Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Mr. Bruce Kesler has been active in American politics for forty years. An early member of Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace, Mr. Kesler has also worked for The Foreign Policy Research Institute and today he writes occasionally for The Augusta Free Press, The Democracy Project and The American Enterprise Online .

A Foreign Policy Needs a Domestic Policy

By Bruce Kesler

There is no “foreign policy” separate from domestic policy. There is no “doctrine” separate from its actual implementation. A doctrine is a statement of important guiding principle. But in the absence of integration in a comprehensive winning strategy, it is little more than an inadequate public relations campaign.

In 1971, when working at an eminent foreign policy think tank, I was tasked to analyze the Nixon Doctrine[1]. After assessing reams of commentary that Delphically delved into the administration’s arguments, I concluded that there was no Nixon Doctrine. “Strength through partnership,” I argued, was a public relations coping mechanism designed to change the vocabulary of discourse in order to preserve continuity and flexibility of American foreign policy. I pointed out that it also contained a dangerous component of existential defeatism, meant to rally forces to slow the eventual perceived defeat of the West, rather than a prescriptive guidance to achieve larger goals abroad.

Learned, experienced, and respected elders privately agreed. But they then accepted the Nixon Doctrine as a practical alternative to the strong assault of the McGovernite opposition. To declare that the emperor had no clothes wasn’t realistic or politically sound.

In the context of the domestic political situation faced by Nixon and Kissinger, I didn’t question the need for such a public relations “doctrine,” at least in the short-term. But I did question whether it sowed longer-term seeds that would leave the U.S. self-absorbedly reactive and overly self-restrained.

Being raised in a Dean Acheson world, his message from a December 9, 1964 speech at Amherst College is worth revisiting: “The end sought by our foreign policy, the purpose for which we carry on relations with foreign states, is as I have said, to preserve and foster an environment in which free societies may exist and flourish. Our policies and actions must be tested by whether they contribute to or detract from achievement of this end. They need no other justification or moral or ethical embellishment.”

This was nicely followed at the time by the comments of Paul Warnke and Leslie Gelb, on the consequences of failing to deal with foreign threats: “Our own society could become a cloistered citadel of fear and repression. These events would, in turn, deeply challenge our lives and our security.” The domestic consequence of a non-engaged, reactively-protective foreign policy would eventually lead to domestic policies averse to Americans’ cherished liberties and comforts and weaken our determination to make their defense our primary goal.

With the partial exception of President Reagan’s revival of an assertive foreign policy, America spent much of the last 30 years coasting with veiled eyes as the threat to U.S. and global security brewed in the Middle East. For most of us, September 11 tore that veil away.

For 60 years, Commentary magazine educated the vital center in America about present and potential dangers from an inertial, outdated 1930s liberalism and from consequent excesses. Its current issue continues that invaluable service, publishing a symposium on the Bush Doctrine by three dozen of the most penetrating minds in foreign policy.

The contributors agree that the Bush Doctrine is about preempting potentially disastrous threats through force and preventing future ones by building more benign democratic states. They also agree that there are such threats.

Disagreements are expressed over the concept of preemption, the practicality of democratization, Iraq as a proper location for application of the doctrine, and the Bush administration’s policies toward Iran and North Korea. As to Iraq—thanks to 20/20 hindsight—most agree that there have been some serious failings in the planning and execution of the war. However, they agree on little else, one adding some more salt, another a bit more pepper, another a dollop of honey to the mix. All agree that the outcome in Iraq, more promising to some than others, will determine the ultimate judgment of the Bush Doctrine.

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.”

Neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz reflects, “If we are eventually beaten back, it will not be by the terrorist insurgency over there but by the political insurgency here at home.” Daniel Henninger, of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, chimes in, “The U.S. and Western European media are together the most potent driver of doctrinaire pacifism since the idea emerged with force in the twentieth century.”

Paul Johnson, as befits such a sweeping scholar of the entire history of religions and countries, concludes, “We must ask ourselves this question: how much more fearful and violent would our world be if America did not exist?”

Yet, what’s missing from the Commentary symposium is an in-depth examination of whether the Bush Doctrine is a blueprint for action, or a formulation for reactive coping in the post-9/11 world.

While far more assertive than Clinton’s national security strategy, I contend that the Bush Doctrine is still excessively reactive and doesn’t present a sufficiently aggressive blueprint for ultimately winning the war against terror, its state sponsors, and the threat of WMD’s. Moreover, even the Nixon Doctrine may have been more forward-looking.

So what’s needed? On the domestic front, far more is required to strengthen our foreign policy, for no such strategy can succeed absent a strong domestic policy. In turn, the self-strengthening domestic policies must be directly linked to our specific foreign policy goals:

To relieve the downward pressure of oil dependence on the American economy, and to free ourselves to more forthrightly confront the Saudi and other Arab League sycophants of Islamic extremism, we must go full tilt into conservation and alternate fuel technologies.

To sustain our ability to deter and meet armed challenges, we must build a larger and more robust military and simultaneously demand that university recipients of federal dollars not impede research or recruitment.

To pay for these measures, we must phase in dissuasive-level fossil fuel taxes. Strict budget rules must be honored for a multi-year moratorium on increases in existing discretionary and new spending programs. Responsible Congresses and administrations imposed such measures during World War II and Korea. We can demand no less now. Irresponsible “guns-and-butter” Johnson administration policies during Vietnam excused Americans from the national commitment and fed enervating inflation in the 1970s.

