Tag: neoconservativism (page 1 of 2)

No More Neocon Faux-Cassandra Posturing: American Defense is not “in Decline”

Two pieces got emailed to me in the last few days that nicely illustrate just how entrenched semi-imperial thinking has become in Washington, how wildly disconnected from the reality of US security our foreign policy community’s threat assessments have become, and the hysteria that greets serious debate on DoD’s size in this post-Great Recession era of high unemployment and large deficits. This, by good-journalist-turned-disturbing-militarist Robert Kaplan, and this, by the ‘Iraq was a victory’ crowd at AEI. Here’s Kaplan:

“The bottom may be starting to fall out of the U.S. defense budget. I do not refer to numbers when I say this. I am not interested in numbers. I am only interested in public support for those numbers…. Actually, we might need a big army for an occupation of part of North Korea… The public, in short, wants protection on the cheap. It may not necessarily be willing to police the world with a big navy and a big air force at least to the degree that it has in the past — that is, unless a clear and demonstrable conventional threat can be identified.”

The rest basically follows the depressing, well-established neocon pattern: the (invariably hawkish and hegemony-loving) Washington foreign policy community knows America’s interests, while the public is annoyingly ‘isolationist.’ If only they believed in the US globocop, (cue grave headshaking at our ignorance), then we wouldn’t have to write these sanctimonious, tsk-tsk op-eds. The AEI brief is even more predictable: throwaway boilerplate about the need for a strong defense in a world of unpredictable and diverse threats and all that. Got it already. Neocons and DC hawks have been saying that sorta stuff now for so long, that I really don’t even need to read this stuff anymore. And of course, any cuts automatically ‘reduce our readiness,’ the all-time favorite cliché of hawks everywhere as if somehow ‘only’ $680+ billion would leave us unable to defend ourselves. Come on, neocons! I thought you were supposed to be intellectuals. Stop recycling 1990s ‘indispensible nation’ bromides, and try a little harder. Zack Beauchamp and Daniel Drezner’s correctives are very useful here. But here’s mine:

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Iraq 10 Years Later (3): Why the Neocon Theory behind the War Failed

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My first post on the Iraq War asked if academic IR had any responsibility to slow the march to war.

The second tried to formulate what the   neoconservative theory of the war was, because many of us, in retrospect of a conflict gone so badly, desperately want to un-remember that there really was a logic to the war, that it was at least somewhat intellectually defensible, and that a lot of us believed it. We may want to retroactively exculpate ourselves by suggesting it was just W the cowboy acting ridiculous, or a neocon hijacking of the policy process, or Halliburton oil imperialism, and all the other reasons so popular on the left. And some of that is true of course.

But it ducks the crucial point that the war was popular until it flew wildly off-the-rails, which in turn revealed the staggering incompetence of the Bush administration to act on the neocon logic the country had embraced by March 2003. In short, I argued that the Iraq invasion was not about WMD, preemption, or democracy, although that rationale was played up in the wake of the failure to find WMD. The real neocon goal was to scare the daylights out of the Arabs and their elites by punching one of their worst regimes in the face, thereby showing what was coming to rest of the region unless it cleaned up its act, i.e., crack down on salafism and liberalize so as to defuse the cultural extremism that lead to 9/11. (Read Ajami saying in January 2003 that the war is ‘to modernize the Arabs;’ that’s about as a good a pre-war summary of this logic as you’ll get.)

So what went wrong?

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Iraq 10 Years Later (2): What was the Neocon Theory behind the War?

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My first thoughts on the war’s ten year anniversary are here. There I asked if there was any defensible theory behind the war, anything that might explain why we launched it, because weapons of mass destruction were not really the reason. Paul Wolfowitz notoriously admitted they were just a pretext to rally the country behind the invasion. And it’s hard to argue it was about pre-emption either; Iraq was hardly a looming military threat in 2003. So here’s my guess about the real neoconservative logic. I should say up front, I do not endorse this rationale. I’m just trying to lay it out what I bet neocons were saying to each other in 2002:

The Iraq invasion was to serve two neocon purposes: 1) It was to be a demonstration strike against the Arab states. Islamist anti-western pathologies from the Middle East lead to 9/11, so the Iraq invasion was a warning to Arabs, and Muslims generally, to never to attack the US like that again. As Cheney put it in the film W, ‘don’t ever f— with us again.’ 2) It was to be a hammer strike to break the frozen, dysfunctional Arab political status quo which generated those pathologies; this would force the region toward democracy it would never attain on its own. This thinking was summarized in the widely used expression at the time, ‘drain the swamp.’

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The New Grand-Strategic Divide? A Response to Thomas Wright

Teddy_RooseveltThe style of this piece deviates from what I usually put up here. By way of explanation: I wrote this after some initial indications of interest by Foreign Policy in running a response. But they’ve got a lot on their plate and they no longer seem intrigued. Frankly, that’s for the best; this is now about as long as Tom’s initial piece. So I’m posting it at the Duck. Full disclosure: I served on Tom’s dissertation committee and co-authored an article, “What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate,” with him. So this should be viewed as a friendly, if spirited, rejoinder. For another reaction, see David Schorr’s piece at Democracy Arsenal.

Thomas Wright’s “Neocons vs. Realists is so 2008” gets a lot right about the emerging grand-strategic debate in the United States. He argues that it stretches between  two poles. One is composed of “restrainers” who “believe that the United States is overcommitted in the world” and seek some kind of retrenchment combining “nation-building at home” with a reduced emphasis on shaping the global environment. The other is occupied by “shapers” who advocate a continued–or even expanded–American commitment to ordering international affairs. He contends that Obama’s second term will likely be dominated by a specific breed of “restrainer,” one that “want[s] to preserve America’s core alliances” but also “to avoid any new entanglements that go beyond core commitments” and relies on allies to shoulder a greater burden in future interventions. Although the administration has “been a shaper in East Asia and a restrainer in the Middle East,” the impulse for restraint looks poised to dominate future foreign-policy decisions.

Wright paints a plausible picture of the current ideological balance in the Obama Administration. It clearly prefers to “invest” in long-neglected capital projects over maintaining current levels of defense expenditures. Given the current fiscal-political environment, pursuing such a preference will require continuing efforts to convince allies and partners to accept a greater share of the military burden. Wright also offers an important corrective to the assumptions of some of the “restrainers.” We should not over-interpret the long-term implications of current US economic performance and the general fatigue created by the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts. India, Brazil, China, and the rest of the rising-powers crowd face their own challenges. Some of these may prove more intractable than the self-inflicted wounds created by Washington’s current dysfunctions.

Moreover, the odds suggest the formation of the kinds of foreign-policy coalitions Wright anticipates–including the increasing alignment of liberal and conservative “shapers.” This entails situational alliances among neoconservatives, primacy realists, and muscular liberal-internationalists. All three camps fit within the “shaper” rubric insofar as they believe that the United States can, and should, maintain international primacy–what scholars call “hegemony”–for as long as possible. However, they disagree about many things. Primacy realists are constitutionally skeptical of placing the maintenance and expansion of liberal order at the center of American foreign policy. When they conflict, the argument goes, realpolitik considerations should always trump the promotion of liberal values–whether human rights, democracy, or multilateral international governance.

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ISO: American Grand Strategy

Europa Universalis 3 - Alternate HistoryThe first decade of the 21st century was a heady time for foreign-policy wonks. Why? Because their world was awash with Great Debates about Grand StrategyTM.

Now things seem much less exciting. Perhaps that’s because, despite the best efforts of the usual suspects, the partisan debate no longer maps well onto big ideas about grand strategy. Remember how vacuous the Romney-Obama debates were on foreign policy issues?

Yeah, that.

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Why I Voted for Barack Obama Today

Amazing how the Simpsons is still pretty funny after 25 years…

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d list the reasons why I voted the way I did. I know conservative media regularly accuse professors of politicizing the classroom, but an honest discussion of why one chooses the way one did can also be useful exercise of citizenship. (See Drezner for an example of what I was thinking of.) So with that goal, not demagoguery, in mind, here we go:

1. The Tea Party Scares Me

This is easily the most important reason for me. Regular readers of my own blog will know that I vote in the Republican primary and write regularly about the Republican party, but almost never about the Democrats. (Even in Korea where I live, my sympathies are with the conservatives.) I don’t see myself as a Democrat. I see myself as a moderate Republican, like Andrew Sullivan or (less so) David Frum. Unfortunately, the Tea Party has made the GOP very inhospitable for moderates.

