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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

American foreign policy "Beyond Bush" 


Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria has a wide-ranging, optimistic and largely non-partisan essay on the posture that he believes the United States should adopt after the Bush administration leaves office. I encourage you to read it all and discuss it in the comments.

My first reaction is that I substantially agree with Zakaria, even as I do not agree with certain of his underlying assumptions. For instance, Zakaria assumes -- without saying as much -- that domestic terror attacks will not involve weapons that are capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people. He needs this assumption because he believes that the economic and social costs of interdicting domestic terror attacks are too high. Zakaria argues instead that we should focus on building our resilience to domestic terrorism attacks rather than interdicting them. Well, that may be sensible if the worst possible result is bombs going off in shopping malls and on trains. But what if there is a genuine risk that terrorists might detonate a nuclear weapon in a major American city? If we assume instead that there is, say, a 10% chance of Islamist terrorists setting a nuclear weapon off in downtown Washington or lower Manhattan at some point in the next ten years, do we all still want to rely on our resilience? Remember, that was precisely the sincerely-held fear of the Bush administration in the months following September 11.

Similarly, Zakaria calls for a significant reduction in force in Iraq. He argues for this because he believes -- correctly -- that Iraq is distracting us from many other pressing issues in the world. In order to sustain this argument, though, he has to assume that Iraq's troubles will stay within Iraq. That assumption is highly suspect, contested as it is by a great many people who originally opposed the invasion to remove Saddam. To them, the most likely scenario is "Iraq Plus," meaning that things can get much worse and spread beyond Iraq's borders:

Consider Brent Scowcroft, dean of the Realist School, who openly opposed the war from the outset and was a lead skeptic of the president's democracy-building agenda. In a recent Financial Times interview, he succinctly summed up the implication of withdrawal: "The costs of staying are visible; the costs of getting out are almost never discussed. If we get out before Iraq is stable, the entire Middle East region might start to resemble Iraq today. Getting out is not a solution."

And here is retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, former Centcom Commander and a vociferous critic of what he sees as the administration's naïve and one-sided policy in Iraq and the broader Middle East: "When we are in Iraq we are in many ways containing the violence. If we back off we give it more room to breathe, and it may metastasize in some way and become a regional problem. We don't have to be there at the same force level, but it is a five- to seven-year process to get any reasonable stability in Iraq."

A number of Iraq's Sunni Arab neighbors also opposed the war as well as the U.S. push for liberalizing the region's authoritarian governments. Yet they now backchannel the same two priorities to Washington: Do not let Iran acquire nukes, and do not withdraw from Iraq.

A senior Gulf Cooperation Council official told me that "If America leaves Iraq, America will have to return. Soon. It will not be a clean break. It will not be a permanent goodbye. And by the time America returns, we will have all been drawn in. America will have to stabilize more than just Iraq. The warfare will have spread to other countries, governments will be overthrown. America's military is barely holding on in Iraq today. How will it stabilize 'Iraq Plus'?" (Iraq Plus is the term that some leaders in Arab capitals use to describe the region following a U.S. withdrawal.)

I heard similar warnings made repeatedly on a recent trip to almost every capital in the Persian Gulf -- to some of America's closest allies and hosts of our military.

All of that said, Zakaria's big theme -- that both Democrats and Republicans have to break free of their cramped, fearful view of the world -- is right on target. Read the whole thing, and take me down in the comments.

CWCID: Ezra Klein.

15 Comments:

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Tue Jun 05, 03:55:00 PM:

A competently planned/executed infrastructure sabotage campaign could make a single nuke seem desirable.

Every day I give thanks that terrorists are largely incompetent.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 05, 05:11:00 PM:

I'm sorry, TH, but Zakaria's essay is full of the same cliches and sweeping indictments that pervade the intellectual class analysis of "the world today". All the same base assumptions that lead to a chronically stunted and simplistic world view. Where's the nuance?
Bush has 'squandered' decades of good will (yeah, sure; he invented Putin and Chirac, and scripted their speeches, all by himself); 'fear and anger' dominate the news, etc., etc.
Well, I grew up in America, and was 26 years old when Mr Zakaria rolled in, and my perspective is quite different. But then, I don't have a blog, or am a widely syndicated columnist like Mr. Zakaria, so what do I know, or how meaningless must my opinion be?

So why did you approvingly link to his essay and then have the extended comment embedded in your entry about us staying to 'stabilize' Iraq? It's either one or the other, isn't it?

It can't be both.

