Sunday, July 09, 2006

# Posted 12:20 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE COMMENTARY OF THE LEFT: OxBlog welcomes to life Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. According to some involved with its birth, Democracy aspires to become the liberal version of Commentary. In other words, it hopes to become a breeding ground for ideas capable of animating a national movement.

One of the featured essays in the first issue of Democracy is by Michael Signer of Democracy Arsenal (which is unrelated despite the similarity of its name). The title of Mike's essay is "A City on a Hill" and its ambitious purpose is to elaborate a new foreign policy doctrine capable of restoring the Democrats' reputation as reliable defenders of our national security.

A few months ago, Mike was kind enough to send me a draft of his essay. Less kindly, I let the draft get lost in my inbox and never got around to reading it before its publication. So Mike, I'm sorry. I hope that some belated commentary can compensate for my lethargy.

The framework Mike lays out for understanding current debates about foreign policy provides a solid foundation for analysis. In the United States, there are three doctrines that command a significant amount of support among policymakers: realism, liberalism and neo-conservatism. None is fully satisfying, however, because none of them integrates all three elements of a successful foreign policy: power, morality and prestige (aka legitimacy). Or as Mike puts it:
Ideological blind spots...have plagued [the] dominant foreign-policy paradigms. In recent years, liberals have underestimated the importance of U.S. primacy, realists have ignored the power of moral idealism, and neoconservatives have scoffed at the necessity of prestige.
One might take issue with those characterizations, but I won't do so at the moment. In response to the shortcomings of the prevailing doctrines, Mike elaborates an alternative known as "exemplarism". He writes that:
The idea of exemplarism is uniquely American–and recognizes America’s singular status–while providing a vision of how a superpower can lead a multipolar world of interdependent nations.
So what is this new doctrine? Stated briefly, it is the belief that:
As the world’s superpower, we must fully engage in the world, actively leading and shaping it, if we are to improve it. And we must do so in a way that recognizes the interdependence of the current age.
Mike's preferred metaphor for understanding this situation is that of a quarterback's relationship to the rest of his team: "He leads by example, but it’s the team that wins the game, not the quarterback. And he grows stronger, through the collective success of others."

The first question that comes to mind is how this approach is any different from the Clinton/Albright vision of America is the "indispensable nation". Mike even mentions this idea explicitly as one that is fully compatible with his own. But if Clinton and Albright got it right ten years ago, why do we need a new doctrine now? Did the Democratic party reject their vision after they left office? Or if the Democrats still subscribe to the Clinton/Albright doctrine, why is the party so divided when it comes to foreign policy?

I don't believe Mike answers these questions in his essay. Instead, I would argue that his idea of exemplarism has all of the same shortcomings as the Clinton/Albright approach. To their credit, Clinton (post-1996) and Albright recognized the importance of morality, of power and of legitimacy. But they never came close to reconciling the conflicts between the three.

I would argue that Mike's analysis of the genocide in Darfur and the invasion of Iraq illustrate how exemplarism fails to recognize the conflict between its three components. With regard to Darfur, Mike criticizes the Bush administration for its inaction while suggesting that America should deploy troops to Darfur as a part of a multilateral force.

But a multilateral force authorized by whom? The UN Security Council? Does anyone expect China and/or Russia to support such a motion? But if we go in without UN support, why is exemplarism any different from neo-conservatism?

In other words, it's Kosovo all over again. Mike praises the Kosovo war in passing, but never stops to analyze how it reflected the inherent tensions within the Clinton/Albright doctrine. Was it wrong to go in without UN support? Or was it OK since France and Germany were on our side? Keep that question in mind as we turn to Iraq. Mike asks:
Would exemplarism have allowed the United States to lead an effort to topple Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq? The answer is an emphatic yes–though on a different set of prerequisites.