Given Romney’s propensity to blow with the ideological wind rather than stake a claim somewhere, I think it is likely he’ll get bullied by the hard right once in office. Following Kornacki, my problem with Romney is not his ideology – because I don’t know what that is – but the party from which he stems, run, as it is, by increasingly radical, Christianist, southern right-wingers. I find it simply impossible to vote for a party so contemptuous of science, so willing to violate church-state distinctions, so committed to a heavily armed citizenry, so obsessed with regulating sex, so strutting and belligerent toward the rest of the world, so unwilling to compromise on taxes to close the deficit, etc. Hint to the RNC: the rest of the country is not Dixie; please stop dragging us down this road. This southernization of the GOP in the last 20 years has made it harder and harder for me to vote for national Republicans, even though I vote for them a lot in Ohio. Not surprisingly, I find Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism quite congenial.

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The Stupidest Article in Foreign Policy?

The Ride of the Resolve Warriors

tl;dr notice: 1200 words.

Zack Beauchamp points us to Douglas Feith’s latest broadside against the administration with the tweet:

LOL Feith cites @slaughteram and Sam Power’s jobs as evidence that Obama wanted to limit American use of military force

It turns out that the absurdity runs far deeper in Feith’s piece. I know that Obama’s fecklessness in the face of the Russian threat is an article of faith among neo-conservatives. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I think there’s a case for the administration overestimating the willingness of Moscow to accomodate US policy priorities. But Feith’s framing of the Reset owes more to the fevered imagination of right-wing bloggers than to anything resembling facts. Continue reading

The Triumph of Liberal Internationalism?

Robert Golan-Viella reflects on a tectonic shift in partisan foreign-policy debate, i.e., the fact that the Democrats have the upper hand. He chalks this up to campaign politics: the key to a Republican victory runs through the economy. I agree that there are “strong critiques” of Obama foreign policy and that “leading Republicans aren’t making them.” But I don’t think this is “politically smart,” insofar as leading Republicans are making attacks on Obama foreign policy–just not very good ones.

As Blake Hounshell noted on twitter of the latest broadside from the Romney campaign:

I expect that I will return to this theme on a number of future occasions, but I should note that this is something quite similar to what’s been happening on the domestic politics front.

While there’s plenty of room to eviscerate Obama, the Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner from which they’re forced to make a lot of deeply questionable claims. This is what happens when you’ve convinced your base that the label “socialist” is broad enough to include a center-right President whose major domestic initiatives — national Romneycare, a tax-cut and infrastructure oriented stimulus, a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon emissions — were mainstream Republican positions only four years ago.

Indeed, the fact is that Obama foreign policy doesn’t look that much different from what Bush was doing in the later part of his second term. Sure, the Obama Administration cancelled an inferior BMD program and replaced it with a better one (props to Sean Kay for that phrasing). But on Iraq and Afghanistan Obama largely followed the path developed toward the end of the Bush administration. Even its position on Iran is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Obama’s more explicit offer to engage with Iran  highlighted Teheran’s intransigence; to the extent that it “worked,” it did so by generating greater international support for tougher sanctions — it convinced other countries to get behind preexisting US policy. Even the “Israel” issue is often more about style than substance (cf. Erik Voeten on the status of Jerusalem).
In that sense, it isn’t surprising that Russia has become a focal point. The “reset” policy really was a break from Bush foreign policy. On the one hand, though, that “break” has worked to secure Bush administration objectives, such as expanded transit routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory. On the other hand, we can imagine that McCain administration might have been much more aggressive on Georgia and not have pursued New START. I can see a case for recalibration of the US policy toward Tbilisi, but August 2008 pretty much revealed the limitations of full-throttle support for Georgia.
Nuclear-weapons policy, however, provides an opening for real attack on the Obama Administration. But once again, we’re not getting substantive criticism about nuclear doctrine but rather blog-serious level discourse about selling out US interests to Moscow on BMD and the aggregate size of the US nuclear arsenal. Recall that US-Russians relations have deteriorated lately precisely because Washington won’t capitulate to Moscow on matters such as Syria policy or EPAA.

One lesson of this, I think, was that we didn’t need all of that “security Democrat” handwringing during the first five years after 9/11. Remember all those people who were in a tizzy about how liberals and progressives needed to come up with “new thinking” to respond to the neoconservative challenge? That all looks pretty silly now. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy fits pretty squarely within the broad liberal-internationalist tradition, albeit with, on some issues, a significant lean toward its “pragmatic realist” variant. Indeed, with a few exceptions — such as the aforementioned disaster that was US policy toward Georgia — the Bush administration basically abandoned neo-conservativism after the 2006 midterms.

That’s not to say that we won’t get another taste of neoconservative crusading bluster if Romney wins. My guess is that his impulses aren’t in that direction, but foreign-policy novices often go where their advisors take them. But I think what the record of the past two decades suggests is pretty clear: Republican and Democratic foreign-policy centrists never needed to “rethink” anything. Their ideas have acquitted themselves quite well. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy? Not so much. 

Romney’s Poland Obsession

Associated Press

Although he doesn’t get the European Phased Adapted Approach (EPAA) quite right, Mark Adomanis at Forbes makes the right point about the BMD portion of the Romney foreign-policy memo:

I don’t think I’m being uncharitable, but if you read this paragraph and didn’t have any background knowledge about US missile defense in Eastern Europe you would come away with at least two very clear conclusions 

1) Obama canceled a missile defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic
2) Obama did not replace this planned missile defense system with anything else

Conclusion 1) is accurate, Obama really did kibosh the Czech/Polish system that had been planned by George W. Bush. Conclusion 2), however, is absolutely, categorically false. Obama , you see, replaced the system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic with a system in Romania. The United States is, right this second, continuing with a play to deploy land-based interceptors in Romania by 2015. Even the Heritage Foundation, hardly an Obama fan club, has recognized this

You can criticize Obama for pulling the system out of Poland and the Czech Republic, you can criticize him for needling the always sensitive Poles, you can criticize him for not moving quickly enough with the system in Romania, you can criticize him for being overly accommodative of the Russians, you can, truthfully if not compellingly, criticize him for an awful lot of things regarding foreign policy in general and missile defense in particular. But what you absolutely cannot criticize Obama for is “canceling” or “abandoning” ballistic missile defense in Europe. By any minimally honest reckoning, Obama has not done that.

This provides an excuse for me to peddle my current theory of the “you betrayed Poland on BMD” argument: former Bush administration officials are just really and truly pissed off that the Obama team undid their hard work on the third-site negotiations with Warsaw.

Recall that Polish public opinion was against the BMD agreement. The negotiations were difficult and took an enormous amount of work. The Bush administration scrambled to complete the agreement before leaving office. The fact that Obama’s people botched the announcement and upset the Polish government just rubbed salt in the wound.

Of course, Romney’s advisors also don’t like the Russians, arms control, and all that. Clearly “abandoning allies” is one of the few lines of attack the Romney campaign considers potentially potent against Obama when it comes to foreign affairs. But I suspect a lot of this comes down to a much more mundane emotion: frustration as seeing difficult work tossed into the proverbial garbage can.

Least Experienced Foreign Policy Ticket — Ever?

One of the defining features of the current era of globalization is the rise in uncertainty and complexity in global politics. There are more actors, more transactions, and more challenges as a result. In the face of this, the United States continues to spend more on national security – the military, intelligence, and homeland security – than almost all other countries in the world combined. And, yet it’s clear that as the world is becoming increasingly more complex, the United States’ ability to influence outcomes – as demonstrated by the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global economic crisis among other issues – is clearly constrained.

Despite this, the Republican Party has just put forward one of the least experienced national security tickets by a major political party in history. With the possible exception of Harding/Coolidge in 1920, it’s hard to name a ticket in history that has less knowledge, practical experience, or specific, articulated vision of national security and global affairs than this one does. The general rule has long been that if the Presidential nominee has limited experience, he has chosen a running mate to offset the deficit. Romney didn’t do that.

I’m not suggesting that this means a Romney/Ryan administration would be a failure – we’ve had plenty of disasters with highly experienced Presidents and Vice Presidents. It’s just that going in to the fall, their combined lack of experience means that there are a lot of conflicting interpretations of Romney’s (and Ryan’s) worldview. Some have suggested that Romney and Ryan are close to traditional Republican internationalists, others don’t see any real gap between Romney and Obama, while others see the team as becoming more aligned with neoconservativism. Even conservatives – in their many shapes – disagree on what Romney and Ryan stand for.

So what might all this mean?


I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Saunders Leaders At War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions and Stephen G. Walker and Akan Malici’s U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes. Both books revisit the extensive literature on psychology and foreign policy and remind us of the importance of leaders’ perceptions and beliefs in their foreign policy decisionmaking. Saunders argues that how presidents decide when and where to use force and how to use that force comes from their interpretations of the origin and nature of threats. If the threat is seen as internal – inherent in the regime — she finds that presidents are inclined to use force for ambitious strategies such as regime change. If a president sees threats as emanating from the international or regional security environment, force is likely to be used to advanced a more restricted vision of strategic interests, but not regime change. For her, how a president interprets threat comes from the president’s deeper causal beliefs about the nature and source of power and history – much of which she argues can be discerned from analysis of the president’s belief systems prior to coming into office.