In Iran and North Korea, in order to curb their nuclear ambitions, an unequivocal promise to use American destructive air force must be added to multilateral pressures.

Domestic opponents of such measures, whether Democrat or Republican, must be energetically and publicly confronted by the administration. Quislings or profiteers cannot be tolerated.

Private foundations must steer major new funds and efforts into their media operations and into training a new generation of reporters with foreign policy and military knowledge and experience. The Defense Department must not merely welcome, but financially underwrite, private media correspondents embedding within garrison and frontline units.

The defense universities must reexamine their reliance on some faculty inexperienced in war, and indeed as ignorant and opposed to U.S. force as some in the Leftist media. The CIA is already cleaning house. The State Department needs to as well.

As seen from the generally unfocused thinking among the Commentary contributors, those friendly toward President Bush’s objectives need a more focused and effective policy to support. That can be found not in caving to his Democratic critics, but in pursuing an even more assertive doctrine, integrated within a more comprehensive strategy and execution.

President Bush is not running for reelection. And even though his poll ratings may suffer from a more assertive foreign policy, his legacy—of defending and advancing freedom—will not. And most importantly, rather than simply lurching from coping slogan to coping slogan, America will lastingly benefit.


1.The 1969 Wake Island statement of the Nixon Doctrine might be summarized as "strength through partnership," as the editor of my American Enterprise Online piece changed my draft. By 1971, under the pressure of domestic and international politics, it had migrated to "negotiation through strength and partnership," the "weaker" formulation I was addressing in 1971 and in my piece. It's not directly relevant to the thrust of the piece, so the editor's change in my text can stand. However, this change in formulation is important as an indicator of the difference within a "doctrine' over time in response to changing conditions, and to understanding that a "doctrine" is known through and only as good as its implementing strategy. Both the presentation and the comprehensiveness of Nixon's "doctrine' were superior to that of Bush, but both may fall on the pyre of Democrat scorched earth politics and war weariness

Editorial Note: Mr. Kesler's article is being cross-posted at The American Enterprise Online. .

Back in the ancient days when I took a U. S. diplomatic history course the professor and I had a year-long debate on whether the United States had a foreign policy. The professor's position was theat the United States did not have and never had a foreign policy. My counter-claim was that we did have a foreign policy that consisted solely of maintaining open borders and intervening in our neighbors' affairs to ensure they stayed weak. I think I may have won him over a little.

I now think of U. S. foreign policy as an emergent phenomenon not under the control of individual persons or organizations. And, like any emergent phenomenon, it may have unforeseen characteristics.

Right now it doesn't look very good for an assertive U. S. posture in foreign policy. I think that both political parties will be running against the Bush Administration's record in 2008 and the “Bush doctrine” is part of that. So ceteris paribus whoever is elected is likely to want to distance himself from the policies of the current Administration.

But, as I say, foreign policy is an emergent phenomenon and things have a way of surprising you.
Guys, let's get a grip. If Iraq has shown us anything, it is that globalization (remember: the topic here) clearly limits US power. Bush and Co. thought "regime change" was going to be easy. Well, it's not. And if you are going to be serious about "shrinking the gap" you have to realize that American power alone cannot finance and manage the incredibly complex task of bringing even a country like Iraq into globalization. And please notice the facts (things, I know, that are alien these days in neocon foreign policy circles). Iraq is not that big a place. Compare its population to the Congo, or Sudan, or Iran, or Indonesia. If the US is going to have a "muscular" foreign policy that means something more than just a lot of testosterone chest-thumping at AEI (is Chalabi really good for the US?) and Heritage, then we need to recognize, first and foremost, that US power cannot do it alone. And one question for Mr. Kesler: how many hundreds of thousands of South Koreas are you willing to let die in some sort of US air strike against the North?
I'm surprised that it took three comments before somebody started alluding to Barnett's theories, because the starting point for a winning strategy is an accurate description of the world. From that accurate description of the world, one constructs a foreign policy. This foreign policy is affected by a host of secondary considerations, of which domestic policy is an extremely important one. Despite this importance it remains secondary. To drill into a debate about specific policy alternatives (do we institute dissuasive-level fossel fuel taxes or don't we?) without a clear understanding of our assumptions is a recipe for confusion.

Without an accurate description of our strategic enviornment, we have no hope of creating a comprehensive strategy, let alone a coherent and assertive doctrine. Domestic dissent is a symptom of an incoherent and unshared strategic vision. We must address the underlying dynamic and not get caught up in focusing solely upon the dynamic's proximate effects.

On a totally unrelated note, I was struck that Bruce's Acheson quote was from a speech at Amherst College. Does Bruce have any connection to the fair college or had the celebrity of the our guest speakers just declined by the time I attended?
I have to note, in fairness to Bruce, he is not a huge fan of PNM theory - though he thinks it is important to know what Dr, Barnett is talking about because the idea is increasingly influential at DoD - Bruce would not put himself in the " shrink the Gap" column. He's a skeptic.

Neoconservatism, Bruce can address himself.
I wasn't necessarily arguing for PNM theory in my comment - I was rather arguing for the need for that level of theory.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /

follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!