OxBlog

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

# Posted 9:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE MONDALE-DUKAKIS-CLINTON ERA: In the third chapter of The Good Fight, Peter Beinart marches onward with his history of how Americans lost confidence in the ability of the Democratic Party to stand up for their national security. (For earlier posts on The Good Fight, see here and here.)

Although Beinart's critics often bristle at his aggressive criticism of other liberals, Mondale and Dukakis have such solid reputations for failure that few liberals today have much interest in defending their records. What may provoke more resistance is Beinart's argument -- with which I agree -- that Democrats were just as bad on foreign policy in 1992 and 1996 but that they were able to take the White House because Americans stopped caring about foreign policy after winning the Cold War.

One thing that makes this chapter quite enjoyable is Beinart's sharp eye for quotations that illustrate just how radically liberal assumptions about politics and foreign policy have changed over just a few short years.

Three months after taking office, a frustrated Clinton complained to his staff that "foreign policy is not what I came here do." (p.80) No Democrat today would even think about saying those words. They would provide an immediate validation of GOP attacks on the Democratic Party as not to be trusted on national security.

And Clinton wasn't just mouthing off. His chief of staff warned his national security adviser "Don't take too much of [the president's] time." These days, even the most liberal Democrats assume that no one deserves a president's time more than his national security adviser.

Beinart goes on to observe that the Clinton of 1993 who wanted nothing to do with foreign affairs was very different from the Clinton who would leave office in 2001. Beinart's narrative of those years represents the standard "liberal interventionist" account of the era. Humiliated and paralyzed by Somalia and Rwanda, Clinton did nothing to stop a genocide and Rwanda and almost nothing to stop a genocide in Bosnia.

But the eventual decision to use force against the Serbs proved to be a turning point. When given a second chance during the conflict over Kosovo, Clinton and Albright understood that both principle and interest compelled them to use force early, before the slaughter had begun.

Clinton's painless victory in Kosovo ultimately softened memories of what was a bitter debate at the time, at least in Washington. Thanks in part to Iraq, we mostly think of Kosovo as war fought for an impeccable cause and fought with good judgment. Yet in 1999, Michael Moore wrote that:
"Clinton and his disgusting, hypocritical fellow Democrats who support him in this war [prove] there is little difference between the Democrats and the usually war-loving Republicans."
As they say, fish in a barrel.

But Beinart's position on Kosovo has some problems of its own. For Beinart, what makes Clinton's willingness to use force different from Bush's is that Clinton saw strong multilateral institutions as an indispensable companion to the use of force. If America was going to be more interventionist than before, it would require more legitimacy than before and would have to play by the same rules as other nations.

But if so, how could Clinton have gone to war in Kosovo without the support of the UN Security Council? According to Beinart, Clinton recognized that "conditioning US intervention on Security Council approval" was "a recipe for inaction". Instead, Clinton wanted to set up NATO as the arbiter of global legitimacy.

But can a military alliance of rich white democracies really provide the kind of global legitimacy that Beinart sees as indispensable? Kosovo was NATO's backyard, so the rest of the world didn't much care about its intervention.

But could NATO approval have won global support for the war in Iraq? Or a future intervention against Iran?

Would Beinart still see the war in Iraq as legitimate if France and Germany had given the green light? Does it matter than more than two-thirds of NATO governments supported the war? Would Beinart accept a world in which one or two NATO powers have a veto on American behavior?

These questions are worth asking because Beinart and other liberal hawks can only establish a clear middle ground between Howard Dean and George Bush by finding a source of international legitimacy other than the UN Security Council.

My advice for the liberal hawks, for whom I have considerable affection, is to seek legitimacy in principles, not in institutions. Say what is right and insist that America do it. If possible, assemble as broad a coalition as possible to support doing what is right. But don't be afraid to do what's right just because someone else won't go along.
(20) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
"But can a military alliance of rich white democracies really provide the kind of global legitimacy that Beinart sees as indispensable?"

Global legitimacy is a chimera, as it is dependent on the assent of regimes who are themselves illegitimate. Who voted the government of China into power? Who cares what the U.N. thinks? It is a corrupt house of cards, a stage for political kabuki.

The fact remains that the rich white democracies can do whatever they are able and willing to do. The EU, alas, is neither willing nor able to do anything. The United States, fortunately, is still able and, so far, willing to act on its behalf and those of other democracies -- rich, white or otherwise.

Defending the free world remains America's burden today, as it has been since 1945. The end of the Cold War changed nothing except the face of the enemy; fascism is fascism and anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, whether Nazi, Soviet or Islamic.
 
Are any nations besides the US supposed to be concerned with global opinion? Would France ever change policy to win the favor of the Eastern Europeans Chirac invited to shut up? Does Putin worry about the Arab Street when he mows down Chechen rebels?