Smith and Malici similarly focus on the role of leaders’ belief systems and argue that most foreign policy mistakes occur when leaders misperceive the “power relationship between self and others” which “leads to mistaken calculations of costs and benefits regarding alternative strategies of statecraft and thereby to policy failures.” Again, leaders often cue the decisionmaking biases and the mistakes to which they are prone through their world views and causal belief systems.

If we think about these arguments with respect to the Romney/Ryan ticket we’re left with a puzzle: With their limited combined track record, we don’t really know what they believe.

To be sure, Romney clearly has given us a lot of platitudes in his speeches: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country.” And, both Romney and Ryan support the general Republican fare on American exceptionalism and that the U.S. military budgets need to be stronger, Israel needs more support, and Obama is weak.

But it’s not clear what these really mean or how their various speeches, or in the case of Paul Ryan his Congressional votes are likely to translate into specific, real-world policy responses to the global challenges out there.

Romney has been running for office for seven years now. Yet, in both the 2008 and the 2012 campaign, Romney has really tacked away from foreign policy discussions – he hardly mentioned the Iraq War in 2008, today he hardly mentions the war in Afghanistan. His October 2011 policy paper and his August VFW speech emphasize American exceptionalism and the potential challenges associated with China’s rise and with Russia, but aside from the elevated rhetoric it’s not clear what would be different on Iran, Russia, or China. We haven’t heard him articulate a position on what should be done in Syria. If we consider all of his promises and speeches, it’s not clear what we really get.

His highly touted foreign trip in July was, with all due respect, astonishingly amateurish. And, his more recent gaffe on Japan suggests that both the candidate and the campaign are still struggling with basic diplomatic and rhetorical protocols.

Much of the problem is that foreign policy and national security have been an afterthought for Romney. This isn’t really a surprise – we all know that this election will turn on the economy and his experience and skill set play to his vision for changes in U.S. economic policy.

But it is striking at how he’s essentially conceded the issue — at least to date. Organizationally, his campaign staff runs the day-to-day management of foreign policy development. He does not have an established, senior foreign policy advisor traveling with him, advising him on a daily basis or talking to the press. As a result, the organization, the substance, the message, and the candidate have lacked cohesion and vision.

He isn’t helped by the intra-party feuding that continues within the Republican Party. Romney’s campaign has assembled a broad circle of advisers that includes neoconservatives and Republican internationalists. Their only reported joint meeting apparently ended in an argument about the future of Afghanistan. The campaign’s response was that Romney encourages active debate among his advisers. But, George W. Bush lost control of his national security decisionmaking process because he wasn’t able to control the feuding between the two camps.

It recent weeks it appears that when push has come to shove between these camps – which it almost always does – Romney and his campaign are turning more and more to the “Cheneyites” and the neocons. His selection of Robert Zoellick last week was seen by some as a measured response to the wavering ship – to add some foreign policy heft and traditional Republican internationalist moderation to the foreign policy team, but the announcement was met with such intense and critical push-back from the neocons that the campaign went to great lengths to portray Zoellick as simply helping with the normal pre-election transition vetting process and to re-assure the critics that there is a firewall between Zoellick and the campaign’s policy development.

So we are left with this. As we enter the fall campaign, Romney’s foreign policy views are being shaped not by a coherent, long-standing world-view or causal beliefs about the nature of power, the utility of force, or the nature and source of threats, but by political expediency. His foreign policy views appear to be emerging out of campaign strategy – with the singular goal of distancing himself from President Obama. The gist of all of this is that we really don’t know what we are likely to get. Would a Romney/Ryan administration embrace the neocons’ view of the world – with their focus on the ubiquity of existential threats, their belief in the efficacy and utility of force, and their ambitions for U.S. support for regime change in places like Iran and Syria? Or would a Romney/Ryan administration be more likely to embrace more traditional Republic internationalism relying on existing institutions and a wider range of instruments of statecraft to manage American interests?

All things considered, and in light of the foreign policy mistakes over the past decade and the challenges that lie ahead, these are pretty big questions to still be lingering this late in a campaign.

Speaking of Retrenchment

Christopher Preble has a solid critical review of Robert Kagan’s new book at The National Interest. Preble is particularly concerned with the free-rider problem:

EVEN THOSE inclined to believe Kagan’s assessment of the international system and America’s role in it must contend with one central fact that Kagan elides: the costs of maintaining the status quo are substantial and likely to grow. That is because Washington’s possession of vast stores of power—and its willingness to use that power on behalf of others—has created an entire class of nations that are unwilling to defend themselves and their interests from threats. The data clearly show a vast and growing gap between what others pay for defense and what Americans pay to defend them. The critical question, then, centers on differing perceptions of this capability imbalance. Because U.S. security guarantees to wealthy allies have caused them to underprovide for their own defense, they also have less capacity to help the United States in its time of need—either now in Afghanistan or in a theoretical future contest with China or a resurgent Russia. Kagan contends other countries will choose not to defend themselves and their interests, but at other times he acknowledges it is precisely the presence of American power that has discouraged them from doing so. In the end, it is clear Kagan doesn’t want other countries to defend themselves because, he says, they just can’t be trusted to get the job done. Most will be content to let security challenges grow and fester on their borders, or within them, leaving the United States—and the United States alone—with the task of cleaning up the mess. As he sought to explain in 2003, Americans should “be more worried about a conflagration on the Asian subcontinent or in the Middle East or in Russia than the Europeans, who live so much closer,” because the harm from other countries’ failure to act will inevitably threaten U.S. security.

This is spot on: from a pro-primacy position, depressing non-US defense spending via security guarantees is a feature, not a bug. The positive case is that it reduces the risks of interstate war and otherwise suppresses rivalries. From a US perspective, it also enhances Washington’s influence. The negative case is, as Preble stresses, that it shifts the burden of others’ security onto the US taxpayer and may hasten relative decline.

As recent Japanese-ROK security agreements suggest, this doesn’t amount to an all-or-nothing deal. States in the US umbrella that feel sufficiently worried about their security won’t ignore their own needs. In this context, the Asia pivot also makes sense, as the major European powers really aren’t that concerned about traditional military threats. I see no problem with rejecting Kagan’s Manichaeanism, recognizing that the US does have significant room for defense savings, but still acknowledging the central place of the US in many aspects of global security–and acting accordingly.

Against Esoteric Readings of Neoconservatvism, or Always Check the Footnotes

I’m currently working on a few difference pieces that deal with the relationship between liberalism and empire. I also, as long-team readers of the Duck know, consider neoconservative understandings of international politics as a variant of liberalism that constitutes a specific flavor of the US commitment to democratic enlargement as transformative of international politics. Neoconservatives reject the idea that international institutions, at least as currently configured, and US self-restraint pacify global politics; their liberalism is strongly inflected by particular currents of American nationalist exceptionalism.

Most published international-relations scholarship concurs with this assessment, thus I read with great interest Jonathan D. Caverley’s “Power and Democratic Weakness: Neoconservatism and Neoclassical Realism” which appeared in Millennium: Journal of International Studies (May 2010, pp. 593-614) [earlier, but ungated, version]. Here’s the abstract:

While realists and neoconservatives generally disagreed on the Iraq invasion of 2003, nothing inherent in either approach to foreign policy accounts for this. Neoconservatism’s enthusiasm for democratisation would appear to distinguish the two but its rejection of all other liberal mechanisms in world politics suggests that the logic linking democracy and American security shares little with liberalism. Inspecting the range of neoconservative thought reveals a unifying theme: the enervating effects of democracy on state power and the will to wield it in a dangerous world. Consequently, the United States enjoys greater safety among other democracies due to a more favourable distribution of relative power. Viewing regime type through the prism of state power extraction in a competitive, anarchic world puts neoconservatism squarely in the neoclassical realist camp. The article concludes by suggesting why the rest of International Relations should care about this new ‘neo–neo’ debate.

Caverley contends, in consequence, that we should see neoconservativism as a form of neoclassical realism. After all, neoconservatives see anarchy as characterized by unforgiving power-political competition and worry that the domestic politics of liberal states render them vulnerable to authoritarian and totalitarian rivals. They recommend civic virtue and strong political leadership — along the lines of Theodore Roosevelt’s “New Nationalism” — as an antidote.