Exemplarism never would have imposed a "global test" for military action, because that would undermine exemplarism itself; in order to lead, the United States must maintain the ability to defend its relative power position unilaterally. But exemplarism would have required American policymakers to weigh more seriously unilateralism’s impact on our standing in the global community.
"To weigh more seriously" is an empty criterion. Does it mean that if Bush and Cheney were more anxious about the absence of UN support it would've been OK to invade Iraq without it? Or does it mean that they wouldn't have invaded without UN approval? But wouldn't the need for UN approval constitute a "global test"?

The issue with regard to Iraq is exactly the same as it is with regard to Darfur and to Kosovo. When America has the power to go it alone but the rest of the world refuses to go along, what should America do? That was the question Clinton and Albright could never answer. If exemplarism wants to succeed where they failed, that is the quesiton it must answer.
(6) opinions -- Add your opinion

Madam, I’d challenge you to a battle of wits, but you appear to be unarmed!
I think the conventional defense of Kosovo isn't that unilateralism and/or "coalitions of the willing" are acceptable, but that NATO is an legitimate substitute for the UN. This isn't that indefensible; NATO is composed of democracies, which gives it greater legitimacy than the UN.
I agree with minipundit. I think we have a tendency to reduce neo-conservatism to any form of US power with UN backing. In actuality, neo-conservatism believes in ad hoc coalitions at the expense of any and all permanent organizations. If we can get UN or NATO approval, great. But we don't need it as long as we can create a workable coalition, so the neo-cons argue. The problem with this approach is that countries have long memories. The process of including Britain, Italy and Australia, and excluding Canada, Germany and France was not an easy one. The next time we need to create an ad hoc coalition, we'll likely find the anti-war countries still opposing us, while the pro-war countries will demur. Permanent institutions like the UN and NATO are very imperfect and often corrupt. But for all their faults, they have enormous legitimacy in much of the world. NATO is a widely accepted alternative to the UN when the usual suspects with the UN renege on obvious commitments to human rights (by "usual suspects" I mean China and Russia, old enemies of the US, not France and Germany, old allies, even if imperfect ones. Afghanistan is a perfect example. With NATO imprimatur, France, Canada and Germany fight alongside the US, Britain and Australia against the Taliban. NATO might back action in Darfur. NATO might have eventually backed an invasion of Iraq if Bush had let the inspections play out and they found hard evidence of WMD.
So if France and Germany had supported the US invasion of Iraq, would (most) American liberals have supported it at the time?

It is a question that cannot be answered, but that is the clear implication of the argument that NATO can supply the same legitimacy at the UN.

And although the answer is elusive, I don't recall anyone on the left saying in March 2003 that if France and Germany signed on, the Security Council wouldn't matter.
I have already left a comment at the Democracy Journal site, so I won't say much here. But at bottom, Signer's Exemplarism isn't any sort of foreign policy "doctrine" at all. The essay consists only of some vague reminders of the importance of certain kinds of means in foreign policy - e.g. the usefulness of prestige and admiration - and draws some supposed contrasts with archetypal stock characters named "Realist", "Progressive" and "Neoconservative" regarding the relative importance of those means. But there is no discussion at all of the ends of foreign policy.

The essay reminds me of one of those numerous, vapid exercises in learned eloquence produced by the Italian humanists. The entire discussion talks place in an erudite, nebulous dreamworld abstracted from any analysis of concrete glogal circumstances and conflicting human aims.

The decline of scientific and analytic thinking among the foreign policy establishment of the Democrats, in favor of this sort of effete literary maundering, is in my opinion one of the main reasons for the recent enfeeblement of the left.
David - you're confusing things. Liberals didn't oppose the war in Iraq only because there wasn't UN or NATO backing. They also opposed it because they simply didn't see its necessity. These are two separate issues entirely: first, whether a war has international legitimacy, and second, whether it's a good idea. In the scenario you propose, the war would have legitimacy (assuming that the French and German backing translates into this being a NATO operation), but it still wouldn't have been a smart choice, for reasons that are clearly evident now.
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