the extent to which it comports with the historic understanding of the American purpose. Normally, an active role in the propagation of free institutions is attributed to Woodrow Wilson, and it has become customary to identify America’s recent presidents–especially Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush–as “neo-Wilsonians.” But Bush goes further, insisting that the policy proclaimed in his second Inaugural Address is a logical outgrowth of America’s historic commitment to free institutions: “From the day of our Founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value. . . . Across the generations we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government. . . . Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation.”

The determination of the “intentions” or “original understanding” of the Founding Fathers has often excited attention and speculation, but as often as not their intentions have seemed shrouded in ambiguity. The “silences of the Constitution” have often been as important–and mystifying–as its plain avowals. But the questions raised by the Bush Doctrine–whether it is rightful to propagate changes in another nation’s form of government and what role the United States should play in the protection and expansion of free institutions–often commanded serious attention, and the answers given by the Founders and their epigones lend no support to the Bush Doctrine.

The question of whether force might be used to revolutionize foreign governments arose quickly after the making of the Constitution, in the wars provoked by the French Revolution. The British government, James Madison would later recall, “thought a war of more than 20 years called for against France by an edict, afterwards disavowed, which assumed the policy of propagating changes of Government in other Countries.” The offensive edict to which Madison refers is the declaration of the French Convention on November 19, 1792, that “it will accord fraternity and assistance to all peoples who shall wish to recover their liberty”–a declaration that bears an uncanny resemblance to the policy Bush announced in his second Inaugural Address. Alexander Hamilton also took umbrage at the doctrine and argued that the French decree was “little short of a declaration of War against all nations, having princes and privileged classes”, equally repugnant “to the general rights of Nations [and] to the true principles of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson, who unlike Hamilton strongly sympathized with the French Revolution, nevertheless acknowledged that “the French have been guilty of great errors in their conduct toward other nations, not only in insulting uselessly all crowned heads, but endeavoring to force liberty on their neighbors in their own form.” Much as Hamilton and Jefferson differed in their assignment of guilt to the warring parties, both of them made their normative assessments of the European war in terms that emphasized the illegitimacy of war for the purpose of propagating changes of government in other countries.

The self-evident truths of the Declaration of Independence did not justify the proposition that foreign states had any right to revolutionize another political order, even a tyrannical one. Jefferson also regarded it as a self-evident truth that all nations had the right to determine for themselves the form of government they would adopt. The United States, he wrote, “surely cannot deny to any nation that right whereon our own government is founded–that every one may govern itself according to whatever form it pleases, and change these forms at its own will; and that it may transact its business with foreign nations through whatever organ it thinks proper.” Such was the settled doctrine of 19th-century America. “Among the acknowledged rights of nations”, as Daniel Webster noted, is that of “establishing that form of government which it may deem most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that form as circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs according to its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves, and they readily concede it to others.” Americans, Webster noted, may “sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywhere in their struggles for freedom”, but their imperative duty was to neither revolutionize nor “interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations.”

The idea that the principles underlying the American regime might have universal applicability is as old as the Founding, yet this belief existed happily alongside the idea that the United States had neither a right nor a duty to bring others to an appreciation of these truths through force. Rather than being contradictory, these ideas originated in the same school of thought. Like religious intolerance, the denial of legitimacy to other forms of government was seen to cause perpetual war, making for an international environment hostile to the spread of free institutions. Underlying this outlook was a profound conviction that force had a logic ultimately inimical to liberty. Early Americans saw a historical dynamic at work by which force begot the expansion of executive power, inevitably hostile to liberty. It had been the ruin of free states, producing Caesars, Cromwells and Bonapartes. It was, as Madison held, “the true nurse of executive aggrandizement.” Madison’s conviction that no nation could preserve its liberty in the midst of continual warfare lay behind his view that a central purpose of America was to seek “by appeals to reason and by its liberal examples to infuse into the law which governs the civilized world a spirit which may diminish the frequency or circumscribe the calamities of war, and meliorate the social and beneficent relations of peace.”

Alongside these self-denying ordinances prescribing a policy of non-intervention and non-entanglement was the belief that the American example would ultimately lead to the progressive expansion of free institutions across the world. Jefferson’s words in the declaration, wrote Abraham Lincoln, “gave liberty not alone to the people of this country, but hope to the world for all future time.” For Lincoln as for Jefferson, however, it was the American example rather than active intervention that was to be the agent of change. “Our true mission”, as Daniel Webster summarized the classic view, was “not to propagate our opinions or impose upon other countries our form of government by artifice or force, but to teach by example and show by our success, moderation and justice, the blessings of self-government and the advantages of free institutions.”

The idea that Bush embraced in his second Inaugural Address, though given isolated expression in moments of upheaval, was usually voiced as a form of satire, the reductio ad absurdum of an interventionist policy. We had “better proclaim ourselves the knights errant of liberty and organize at once a crusade against all despotic governments”, wrote John Tyler in 1852. “We should announce to all Nations our determination to advance with sword the doctrines of republicanism” and proclaim that “there is but one form of government upon earth which we will tolerate and that is a Republic.”