This combination looks, as Caverley argues, rather similar to Gideon Rose’s description of neoclassical realism as holding that

The scope and ambition of a country’s foreign policy is driven first and foremost by the country’s relative material power. Yet it contends that the impact of power capabilities on foreign policy is indirect and complex, because systemic pressures must be translated through intervening unit-level variables such as decision-makers’ perceptions and state structure.

While most of Caverley’s claims are well-rehearsed in the “how to make sense of neoconservative foreign policy” debate, I’ve never before seen his argument that neoconservatives support democratizing other countries as a way of making them weaker. It turns out there’s a good reason for that: they don’t make any such claim.

Before I explain how Caverley’s arguments combine esoteric readings of neoconservative texts with both invocation of non-existant arguments and quotations taken plainly out of context, I should touch upon a set of even more basic problems with Caverley’s claim that neoconservativism isn’t liberalism. The crux of Caverley’s reasoning looks like this:

G. John Ikenberry identifies six ‘big ideas’ shared by Wilsonianism and modern liberalism. The first four cover various paths to peace: democracy, free trade, international law and international bodies, and collective security. The final two are a progressive optimism about modernity coupled with the need for American global leadership as a ‘moral agent’. Neoconservatism clearly accepts both the importance of democracy as an American national interest and of American moral global leadership, but explicitly rejects the remaining four points of liberalism/Wilsonianism [emphasis original].

First, liberalism, of course, is not identical to Wilsonianism; liberal internationalism represents only one of many ways of translating liberalism into grand strategy. In the United States, liberal principles have undergird foreign-policy approaches ranging from a complete rejection of foreign “entanglements” to the establishing of formal empire.

Second, it is a bit silly to say that neoconservativism isn’t liberal because it overlaps with neoclassical realism. Neoclassical realism is a somewhat amorphous container for some pretty heterogeneous scholarly theories; in consequence, it provides a poor benchmark for assessing non-scholarly debates about the proper guiding principles for American foreign policy.

Third, the Hobbes-Locke debate over the relative unpleasantness of the state of the nature–which Hobbes distinguishes from the texture of relations between sovereign states–is an intra-liberal debate about the parameters of the social contract. Liberals can disagree about whether institutions such as the League or the United Nations are sufficiently robust to mitigate anarchy, let alone whether concessions of sovereignty necessary to create such institutions would be worth the consequent threat to domestic freedom and self-determination in liberal democracies.

Indeed, it isn’t difficult to understand why neconservative praxis is incompatible with realism:

  • It holds that relations among democracies are fundamentally different than those among democracies and non-democracies;
  • It holds that global politics should be understood as an ideological struggle between the forces of freedom and their antagonists; and
  • It sees no contradiction between the pursuit of liberal values, at least properly understood, and national interests.

Although specific academics who call themselves realists might accept one or more of these propositions, none are “realist” in any meaningful sense. No realist would, as many neoconservatives have, advocate a “League of Democracies” as a superior alternative to the United Nations.

Consider Caverley’s discussion of the neoconservative rejection of “liberal, transnational norms.” Caverley quotes Krauthammer as writing that “moral suasion is a farce,” but here’s what Krauthammer writes:

Moral suasion? Was it moral suasion that made Qaddafi see the wisdom of giving up his weapons of mass destruction? Or Iran agree for the first time to spot nuclear inspections? It was the suasion of the bayonet. It was the ignominious fall of Saddam–and the desire of interested spectators not to be next on the list. The whole point of this treaty was to keep rogue states from developing chemical weapons. Rogue states are, by definition, impervious to moral suasion.

Moral suasion is a farce. Why then this obsession with conventions, protocols, legalisms? Their obvious net effect is to temper American power. Who, after all, was really going to be most constrained by these treaties? The ABM amendments were aimed squarely at American advances and strategic defenses, not at Russia, which lags hopelessly behind. The Kyoto Protocol exempted India and China. The nuclear test ban would have seriously degraded the American nuclear arsenal. And the landmine treaty (which the Clinton administration spent months negotiating but, in the end, met so much Pentagon resistance that even Clinton could not initial it) would have had a devastating impact on U.S. conventional forces, particularly at the DMZ in Korea.

This is pretty par for the course in terms of US nationalist exceptionalism: bad regimes don’t care about their image in the “international community,” the US needs strength to pursue liberal ends, treaties with autocratic rivals only weaken US power, etc. Similarly, Caverley quotes Robert Kagan, who writes in “End of Dreams, Return of History” that “there is little sense of shared morality and common political principle among the great powers.” But Kagan’s piece, with a title rebutting Francis Fukuyama’s claim that great ideological struggles are over, is a call for the US to recognize the new authoritarian threat to liberalism. And here’s the full context:

Today there is little sense of shared morality and common political principle among the great powers. Quite the contrary: There is suspicion, growing hostility, and the well-grounded view on the part of the autocracies that the democracies, whatever they say, would welcome their overthrow. Any concert among them would be built on a shaky foundation likely to collapse at the first serious test.

American foreign policy should be attuned to these ideological distinctions and recognize their relevance to the most important strategic questions. It is folly to expect China to help undermine a brutal regime in Khartoum or to be surprised if Russia rattles its saber at pro-Western democratic governments near its borders. There will be a tendency toward solidarity among the world ’s autocracies, as well as among the world’s democracies.

For all these reasons, the United States should pursue policies designed both to promote democracy and to strengthen cooperation among the democracies. It should join with other democracies to erect new international institutions that both reflect and enhance their shared principles and goals. One possibility might be to establish a global concert or league of democratic states, perhaps informally at first but with the aim of holding regular meetings and consultations on the issues of the day. Such an institution could bring together Asian nations such as Japan, Australia, and India with the European nations — two sets of democracies that have comparatively little to do with each other outside the realms of trade and finance. The institution would complement, not replace, the United Nations, the g-8, and other global forums. But it would at the very least signal a commitment to the democratic idea, and in time it could become a means of pooling the resources of democratic nations to address a number of issues that cannot be addressed at the United Nations. If successful, it could come to be an organization capable of bestowing legitimacy on actions that liberal nations deem necessary but autocratic nations refuse to countenance — as nato conferred legitimacy on the conflict in Kosovo even though Russia was opposed.

Given such overwhelming evidence against neoconservativism’s illiberalism, much depends on Caverley’s claim that neoconservatives favor liberal enlargement as a way of weakening rivals by saddling them with democratic institutions. As I’ve alluded to already, some of this argument depends (fittingly enough) on a Straussian-style esoteric reading of neoconservative writings. Neoconservatives worry about the erosion of republican values in modern liberal polities. They advocate strong leadership and “new nationalism”-style programs to counter this tendency. They consider Europe as a cautionary example for the United States. But to read their various worries and exhortations as containing a hidden message that Washington should spread democracy for instrumental purposes–to enfeeble rivals–is, as one of my professors once noted of Straussian esoteric readings, “fascinating, ingenious, and totally wrong.”

How wrong it is becomes clear when Caverley moves beyond esoteric inference and claims to cite neoconservatives making this argument.

Fukuyama observes that the advocates of trans- forming Iraq into a Western-style democracy are the same people who question the ‘dangers of ambitious social engineering’. This apparent paradox becomes coherent given this idea of democratic enfeeblement. Kirkpatrick points out that because totalitarian states are inherently more threatening, the United States should focus its democratisation efforts there. Her famous essay does not criticise neoconservative enthusiasm for democratisation so much as connect it to a grand strategic logic. Because of the military advantage enjoyed by non-democracies, a United States interested in self-preservation should aggressively spread this cost aversion Muravchik succinctly states the core (and inherently power political) logic: ‘The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe.

But by this logic would not other regime types attempt to spread democracy, preferring to be the only autocrat in a world of Kantian peaceniks? Kagan and others address this question by claiming that the existence and success of democracies is inherently threatening to the stability of authoritarian regimes. This autocratic support (perhaps unlike democracy) is not based in ideological affinity but on self-preservation and the desire to maximise power. Moreover, autocrats:

see their comparative advantage over the West when it comes to gaining influence with African, Asian or Latin American governments that can provide access to oil and other vital natural resources or that, in the case of Burma, are strategically located.

Why am I so dismissive of all of this? It seemed odd to me, so I checked the footnotes.

Kirkpatrick nowhere in “Dictatorships and Double Standards” argues that the US should focus democratization efforts on totalitarian states because they are “inherently more threatening” (at least in the sense Caverley implies). She argues that, in the struggle against communist totalitarianism, the US should support friendly anti-communist authoritarians as both, whatever their flaws, morally superior and more amenable to subsequent democratization than totalitarian regimes. The Carter Administration, as well as the American left, both weakens US interests and the cause of democratic liberalism insofar as its weakens its autocratic allies in favor of self-styled liberation movements. As she concludes:

For these reasons and more, a posture of continuous self-abasement and apology vis-a-vis the Third World is neither morally necessary nor politically appropriate. No more is it necessary or appropriate to support vocal enemies of the United States because they invoke the rhetoric of popular liberation. It is not even necessary or appropriate for our leaders to forswear unilaterally the use of military force to counter military force. Liberal idealism need not be identical with masochism, and need not be incompatible with the defense of freedom and the national interest.