What's a white democracy? Does Israel count? What about Iraq?
 
The actual difference between Kosovo and Iraq boils down to whether western Europe (specifically, France) approves of the use of force by the US. Russia and China would have vetoed either Kosovo or Iraq, had either come to a vote in the Security Council. The vote that flipped was France.

Culturally, a lot of blue state Americans seem to have an affinity for elite European opinion, so it is unsurprising to me that they would regard elite European opinion (as opposed to uncouth Americans of the red state variety) as the final word on whether any intervention is justified.
 
Wouldn't that final approach take away the Democrats' best arguments against these overseas military actions?

(Of course, for the liberal hawks, that's not a bug, it's a feature...)

Or should the liberal hawks become foreign policy Republicans?
 
The reason for obtaining "white European" consent (or "elite European" assent) is not because it is moral. It's important because it's more effective in the long run. Wesley Clark, one of the best liberal hawks out there, has made this point repeatedly. There are risks to getting a 15-nation organization to give unanimous consent to something. But the gains are that each of those nations then has a stake in the mission's success.

Contrast that with Iraq. The nations that did not participate - Germany, France and Russia - as well the more important pro-US Muslim nations like Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan - are STILL unwilling to help. In fact, it's the failure to get these other nations on board in the beginning that's left us flailing in the wing in Iraq. And even the European nations that did back us - like Netherlands, Denmark and Poland - have all since ended their commitments. If NATO had backed the war in Iraq, it would be much harder (not impossible mind you, but harder) for European nations like France to turn around and give up in the middle of a troubled reconstruction.

Afghanistan is a good example, actually. As the Taliban rises again in southern Afghanistan, NATO nations like Canada and Germany are redoubling their commitments - not backing away (despite some grumbling from constituents). Why? Not just because of the larger stakes, but because of the institutional legitimacy. It's hard to underestimate how important it is for politicians in these countries to go to their own constituents and say "We must honor our commitments to NATO." The United States, and especially the US of George W. Bush, commands none of that honor overseas.

So, yes, NATO matters. Permanent institutions are better than ad-hoc coalitions. That's not to say America must give up the prospect of ever acting alone. But people have long memories. The Perle method of ad-hoc coalitions has already made us weaker, even if it gave us short-term support for the occupation of southern Iraq.
 
In his second inaugural address, Clinton took a long view of American policy that it would be nice to hear about from today's Democrats: "And what a century it has been! America became the world's mightiest industrial power, saved the world from tyranny in two world wars and a long cold war, and time and again reached across the globe to millions who, like us, longed for the blessings of liberty." That view is a good foundation for a sensible foreign policy. It should be easy enough for today's Democrats to adopt it, but in general they seem too caught up in trying to bash Bush over Iraq to articulate their views in a broader and more worthwhile context.
 
Hi,

If I may be so bold as to add some thoughts as a novice in the midst of experts…

I think that it’s unfair to compare NATO in Kosovo to the notion of NATO in the Middle East. Even the neocon Kagan acknowledges that NATO had more “legitimacy” because it was acting in its own backyard.

Accordingly, it might be more fair to look at it as: international institutions/coalitions other than the UN can provide legitimacy, but their respective ability to provide such legitimacy may relate to their geopolitical influence. In other words, similar to the intervention by fellow European countries, the participation of Middle East countries, no matter how impractical it might seem now, might have been able to provide the legitimacy required for Iraq.

My advice for the liberal hawks, for whom I have considerable affection, is to seek legitimacy in principles, not in institutions.

That would be awesome, and several international lawyers might agree with you. I think, however, that fear of American dominance is the prevailing issue. The fear is that the US will and can act without the say of other countries and maybe even at the expense of other countries. How does one quell such fear? And should one worry about it?
 
cdntarheel,
NATO actually does operate outside the "North Atlantic." For example, Afghanistan is a NATO operation. It wouldn't be farfetched for NATO to get involved in Iraq.
 
Elrod,

Thanks, but I understand that. In fact, I guess I was unclear because that's not what I was trying to say at all.

Rather I was suggesting that NATO is not the only alternative, and that coalitions consisting of regional powers might be a better alternative when it comes to the Middle East. (Practicality aside)
 
You mean regional powers like Syria? Egypt? Saudi Arabia?

If the middle east were full of liberal democracries, that might work. But it isn't, which is why we are having this discussion in the first place.
 
Anon,

I don't know anything about you, but it's rather silly to suggest that the West can ONLY ally itself and build coalitions with liberal democracies. It's neither been the case historically, nor is it the case now. And yes, Saudia Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan have been "allies" of the US.