Woodrow Wilson’s presidency marked a departure from the classic doctrine in certain respects, but it is very doubtful that “Wilson would recognize George W. Bush as his natural successor”, as one historian has recently claimed.1 Though Wilson saw, and saw rightly, that the partnership of democratic nations would henceforth have to be a fundamental desideratum in U.S. foreign policy, his objective was not to overturn the rules traditionally governing the relations of states. The League of Nations he championed was based squarely on the need for the society of nations to devise defenses against aggression, rather than on the need to transcend the society altogether. The league contained no democratic entitlement, and Wilson’s concept of a world made safe for democracy did not mean that the world should be made wholly democratic. For Wilson, the preponderance of power the democratic coalition might achieve was to afford the basis for a progressive disarmament, not eternal U.S. military hegemony. His skepticism regarding military power and his affinity with Jefferson’s pacific system were reflected in his belief that economic sanctions and the power of public opinion would do the heavy lifting in the prevention of aggression–an idea a world apart from Bush’s readiness to make force the first rather than the last resort of American statecraft.

Even Wilson’s interventions in Latin America were far more limited in scope than is often alleged. His intervention against the Huerta government in Mexico was the only one that can plausibly be seen as having the promotion of democracy as its central purpose, and even that was pursued in very tentative fashion. When he sent troops to Vera Cruz in 1914 the announced reason was to avenge an insult to the American flag. Though it also had the purpose of stopping the flow of munitions to the Huerta government, Wilson was very uncomfortable with the position in which it placed him, and he got out as soon as he could. The main result of Wilson’s meddling in Mexico in 1913 and 1914 was not to convince him of the imperative of spreading democracy through force, but rather the reverse. “I hold it as a fundamental principle that every people has a right to determine its own form of government”, he declared in 1915. “If the Mexicans want to raise hell, let them raise hell. We have got nothing to do with it. It is their government, it is their hell.”

If the crusade for democracy embraced by Bush differs materially from that of its supposed avatar and progenitor–creating a gulf between Wilsonianism and neo-Wilsonianism about as gaping as that between conservatism and neoconservatism–it also differs sharply from the policy of containment that guided U.S. policy during most of the Cold War. The Truman Doctrine set forth a policy of containing the Soviet Union and other communist governments, not of overthrowing those governments. It pledged the United States to support free peoples resisting armed minorities or outside pressures, not peoples who had already lost their freedom.

Only with the Reagan Doctrine was the nation’s power openly and directly committed to extending freedom through force. Reagan sought to justify intervention in support of those rebelling against tyrannical–particularly Marxist-Leninist–governments. Based on the assumption that a democratic revolution was sweeping the world, the Reagan Doctrine asserted America’s moral responsibility for aiding popular insurgencies struggling against communist domination. Such support was deemed to express the vital security interests of the United States. Though characterized in the traditional language of self-defense, the doctrine went beyond defense in its claim of a right to overturn that part of the status quo regarded as illegitimate. Even more, it amounted to the assertion that the American government no longer believed in the reality of an international order that transcended the respective interests and moral claims of the two great adversaries in the Cold War.

Even setting aside attempted regime change in the Barbary War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, etc. , to see what nonsense it is to allege that the extension of American-style liberty is a deviation from what our ancestors did all you have to do is consider this obvious fact: there were 13 states at the Founding.

AM I MY BROTHER'S KEEPER? (via Robert Schwartz):

October 30, 2005

The Realist Who Got It Wrong (Charles Krauthammer, October 30, 2005, Washington Post)

In the Oct. 31 New Yorker [Brent Scowcroft] came out strongly against the war and the neocon sorcerers who magically foisted it upon what must have been a hypnotized president and vice president.

Of course, Scowcroft’s opposition to toppling Saddam Hussein is neither surprising nor new. Indeed, we are now seeing its third iteration. He had two cracks at Hussein in 1991 and urged his President Bush to pass them both up — first, after Hussein’s defeat in the Persian Gulf War, when the road to Baghdad was open, and then, days later, during a massive U.S.-encouraged uprising of Kurds and Shiites, when America stood by and allowed Hussein to massacre his opponents by the tens of thousands. One of the reasons for Iraqi wariness during the U.S. liberation 12 years later was the memory of our past betrayal and suspicions about our current intentions in light of that betrayal.

This cold bloodedness is a trademark of this nation’s most doctrinaire foreign policy “realist.” Realism is the billiard ball theory of foreign policy: The only thing that counts is how countries interact, not what’s happening inside. You care not a whit about who is running a country. Whether it is Mother Teresa or the Assad family gangsters in Syria, you care only about their external actions, not how they treat their own people.

Realists prize stability above all, and there is nothing more stable than a ruthlessly efficient dictatorship. Which is why Scowcroft is the man who six months after Tiananmen Square toasted those who ordered the massacre; who, as the world celebrates the Beirut Spring that evicted the Syrian occupation from Lebanon, sees not liberation but possible instability; who can barely conceal a preference for Syria’s stabilizing iron rule.

Even today Scowcroft says, “I didn’t think that calling the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire’ got anybody anywhere.” Tell that to Natan Sharansky and other Soviet dissidents for whom that declaration of moral — beyond geopolitical — purpose was electrifying and helped galvanize the movements that ultimately brought down the Soviet empire.

The preference for stability at the expense of our fellow men is antithetical to the American ethos.