Caverley’s ‘smoking gun’ quotation from Muravchik, moreover, is completely out of context. When Muravchik argues that “The spread of demcoracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe” he has a specific foe in mind: militant jihadism. As Muravchik notes earlier in the article:

what is undeniable is that Bush’s declaration of war against terrorism did bear the earmarks of neoconservatism. One can count the ways. It was moralistic, accompanied by descriptions of the enemy as “evil” and strong assertions of America’s righteousness. As Norman Podhoretz puts it in his powerful new book Bush offered “an entirely unapologetic assertion of the need for and the possibility of moral judgment in the realm of world affairs.” In contrast to the suggestion of many, especially many Europeans, that America had somehow provoked the attacks, Bush held that what the terrorists hated was our virtues, and in particular our freedom. His approach was internationalist: it treated the whole globe as the battlefield, and sought to confront the enemy far from our own doorstep. It entailed the prodigious use of force. And, for the non-military side of the strategy, Bush adopted the idea of promoting democracy in the Middle East in the hope that this would drain the fever swamps that bred terrorists [emphasis added].

That’s right: Moravchik’s argument has zilch to do with Caverley’s “democratic enfeeblement” hypothesis. Rather, it amounts to a fairly standard neoconservative claim that democratization weakens radical Islamism.

There’s something perverse about using an out-of-context quotation from this particualr Muravchik piece. Here’s what Muravchik has to say about neoconservativism in the early pages of his article:

The term “neoconservative” was coined in the 1970’s as an anathema. It was intended to stigmatize a group of liberal intellectuals who had lately parted ways with the majority of their fellows.

As a heretical offshoot of liberalism, neoconservatism appealed to the same values and even many of the same goals—like, for example, peace and racial equality. But neoconservatives argued that liberal policies—for example, disarmament in the pursuit of peace, or affirmative action in the pursuit of racial equality—undermined those goals rather than advancing them. In short order, the heretics established themselves as contemporary liberalism’s most formidable foes.

Two distinct currents fed the stream of neoconservatism. One focused on domestic issues, specifically by reexamining the Great Society programs of the 1960’s and the welfare state as a whole. It was centered in the Public Interest, a quarterly founded and edited by Irving Kristol. The other focused on international issues and the cold war; it was centered in COMMENTARY and led by the magazine’s editor, Norman Podhoretz.

The former current has little if any relevance to the controversy surrounding neoconservatism today. Much of the domestic-policy critique mounted by neoconservatives eventually became common wisdom, symbolized by President Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform program and his declaration that “the era of big government is over.” In the meantime, several of the seminal figures of the domestic wing—Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer—drifted back toward liberalism.

It was the foreign-policy wing that was, all along, more passionately embroiled in ideological disputation.1 For one thing, the stakes were higher. If a domestic policy fails, you can try another. If a foreign policy fails, you may find yourself at war. Also, the battles that rived the Democratic party in the 1970’s, at a time when virtually all neoconservatives were still Democrats, principally concerned foreign affairs. These battles sharpened ideological talons on all sides.

The divisions stemmed from the Vietnam war. Not that all neoconservatives were hawks on this particular issue; some, including Podhoretz, were (qualified) doves. But when opponents of the war went from arguing that it was a failed instance of an essentially correct policy—namely, resisting Communist expansionism—to contending that it was a symptom of a deep American sickness, neoconservatives answered back. Whatever problems we may have made for ourselves in Vietnam, they said, the origins of the conflict were to be found neither in American imperialism nor in what President Jimmy Carter would call our “inordinate fear of Communism,” but in Communism’s lust to dominate.

Contrary to Carter and the antiwar Left, neoconservatives believed that Communism was very much to be feared, to be detested, and to be opposed. They saw the Soviet Union as, in the words of Ronald Reagan, an “evil empire,” unspeakably cruel to its own subjects and relentlessly predatory toward those not yet in its grasp. They took the point of George Orwell’s 1984—a book that (as the Irish scholars James McNamara and Dennis J. O’Keeffe have written) resurrected the idea of evil “as a political category.” And they absorbed the cautionary warning of the Russian novelist and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn against yielding ground to the Communists in the vain hope “that perhaps at some point the wolf will have eaten enough.”

Many in our history, both statesmen and scholars, had drawn a distinction between Americans’ sentiments and America’s self-interest. Where Communism was concerned, the neoconservatives saw the two as intertwined. Communism needed to be fought both because it was morally appalling and because it was a threat to our country.

And, as he notes a bit later on:

Even those traditional conservatives who distrusted the readiness of Nixon and Kissinger to make deals with the Soviet Union tended to share the underlying philosophy of foreign-policy “realism.” As opposed to the neoconservative emphasis on the battle of ideas and ideologies, and on the psychological impact of policy choices, realists focused on state interests and the time-honored tools of statecraft. That was one reason why, for the neoconservatives of the 1970’s, the great champions in American political life were not conservative or Republican figures but two Democrats of unmistakably liberal pedigree: Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and George Meany, the president of the AFL-CIO. When President Ford, on Kissinger’s counsel, closed the White House door to Solzhenitsyn upon his expulsion from Soviet Russia, these two stalwart anti-Communists formally welcomed him to Washington.

It was only with the accession of Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1981 that the neoconservatives made their peace with Republican-style conservatism. Reagan brought several neoconservatives—notably Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle, Max Kampelman, and Elliott Abrams—into pivotal foreign-policy positions in his administration (and, on the domestic-policy side, William J. Bennett and others). With time, most neoconservatives moved into the Republican fold. As for Reagan’s “belligerent” approach to the cold war, it was criticized as loudly by both liberals and conservatives within the foreign-policy establishment as it was cheered by neoconservatives. But there can be no question that it issued in a sublime victory: the mighty juggernaut of the Soviet state, disposing of more kill power than the U.S. or any other state in history, capitulated with scarcely a shot.

So, while Muravchik does describe neoconservativism as sharing elements with both ‘realism’ and ‘idealism,’ his account amounts to a refutation of Caverley’s core thesis:

The military historian Max Boot has aptly labeled it “hard Wilsonianism.” It does not mesh neatly with the familiar dichotomy between “realists” and “idealists.” It is indeed idealistic in its internationalism and its faith in democracy and freedom, but it is hardheaded, not to say jaundiced, in its image of our adversaries and its assessment of international organizations. Nor is its idealism to be confused with the idealism of the “peace” camp. Over the course of the past century, various schemes for keeping the peace—the League of Nations, the UN, the treaty to outlaw war, arms-control regimes—have all proved fatuous. In the meantime, what has in fact kept the peace (whenever it has been kept) is something quite different: strength, alliances, and deterrence. Also in the meantime, “idealistic” schemes for promoting not peace but freedom—self-determination for European peoples after World War I, decolonization after World War II, the democratization of Germany, Japan, Italy, and Austria, the global advocacy of human rights—have brought substantial and beneficial results.

Belief in deterrence, alliances, and force does not a “realist” make if those instruments are deployed on behalf of a global crusade for liberalism.

Given all of this, it should come as no surprise that Caverley takes Kagan out of context in order to answer why, given “democratic enfeeblement,” autocracies don’t support democratization. Here’s the full pargraph, with the part that Caverley quotes underlined:

Neither Russia nor China has any interest in assisting liberal nations in their crusade against autocracies around the world. Moreover, they can see their comparative advantage over the West when it comes to gaining influence with African, Asian, or Latin American governments that can provide access to oil and other vital natural resources or that, in the case of Burma, are strategically located. Moscow knows it can have more influence with governments in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan because, unlike the liberal West, it can unreservedly support their regimes. And the more autocracies there are in the world, the less isolated Beijing and Moscow will be in international forums such as the United Nations. The more dictatorships there are, the more global resistance they will offer against the liberal West ’s efforts to place limits on sovereignty in the interest of advancing liberalism.

I suppose there might be something to Caverley’s arguments; as I’ve noted, one can make a case for fitting “neoconservativism” under the rubric of “neoclassical realism.” But doing so requires us to ignore not only the evidence of intellectual DNA, but also to reduce “liberalism” to its Wilsonian variant. Still, his conclusions about academic neoclassical realism might have some punch. I just find it difficult to overlook the fact that Caverley’s novel claims concerning “democratic enfeeblement” find no textual support.

