Sunday, May 23, 2004

Much hash has been made over the Bush Doctrine of preemption, which flows out of the tenets of the new National Security Strategy of the United States. Even more has been made of the " Neocons" who helped craft some aspects of this new strategy, some of which is valid and some being sinister, conspiracy-theory nonsense of embittered partisans. The actual employment of American power for "preemption" in a military sense was owed more to the terror attacks of 9-11 and the unsolved dilemma of Saddam Hussein than to the abstract musings of policy wonks. The strategy itself has been more multifaceted than it is usually given credit for -or for that matter- the unidimensional way some of the "neocon" officials may have tactically implemented it in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Many critics of the Bush administration actually prefer movement toward a transnational-progressive foreign policy for the United States with a value system for international affairs far closer to that of the core EU states of France and Germany. International Law, if some of the critics ruled, would be interpreted and extrapolated in novel ways to find the greatest restrictions possible on " unilateral" use of American power. Action, if no alternatives to force can be found, would be only possible after a slow process of diplomatic consensus and sanction by the United Nations. In other words, much like we saw in Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990’s - except more so.

While much of the bipartisan American foreign policy establishment runs on a continuum between these two positions, with a majority closer to transnational-progressivism than to neoconservatism, there has not been such a stark choice of competing visions in over fifty years. I would argue that you would have to go back to George Kennan’s " X" article and NSC-68 and the resultant criticisms made by Walter Lippmann and Robert Taft to find so wide a gulf within elite American opinion. The question is, "Why ?". Why the deep division now when the United States, even with Iraq and the War on terror, stands at the brink of full-spectrum dominance ? Why is there a general sense that the stakes are high ?

I have a simple explanation. The magnitude of change in world affairs is such that there is a considerable and increasing divergence between " rules of the game" conceived in the aftermath of WWII and the early Cold War and the corresponding reality of nation-states as they exist and behave in 2004. This battle is actually a struggle within America’s elite to actually rewrite "the rules" to the degree which American influence can shape such a revision of the world order.

Dean Acheson’s aptly titledPresent at the Creation superbly details the architecture of the "old rules" of Bretton Woods/NATO/Containment/GATT/Truman Doctrine/IMF/World Bank/UN/EEC – the entire superstructure of the West that delivered unparalleled prosperity and victory in the Cold War without having provoked WWIII. The " Wise Men " of that era did their work magnificently in terms of broad strategy – so well in fact that they set in motion forces that changed the world to the point that their successes require the writing of "new rules". Today, the international order faces not one or two major stresses like the Cold War and De-colonization but a host – Centrifugal nationalism/separatism, Globalization, Islamism and Terrorism, Failed States, WMD Proliferation, Supranational Governance/dilution of Sovereignty, - all against a backdrop of American unipolarity. Enough variables for statesmen to juggle that the net effect could easily tend toward an International Anarchy rather than an International Order. Entropy is a less personifiable threat than al Qaida or Joe Stalin but it is no less dangerous to American interests, indeed perhaps it is greater for being less predictable yet diffuse.

What is to be done ? First, the American foreign policy establishment needs to, in my view, cease lamenting the degree to which the world has changed since 1991 and spend a greater effort figuring out where they would like it to go and how that intersects with American interests. They have been ineffective opponents and shrill critics of the Bush administration because they lack a strategic alternative – or at least a coherent one that is politically attractive to the American voter.

Secondly, the neocons, who have a strategy and know where they want to go, need to do the hard work of figuring out where the resources are going to come from to pay for this vision; it’s a good vision for the most part in my view but not one that will come to fruition on the cheap. Niggardliness along with lack of planning has been their stumbling block in Iraq. They must also bend enough or broaden their vision enough to entice the national interests of other states who can make their strategy succeed. The neocons have taken high-pressure tactics and force about as far as they can in securing cooperation from allies and neutrals and they need to start offering carrots or accepting advice. You can be unilateral or you can be at war or you can be miserly but you cannot be all three and expect to succeed.

It might be best for both the neocons and the establishment to take a page from Machiavelli as the nation goes forward into a dynamically changing world:

" You must know then that there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men but the second is that of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second…One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that only wish to be lions do not understand this. Therefore a prudent ruler ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interest, and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist."
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