-David  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 05, 05:15:00 PM:

Sorry, I see nothing but five pages of platitudes.

The only unifying theme seems to be that Zakaria likes Obama.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Jun 05, 05:39:00 PM:

One need not be a Bush-hater to recognize that he has not gone out of his way to conserve and build American "soft power". Indeed, whether or not there was good will to "squander," there is no doubt that anti-Americanism is greater in most of the world today than it was in 2000 or even the winter of 2001-2002. In some countries, it is so great that leaders who would otherwise be disposed to help us have to do so secretly for fear of political backlash. That is not a good situation, and it is hardly platitudinous to make the point.

Bush, unfortunately, cannot repair the situation either domestically or abroad. He lacks the strategic vision and the ability to communicate it. The whole world is in a holding pattern waiting for the next American administration, and our enemies are taking advantage of that fact.

That said, I agree with Zakaria in a critical sense -- things are not nearly as bad as the candidates of both parties argue they are. The truth is, the current crop of presidential candidates are exceedingly negative and dark. The Republicans are defending the Bush record rather than offering a better strategy for foreign policy, and the Democrats are attacking the Bush record. Nobody yet is offering an optimistic vision of the future, either in foreign policy or for the United States in general. That's the legacy of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy, and all the Republicans who claim to be the former and the Democrats who wish to be the latter seem to have missed that.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Tue Jun 05, 08:39:00 PM:

I remarked on our blog that I was disappointed in the terrorists.

I followed by saying that I really didn't want them to get away with murdering our citizens but that it seemed to me that they were not as effective as an average group of thugs would be if they had the money to accomplish it.

We all know that Hamas and Hezbolla have the money and we all know that aQ has the money, so what is the deal?

Now you muddy the waters by wanting to know if we should be on the offensive or defensive (or at least that is how I see the question).

Right now, even when the port security is beefed up, we have more holes in our security here at home than a piece of swiss cheeze. With the biggest holes of course being our northern and southern borders, and we have a President and Congress that doesn't seem to care.

If we do have a nuke set off, the least of our worries will be radiation or blast damage. The real damage will be economic.

Blowing up American citizens in the mall, at the ball games and at other public gatherings won't galvanize Americans to actually want to kill somebody. We have been socialised, pussified and quantified so much in the last fifty years that everyone will continue to think "It won't happen to me".

Like being killed in a car wreck.

We lose 38 to 40 thousand Americans a year to car accidents and untold thousands injured, yet everyone continues to drive because "It won't happen to me."

Like I said, I'm disappointed in the expertise of the terrorists. But I am in no hurry (should I be?) for them to suceed.

Maybe we stand a better chance of being taken over from within by the Mexicans, Islamics or the Socialists.

What do you think?

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Jun 05, 09:09:00 PM:

Zakaria is a fool, who does not understand America because he is not of it. He states that he came to this country in 1982, as an immigrant, so you can take to the bank he has his own interests at heart (his clan, family, tribe) not America.

Zakaria writ large (clan/family based) is exactly what is wrong with the rest of the world and WHY they hate us. OF COURSE they want to kill us. They say so over and over and over again: Hezbollah, Ahmadinejad, Khomeni, Khameni, Rafsanjani (the moderate), Osama, Zawahari, Azzam the American, etc.

Clan/family/tribe particularly in the Islamic guise can not co-exist with America. One must destroy the other. America stands for making it on your own, forget tribe/family/clan. Osama-Obama stand for clan/tribe/family and religion. And yes Obama stands for much of what (though not all) of what Osama says.

Zakaria is also a fool in this way: US Muslims hate America just as much as Osama does. The Fort Dix Six, the JFK Plotters, the Lackawanna, Lodi, and Vienna VA cells planning to kill masses of Americans are proof of that.

Zakaria is also a fool this way: Americans expect not to be killed by terrorists. If the Liberal Elites like Zakaria (note: an immigrant) expect Americans will simply sit back and accept more terror attacks, they have another thing coming. A spate of Beslans and such without someone getting nuked and Muslims getting rounded up will, unless Americans turned into feminized Frenchmen, start vigilante action on their own.

Mosques burned down, vigilance committees conducting "investigations" etc. People will not put up with Israeli-style terrorism, they'll simply start killing Muslims.

The only reason this has not happened is that the US Government realized the danger of the vacuum (it always gets filled) and stepped in. With wiretaps and all sorts of other measures.

You have a lot of men and women, who have their own property, are used to acting for themselves, don't work for the government or depend on it's handouts, and Zakaria expects them to "take it" when a Beslan style attack happens week after week?