All of this dovetails in interesting ways with recent discussions of peer review. This article, at least in its present form, would not have survived adequate peer review. Any reviewer familiar with recent neoconservative writings should have wondered about some of these quotations, all of which come from articles available online. So either Millennium couldn’t find appropriate reviewers, those reviewers were too  “overburdened” to do due diligence, or they just didn’t care.

Update: my claim about this being a failure of peer review only involves the out-of-context quotations that I discuss at the end of my critique–those specific to Caverley’s “democratic enfeeblement” argument. Peer review is supposed to catch that sort of thing. The rest of the issues I raise are, I think, subject to debate; reasonable people will disagree about them. Reviewers should either have rejected the entire piece or suggested a revise-and-resubmit with either (1) better evidence for “democratic enfeeblement” or (2) an abandonment of that argument in favor of more general points about how neoconservatives work themselves into a place quite similar to that of some neoclassical realists. But the current “evidence” for that hypothesis should not have made it into a published article.

Why We Fight?

Steve Walt asks an interesting question: Is America addicted to war? He gives five reasons why we find ourselves in constant war:

1. Because we can
2. Because we have no serious enemies
3. The all volunteer force
4. It’s the establishment stupid
5. Congress has checked out

The first three and the last point all speak to the limited international and domestic structural constraints the United States faces on the use of force. The fourth speaks to the agency involved. On this point he argues:

the foreign-policy establishment is hard-wired in favor of “doing something.” Foreign-policy thinking in Washington is dominated either by neoconservatives (who openly proclaim the need to export “liberty” and never met a war they didn’t like) or by “liberal interventionists” who are just as enthusiastic about using military power to solve problems, provided they can engineer some sort of multilateral cover for it. Liberal interventionists sometimes concede that the United States can’t solve every problem (at least not at the same time), but they still think that the United States is the “indispensable” nation and they want us to solve as many of the world’s problems as we possibly can.


Walt’s hook for the piece is that Obama ran as an anti-war candidate and yet not only are we still in Iraq, but Obama escalated our troop presence in Afghanistan and now we are in Libya. Walt also challenges the core rationale for the Libyan intervention:

As in Iraq, the real purpose of our intervention is regime change at the point of a gun… Moreover, as Alan Kuperman of the University of Texas and Stephen Chapman of the Chicago Tribune have now shown, the claim that the United States had to act to prevent Libyan tyrant Muammar al-Qaddafi from slaughtering tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Benghazi does not stand up to even casual scrutiny.

First, Walt is right on the lack of structural constraints as major factors in the frequency of U.S. wars/interventions. We fight because we can — and we can do it, by historical standards, with limited international and domestic repercussions and costs

And, second, I think this is a fair question and I think that looking at the role of the foreign policy establishment is key. We do fight a lot of wars and we do so across administrations. The military, the defense industrial complex, and the foreign policy apparatus — government and think tanks — all seem to have been socialized to a significant degree behind the idea that war or the use of force is a normal condition.

But, I think there is a bigger challenge and set of questions that need to be considered in all of this. We live in a highly globalized world where both our actions and our inactions have real consequences. We spend most of our time focused on cases of U.S. military action. This makes a certain amount of intuitive sense and I don’t want to minimize the costs and consequences of the use of force. But it also strikes me that if we are trying to understand and explain why the United States gets involved in wars and intervention, we have to study cases of non-intervention to see what factors or patterns emerge from those cases. Likewise, if we are going to evaluate the consequences of U.S. wars, we need to try to measure the consequences of not acting. And, we need to understand the use of American force in the larger global pattern of war.

In my own work, I look both at decisions of intervention and decisions of non-intervention — turns out there are more cases of the latter. (John Bolton would love us to bomb North Korea, Iran, and probably Syria too — and probably all on the same night). I’ve argued that intervention decisions are the result of political contests within the foreign policy establishment over when and where to intervene and how these battles play out through the media to influence public and political pressure for and against intervention. A number of factors such as elite consensus, executive branch information and propaganda advantages, and crisis duration are all important in these outcomes, but so too are the credibility of the arguments.

I think this is particularly important in any assessment of the influence of liberal interventionists on decision making. For the most part, humanitarian interventions are far less frequent than one would expect given the number of acute humanitarian crises that have occurred in the past two decades. In other words, and contrary to Leslie Gelb’s rant, liberal interventionists often lose their battles within the foreign policy establishment — partly because they are often internally conflicted on calling for the use of force and partly because the threat of violence to civilians is not always clear.

In the case of Libya, the liberal interventionists were able to prevail in their policy advocacy because there was a broad consensus at the United Nations, within the Arab League, in Europe, within the human rights and humanitarian NGO community, and within the White House that there was an imminent threat to civilians in Benghazi. In this regard, I think Walt’s characterization that there was no credible threat is wrong. (And, for the record, Alan Kuperman’s cut-and-paste-re-hashed-moral-hazards-everywhere op-ed in the USA today has not “shown” anything about this case.)

None of us are privy to the specific U.S. intelligence reports on Libya in the run-up to the March 18 Security Council decision, but both the CIA and the State Department now have strong war crimes and mass atrocity analysis units and we’ll have to wait for the FOIA release of their internal analysis to fully understand how the administration saw the situation unfolding. But, we can infer from a number of things that there was a broadly held view (beyond just the views of the “fiery” Samantha Power) that there were real and credible threats to civilians. In addition to my earlier post on this, we have the Arab League warning of serious threats to civilians, the United Nations Security Council has rarely acted as quickly as it did with UNSC Res 1973, and several human rights organizations issued specific warnings. In addition, both the ICRC and Medecins Sans Frontieres were forced to withdraw their personnel from Benghazi in the week before UNSC Res. 1973 was passed because of intensifying security concerns and both issued warnings about the peril s to civilian populations with the war spreading to the highly populated Benghazi.

Furthermore, we have some pretty good indicators of when episodes of mass political violence are most likely to occur. Barbara Harff’s 2003 APSR article tracks numerous instances of mass political killings — including the mass killing of civilians. Retributive politicide are strategies designed during or in the immediate aftermath of political rebellion and are often implemented by regimes when political rebellions have been defeated. We have plenty of cases of this phenomenon such as Sri Lanka, Guatemala, East Timor, Angola, and Sudan. Many of the warning signs of this type of impending violence existed in Libya — such as Qaddafi’s political ideology; the breadth and intensity of the political uprising against his rule; his prior record of violent repression against political rivals and dissidents; the tribal dimensions underlying the East-West divide in Libya (and the political opposition); and the scenario that if he prevailed by successfully using coercion as a means of regaining control, we would likely see the future use of intense repressive violence to maintain control.

Had these conditions not existed and had we not had a broad consensus on the threat to civilians, I’m confident that we wouldn’t be fighting in Libya today.

But, even more broadly, it’s not clear that the consequences of U.S. humanitarian interventions — or robust international peacekeeping missions — are all bad. We still may see a bad outcome in Libya, but the intervention decision itself is part of something broader in the world today. The use of force has been a constant in international relations for centuries, but as Joshua Goldstein argues in his forthcoming book Winning the War on War (due out in late summer from Dutton) the nature of war is changing — we are witnessing far fewer interstate wars and we are employing new approaches to the use of force to quell civil violence and to protect civilians — battlefield deaths have declined in every decade for the past five decades. Furthermore, as Ted Gurr noted noted over a decade ago, the decline of ethnic conflicts may well be attributable to the new ways the international system has been able to respond to episodes of mass violence and new tools for international conflict resolution and mitigation — much of which has come with significant U.S. military and diplomatic leadership. Lise Howard’s work and Page Fortna’s work on the efficacy of peacekeeping operations also suggest that our collective ability to deploy coercive force in selected instances may be a contributing factor to a reduction in global patterns of conflict.

AS evidenced by Walt’s post, there is considerable frustration today with the extent of American military engagement in the world — Iraq was one of the biggest strategic blunders in American history and I remain uncomfortable with the size of the defense budget and the extent to which American troops have become the face of America around the globe. I am also keenly aware of the challenges facing the international action in Libya today. Nonetheless, I’m also aware that the broader trends on conflict and war seem to be pointing in the right direction and American power (including the use of force) in some instances may be contributing to that trend.

Willow Witching Pt. 2: What Washington should do….

The neocon blogoshere is lit up with more willow witching that the events in Egypt are vindication of the Bush’s “freedom agenda.” And, they are blasting Obama for his timid response — apparently, Washington controls the destiny of this protest movement:

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Jackson Deihl claimed that it’s not too late to influence events. He called on the administration to support unidentified “democracy groups.” But more curious was his criticism of the administration. He cited Hillary Clinton’s 2009 comments about her personal friendship with Mubarak as setting the stage: “Thus began what may be remembered as one of the most shortsighted and wrongheaded policies the United States has ever pursued in the Middle East.” Right — let’s just ignore the fact that the U.S. has been cozying up to Mubarak for the past three decades — including a dramatic expansion of security and intelligence ties by the Bush administration after 9/11. Snippy political attack = 1; foreign policy analysis = 0.

Max Boot argued that this is the moment for Obama to “redefine” the Middle East and stand with the aspirations of the people:

we need a president fully engaged in the moment — a president who will speak for the aspirations of the people of the Middle East (more than one line, please), while also working to provide a soft landing for longtime dictators and to ensure that radicals don’t seize power.

Yeah, well there’s a novel idea. I bet no one in the administration thought of that…

Jeffrey Goldberg urged Obama to live up to American values and cut Mubarak loose and let the chips fall where they may with the Muslim Brotherhood — I guess that’s kind of living up to American values….

We still don’t know how this will unfold and I’m somewhat skeptical about what the Obama administration can do today or tomorrow to influence events — though Marc Lynch gives us some thoughtful comments on this.

But, I am struck that in all of this commentary, there is almost nothing about what’s next. Despite all of their generic claims to support democracy, the neocons cling to a very naive notion of what democracy is and how it emerges. In Iraq, they assumed democracy and market capitalism were self-executing — simply remove a tyrannical regime and let the natural, universal aspirations of the Iraqis guide the way. They didn’t plan for Phase IV of the Iraq invasion because they didn’t believe it was necessary. They were wrong, their actions triggered a civil war with disastrous consequences — more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and countless more wounded, more than 2 million refugees, at a cost of more than 4,000 U.S. service members and well over $2 trillion.

It’s simply not enough to say one is “for” democracy and demand support for the protesters. The hard part of democracy building comes in the weeks, months, and years after a regime collapses. Let’s assume Mubarak flees sometime in the next few days. What then? How can the U.S and the international community help manage a transitional process to accommodate the demands of a disparate group of protesters? They are unified in their desire to remove Mubarak, but that consensus will evaporate the instant Mubarak gets on a plane. How will their competing claims be adjudicated — what kinds of mechanisms or institutions will best serve these challenges? What kind of institutional arrangements will be necessary to ensure domestic security that is sufficient and legitimate enough to maintain some sense of order but not coercive — what kind of leverage does the United States have over various factions within the military and security services to help this? Many of the protesters are in their 20s — nearly 3/4 of all of those unemployed are in this age bracket. What capacity exists to put them to work or to give them hope for new employment opportunities in the near future?

The administration clearly faces challenges in the coming days, but the real challenges likely will come in the weeks ahead. And there is nothing in Bush’s vacuous “freedom agenda” or the Bush administration’s experiences in the war in Iraq, or in the self-congratulatory rhetoric from the neocons that can help with the hard work of developing democratic state norms and institutions.

Memories of willow witching


So, this is it — Tunisia is vindication of the Iraq War. Here’s Jennifer Rubin’s great insight:

Recall when President George W. Bush talked about democracy taking hold in Iraq and then the region? Now Bush’s vision seems very prescient.

…One question that deserves further consideration: How much did the emergence of a democratic Iraq have to do with this popular revolt in Tunisia?

This is similar to a point Max Boot made recently at Amherst College in a debate with Andrew Bacevich. Boot argued that it was too early to tell if the Iraq war was a success or failure, because as he put it, the effects possibly might not be known for decades. (Bacevich countered by noting that, given Boot’s logic, with the economic developments and recent steps toward political liberalization in Vietnam, perhaps we will soon be on the verge of being able to call the Vietnam War a success.)

The arguments of Rubin and Boot remind me of the hot summer when I was a kid growing up in western North Dakota and our well went dry. Rather than spend money on “big city” hydrogeologists, my dad decided to use the ancient dowsing method of willow-witching to look for water. Each morning, he picked up his willow branches and walked around until he found the “right spot.” My brother and I then dutifully dug and drilled holes — that turned up dry — day after day. But alas, nearly seven weeks and some three dozen dry holes later, we finally hit water and tapped a new well. For the past forty years, my dad has told all who will listen about the wonders of willow witching and how he found water that summer.

Yep, keep searching and you’re bound to find something….

Let’s whack them

Got to love the neocons. They are outraged by Wikileaks and by the Obama administration’s response. William Kristol challenges President Obama with a series of questions:

Why not use our various assets to harass, snatch or neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are? Why can’t we disrupt and destroy WikiLeaks in both cyberspace and physical space, to the extent possible? Why can’t we warn others of repercussions from assisting this criminal enterprise hostile to the United States?

Of course the irony here is that perhaps the top beneficiary so far from this batch of documents has been the neocons’ number one project: strengthening Israel’s position on stopping the Iranian nuclear program. In the cables from the Ankara, Amman, Cairo, Ryadh, and several embassies in Europe there is a strong and unambiguous consensus that Iran is isolated in its position. This has been reported for some time in the press, but the press reports have not always been consistent or clear. The raw language from so many foreign leaders disclosed in these cables now sends an unmistakable signal to Tehran and seriously limits Iran’s room for maneuvering here. It also almost certainly lowers the risk of Iranian miscalculation (i.e., that they can play different regional and international actors off of one another and avoid serious repercussions for continuing their program). It’s clear the Saudis and other Gulf States are serious in their objections and may well acquiesce to an Israeli strike , there is no room for Tehran to leverage Turkey, both Egypt and Turkey are aggressively working to pull Syria away from Iran, and the Russians can’t be counted upon. Furthermore, the Israelis and others now have a comprehensive, and open record of Arab and European positions that they can exploit for stronger action against Iran.

It’s probably too early to see any indication of the diplomatic implications of all of this next week when Iran and the EU resume nuclear talks. But, the release of the documents, despite the various embarrassments and other damages, does have the potential to alter the strategy and outcome of diplomacy on this. Through a new blend of pressure and engagement, we may be able to resolve this without war.

If that happens, Kristol and company may want to thank Assange and Wikileaks before they “whack” them.

Wilson’s legacy

Duck readers may recall that just over two years ago Charli posted about an interesting and provocative Deborah Boucoyannis article arguing that realist notions of the balance-of-power are actually liberal ideas about checks-and-balances.

The post generated a lot of comments (which apparently cannot be linked under the new software), including a fairly long and somewhat critical one from Duck founder Dan Nexon. Despite the flaws he noted, Dan nonetheless wrote that “the argument…is persuasive; she’s made a very important contribution, at a minimum, in arguing that the ‘balance of power’ is too big to restrict to realism, and ought to be treated as an object of analysis in its own right.” Later, the author responded to the critics.

As Charli said in her post, if an idea long associated with realism can be explained from a liberal viewpoint, then many of us must rethink how we teach IR theory. In my case, I’d long compared the balance of power to domestic checks and balances so that students familiar with the latter could better understand the IR concept. However, I’d never made the argument Boucoyannis presented.

This exchange came to mind recently when I read Stanford historian David Kennedy’s brief essay in the January/February Atlantic Monthly. Kennedy makes a novel-to-me argument about Woodrow Wilson’s famous call that “The world must be made safe for democracy.” This time, however, the scholar asserts that an idea long associated with liberalism (nee Wilsonianism!) in IR was actually tied to a practical realism:

Wilson tempered his diplomatic ideals with a pragmatic comprehension of the modern world, of its possibilities and its dangers. He respected the pride and the prerogatives of other peoples. He shrewdly calculated the reach as well as the limits of American power. Perhaps most important, he was attentive to what kind of foreign policy, resting on principles of moral legitimacy, the American public would embrace.

Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman took the lessons. They asked only that the world be made safe for democracy, not that the world be made democratic. They understood the complexities of human cussedness and the constraints on even America’s formidable power. They would surely have hesitated to wage a preemptive war against Iraq that grossly overestimated America’s capacity to achieve its goals.

In the end, Kennedy praises a set of four “principles [that] constitute a blend of realism and idealism, not a stark choice between them, and their careful application over several decades represents a singular achievement for American diplomacy.”

At ISA, I served as a discussant on a panel about continuity or change in U.S. foreign policy from Bush to Obama. Two of the three papers quoted the familiar Wilson line in a way that reflected the taken-for-granted meaning — and widely shared view of its crusading implications. I pointed the authors to Kennedy’s piece because it was fresh in mind, but it is certainly possible that this is an established argument that I’ve somehow missed or forgotten. Does a longer version appear elsewhere?

Kennedy’s argument about Wilson serves also as a fairly clear warning that neoconservative calls for a “democratic realism” are dangerous and not Wilsonian. Neocons want to employ American (military) power to advance democracy. Wilson and his successors wanted to secure democracy in a dangerous world.

Who Wants to Bomb Iran?