That's a big sign saying the Government can't take care of job #1, so maybe you should act without the government in all other areas too. Fine for Zakaria who likely styles himself "a citizen of the world" ... his attitude as a foreigner is certainly not that of a real, patriotic populist. Who puts the safety and security of the American people over the feelings and desires of foreigners.

Do I care if Pakistan, a loathsome pit of ignorance and filth, gang rape as "justice" to give one example, loves America? No. They're scum anyway. Do I want them to be damn afraid of us if they get caught conspiring to hurt us? Damn straight.

Unfortunately the transnational elite like Zakaria has a stranglehold on the media, politics, and business, so we will just wait until a few cities are nuked or we have a campaign to enact a Beslan a week or so, and then we'll be forced to nuke the hell out of a lot of people.

Instead of kicking ass demonstrably to stave off any attacks. "Look this could happen to you."

Tigerhawk -- people are afraid to help Uncle Sam because hard men like Osama live down the street and can kill them. The only way that changes is if Uncle Sam is more scary, so scary that the Ruler kills Osama down the street on his own.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Tue Jun 05, 09:58:00 PM:

The idea that resilience can replace interdiction is utter foolishness. We have seen this happen in Israel over and over. Well, they will keep coming until it bothers us. If we do not interdict them they will keep coming until we can't take it anymore. When they exersized restraint (as in Gaza right now) the bombs and missiles kept coming. It was only when they put a wall and aggressively went after the terrorists did things change. Outside of Sderot, life in Israel is normal, it wasn't 4 years ago. Eventually you have to act.

That being said, long term trends in the world are going our way and we ought to realize that. Domestically we are doing very well and the prospects for the future ar e bright.

The last thing that really sticks in my craw is this idea that anti-Americanism somehow became a problem with George Bush. By the time Clinton left office anti-Americanism had already become enough of a problem that bin Laden could expect that the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon would be widely applauded.

I don't think much of Bush, but there is something else at work.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Tue Jun 05, 10:02:00 PM:

It is hard to proofread comments in the small window provided. What I meant to write was the resilience argument is basically saying "We won't stop them from killing us, but we won't let it bother us. That will show them."

First of all, if you do not interdict, there will be more and more attacks until it does bother you. This is what happened in Israel in 2002. Once they after the terrorists in Jenin and Nablus the number of attacks went way down. Once they built the wall, they practically stopped.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Jun 05, 10:21:00 PM:

I am also unsure of the notion that Bush has worsened our standing in "the world." We are much better liked in India - there's a billion people right there. We have worse standing at the UN and with the Western European elites (all right, that is redundant). Beyond that it is a mixed bag: some places better, some worse, mostly the same.  

By Blogger antithaca, at Tue Jun 05, 10:35:00 PM:

"Some of foreign policy is what we do, but some of it is also who we are."

Nevermind the influence of...you know...foreigners on foreign events/policy.

And I still don't understand how one can reconcile the urge to "let events in Iraq play themselves out" while obeying the imperative to intervene in Darfur.

Anyway, this discussion of "resilience" makes me think: The way for America to restore itself is for it to "take its lumps".  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 06, 12:38:00 AM:

More of the rank and smell from NEWSREEK  

By Blogger Georg Felis, at Wed Jun 06, 02:48:00 PM:

If we're so despised in the world, then why are they all trying to move here?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jun 06, 03:23:00 PM:

Very surprised that TH reviews this piece favorably...

Seemed to me that Zakaria decided to save time by mailing in the draft of an Obama position paper in lieu of writing his assigned weekly piece. Why schlep?

I guess this is what to expect from a coincident indicator like Newsweek. The piece is mainly useful for laying out the conventional wisdom of the respectable Left circa June 2007.

The pricipal weakness of his piece is that it does not anticipate how much the situation will change with the proposed course in Iraq, the soon-to-be nuclear Iran, etc. It is remarkably static view of what is a highly fluid, dynamic and dangererous environment.

b/t/w, I am certainly in favor of retaliating against Hamburg, Madrid and Trenton, whether or not any attacks were planned there.  

By Blogger Unknown, at Thu Jun 07, 12:13:00 AM:

Regarding our standing the world, since we invaded Iraq, Canada, Germany and France elected governments more friendly to the US.
On the other hand, Spain and Italy, that joined us, elected governments less friendly.

Perhaps our standing has not declined seriously. Our allies that did not join us still understand the problem we are facing, while those that joined are regretting following our lead.  

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