David Kenner posted an interesting list this week at FP.com: “Who Wants to Bomb Iran?” Kenner cites the views of Pipes, Bolton, Podhoretz, Muravchik, McInerney, and Boot. I like Kenner’s use of “Perch,” “Justification,” and “Money Quote” to set-up and frame the piece. But, given that this is a standard cast of hawks that we’ve known for thirty years or so, where’s the “Track Record” category?

Seriously, when have these guys been right? Remember, this was the crowd that blasted Reagan for giving away the store when he negotiated the INF Treaty with Gorbachev. Throughout the 1990s and in the run-up to the war in Iraq, this crowd constantly peddled the argument that Saddam Hussein constituted an existential threat to the United States, that his regime had significant ties to Al Qaeda, and that regime change in Iraq would be a cakewalk. Bolton was also the one who claimed Cuba was developing and transferring biological weapons technologies to rogue states. The list is endless….

Since I’m off to New Orleans next week and I still have the Super Bowl on my mind, I’m struck by one thing: Over the past week, sports analysts have done a pretty good job revisiting their predictions of the game — and most acknowledge they were wrong. I gotta say, it’s really a bizarre world when US sports analysts hold themselves (and are held) more accountable than advocates for war.

For the record, I had the Colts….

Tripe for sale!

The burning question of the day: is Paul Wolfowitz and idiot or does he just think the rest of us are dumber than dirt?

In his latest missive, “‘No Comment’ is Not an Option,” Wolfowitz takes a little stroll down memory lane. He first reminisces about how Ronald Reagan dropped the ball and failed to call Philippine autocrat Ferdinand Marcos out for manipulating the results of the 1986 election. But, thanks to George Schultz’s efforts, the US got on the ‘right side of history’:

On Feb. 15, the White House issued a new statement: “The elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence perpetrated largely by the ruling party.” The following day, Marcos and Aquino each claimed victory. On Feb. 22, when Marcos ordered the arrest of two key reformers, as many as a million Filipinos poured into EDSA Square in Manila to block the arrests in a dramatic demonstration of “people power.”

Reagan’s final message to Marcos was delivered two days later, when the president’s close friend, Sen. Paul Laxalt, warned that Reagan opposed any use of force against the crowds and urged him “to cut and cut clean.” The next day, Marcos left the Philippines.

This was, in fact, a great moment for the Reagan administration. It withdrew support from a dictatorial regime; in doing so, it enabled a democratic transition in a US client state.

All of this would make for a nice analogy.. if Iran was a US client state. I don’t think the absurdity of the comparison should be particularly difficult to grasp: the major difference between the Philippines in 1986 and Iran in 2009 is that United States enjoyed tremendous leverage over the former, but lacks much of any in the latter. Marcos left because he knew the jig was up; the US even helped arrange for him to safely make his way into exile. He died of natural causes in Hawaii.

Wolfowitz, on the other hand, spins a little fairy tale in which the magical power of Reagan’s words (alone) worked an enchantment upon the Philippines, reaching deep into Marcos’ black heart and causing him to see the light.

But, at least in some respects, Wolfowitz’s second analogy strikes me as even more bizarre. He recalls the 1991 Soviet coup that threatened to restore Communist hardliners to power.

Responding early that morning, the [President Bush] refused to condemn the coup, calling it merely “a disturbing development.” He expressed only lukewarm support for Gorbachev and even less for Yeltsin, and neither was among the world leaders that he tried to contact about the crisis. He seemed focused on working with the new Soviet team, hoping that their leader, Gennady Yanayev, was committed to “reform.”

Although Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had argued consistently for the United States to support the peaceful aspirations of the Russians, Ukrainians and other Soviet peoples, it was Yeltsin — with a powerful personal letter — who persuaded Bush to abandon equivocation and oppose the coup. By late afternoon, the White House had reversed course, condemning the coup attempt as “misguided and illegitimate.” Bush then called Yeltsin to assure him of his support.

The thing is, Wolfowitz doesn’t even bother to pretend that Bush’s (rhetorical) position made one whit of difference. Which, of course, it didn’t.

Still, despite the total irrelevance of any of this to Obama’s public stance on unfolding events in Iran, Wolfowitz wants us to believe that a failure to hand Ahmadinejad and his associates a rhetorical loaded gun to use against the opposition will somehow leave the Obama Administration culpable should Ahmadinejad hold onto power.

Maybe I’m not being fair to Wolfowitz. After all, he does let us know that decisive action “does not mean that we need to pick sides in an Iranian election or claim to know its result. Obama could send a powerful message simply by placing his enormous personal prestige behind the peaceful conduct of the demonstrators and their demand for reform — exactly the kind of peaceful, democratic change that he praised in his speech in Cairo.”

Quite right. After all, it isn’t like Wolfowitz just implied that it was the decision of past American Presidents to “take sides” that “tipped the scale” in favor of democratic movements. At least Wolfowitz is calling on Obama to change course and say, well, pretty much exactly what Obama’s already said to the world about Iran.

I admit we may be approaching a time when the calculations change. Khamenei dashed reformist hopes yesterday and threw down the gauntlet. We’ve already seen signs that the Iranian police state is starting to fully mobilize. But if, and when, that time comes, I think we can safely say that Wolfowitz’s mess of column adds nothing to our understanding of how, and under what conditions, to proceed.

Washington Post Death Spiral Watch indeed.

Tha’ts not a window on the world, that’s a bloody mirror you’re staring into!

I apparently missed the memo, because I only just discovered that the right-wing chattering class is accusing the Obama Administration of “moral cowardice” because it won’t hand Ahmadinejad and his associates a rhetorical loaded gun to use against the opposition.

I don’t know what’s most annoying about this kind of accusation.

1. Is it the narrow parochialism of people who just don’t understand that some foreign populations react poorly to the United States–or, more generally, “the West”–picking sides in their domestic political disputes? I mean, this is Iran we’re talking about: a country with not insignificant (and, from their perspective, largely unpleasant) experience of British and American meddling in their country.

Indeed, much of the repertoire of the current movement invokes events, places, and slogans of the 1979 revolution that overthrew Mohammad Rezā Shāh and ended Iran’s place as a US client state.

I have to admit I’m not being completely fair. It isn’t as if the “blame Obama first crowd” haven’t thought about these arguments. It’s more a matter of how silly their responses are. Take “Allahpundit” of Hot Air:

Lefties keep assuring me on Twitter that western meddling will only make it easier for the regime to demonize the protesters, but (a) the demonization’s going to happen anyway, (b) no one’s asking Obama to send in the Marines, just to speak up, and (c) Angela Merkel managed to issue a statement earlier today calling the Basij thuggery “completely unacceptable” without killing the uprising in its crib.

Well, this isn’t rocket science but: (a1) the concern is how effective that demonization is; (a2) the key audience isn’t the Republican Gaurd or the guys throwing stones at Basiji complexes, but those who remain undecided about what to do; (b) calling attention to how your bleating is really over what, when it comes down to it, amounts to ineffectual posturing doesn’t exactly help your case; and (c) last time I checked, not only are Germany and the United States different countries, but Germany (c1) doesn’t routinely project power into the Middle East, (c2) doesn’t pursue a containment policy against Iran, (c3) didn’t orchestrate a coup d’état against a man who is now revered Iranian hero, and (c4) wasn’t the key backer of a reviled Iranian dictator.

Recall when George Bush tried to send encouraging words to Iranian liberals? That didn’t work out so well.

2. Or is it an outlook on international politics that treats foreign policy as an extension of the O’Reilly Factor? I don’t think one needs to be a hard-core advocate of realpolitik to recognize that consequences matter, that the US will often need to deal with unsavory people, and that the “game” isn’t won by shouting the loudest. In fact, that route has cost us a great deal of influence in the world of late.

I know that neoconservatives and their fellow travelers see moral and military strength as mutual force multipliers; for them, Reagan “won the Cold War” by speaking loudly and carrying a big stick.

But even if that were true, most of those who Reagan provided moral encouragement to when he called out the Soviet Union were themselves victims of Soviet imperial domination. The Eastern Europeans firmly associated communism with control by a foreign power, and liberal democracy with national self-determination.

At the risk of repetition, things in the Middle East just aren’t that simple. The last round of imperialism there was carried out by western democracies, and the taint of imperialism can easily discredit democracy.

So, at the end of the day, we need to remember that sometimes cautious statements don’t signal moral cowardice, but maturity. The US isn’t “losing standing” in the world because Obama fails to follow the example set by George W. Bush. Claiming that it is either amounts to a cynical attempt to score cheap points against the administration, or it reflects a narcissistic projection of what American movement conservatives think onto the rest of the world.

I think it is fair to say that if we’ve learned anything from the last eight years, it’s that views of American movement conservatives hardly represent mainstream global public opinion.

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