On a few side notes: Our so-called friends are part of the problem. According to FPP's terrorist index our allies in the region are also the greatest producers of international terrorists. Moreover,
the continued Taliban teachings in Pakistan are providing a continued stream of new recruits that Canadian forces are perpetually fighting in southern Afghanistan.

Additionall, the two liberal democracies in the region (Israel & Turkey) are allied with the West. And Lebanon had such promise, but that was shot to hell (literally).

Those two side points are nice but the real issue appears to be dealing with the fear of American dominance. One proposal has been multilateralism, but that has serious limits. There's no need to put more limits on it by constricting multilateralism to NATO and the UN.

And if there's another way to assuage this fear of American dominance, please let me know.
 
I largely agree with what Elrod says, with a quibble that Germany, at least, IS helping in Iraq by training police, IIUC, outside the country. Not all help is boots on the ground.

I agree of course that we dont ALWAYS need to ally only with liberal democracies. But when a key strategic goal is the development of democratic institutions (as it is in Iraq)primary reliance on an bloc focused on Egypt and Saudi would be highly problematic.
 
I think there's another key element, which should be discussed - that of motive. Why did the US invade Iraq? Much of the rhetoric going forward surrounded WMDs. Later it changed to spreading democracy.

What does this have to do with multilateralsim? If the motive was about WMDs, then the presence liberally democractic allies is less of an issue. If the motive was about spreading democracy, then it's more important. It goes to credibility.

This differs from my original comment wich was directed at the post above. My remarks were directed at limiting multilateralism to only NATO and the UN. And they suggested that the presence of regional allies may add to legitimacy.

I would add as an observation that much of the discussion following the original post surrounds European opinion. The opinion of rich European countries carries only so much weight when it comes to other regions of the world. It can be an important factor, but I wonder if the support of regional powers may be increasingly more important than before. Just a thought.
 
cdntarheel:

The only actual way to assuage fears of the dominance of any country is to rival its power directly. Anything else is nothing more than an appeal to conscience and self-restraint. If countries seriously feared the US, they would seriously attempt to rival its power. While it may be the case that some countries (e.g. Iran) exhibit that symptom, other countries (e.g. those in Western Europe, Canada, and elsewhere in the western world, who spend a pathetic amount on defense) do not.

Thus, no matter how much we might be told they fear American power, their behavior objectively suggests that they don't. But what they do want is a veto on that power, and the ability to coopt it for their own purposes when it is useful to do so. A good example is the Balkans, where American power stopped a war on Europe's territory that Europe failed to stop. That is why the critical difference between Kosovo and Iraq was not a vote in the Secutiry Council because neither came to a vote. Russia and China opposed both interventions, but the difference is that one became acceptable because it was in France's interests, while the other was unacceptable because it was opposed by France as against French interests. It's not a question of structure, but of interests. The structure is just how those interests were channeled

This is all understandable and rational from the point of view of the actors involved, but where it gets interesting is when you look at the attitudes of American liberal opinion. They seem quite out of step with other Americans, but very in step with those whose interests are rationally opposed to the US. It's as though they are more confortable with non-Americans deciding American foreign policy than they are with their own countrymen deciding it -- at least, when the other party is in charge of the government. But then, a stong slice of American liberal opinion seems deeply conflicted by the idea of American power, and given their lack of success at the American ballot box, it is unsurprising they look to a culturally attractive (to liberal eyes) Europeto check it. They don't look to the authoritarian regimes in China or Russia, because those country's dominant politics don't have the same attraction to liberals or legitimacy in their eyes. So strip away all the idealism, and what you end up with is the view that interventions are OK providing European elites favor them (even if out of self interest), but are illegitimate if Europeans oppose it. Where once Europe had a dominance on the use of force by means of its power, it regains it by means of its influence. And with Europe, of course, those Americans who wish that those opinions popular in Europe would convince more Americans as well.
 
Hi Anon,

I appreciate the rational state actor theory. It’s cynical view reminds me of Robert Kagan’s book Of Paradise and Power, in which European countries “coopt” American power for their own interests and condemn such power when it runs counter to them. And I’m in inclined to buy into it somewhat.

With respect to your remarks about fear, however, I think that you’re interpretation of fear is related to hard power threats. For example, Iran might fear American military invasion. However, France and Canada do not realistically fear such measures. Rather countries like Canada and France fear the US going it alone militarily when it runs counter to their interests in those regions. But they think that there’s little need to have a huge military build-up to fight over areas of the globe like the Imperial powers of the 19th century.

What I do not understand is the immense focus on hard power. The US wields tremendous soft power through aid, diplomacy and most importantly its Wilsonian legacy. Why underestimate it. Not every problem must be solved with military might. To use Kagan’s words, “when you have a hammer, all problems tend to look like nails.” I’m not saying that military power is bad or that it isn’t necessary. Rather, I’m saying that there are various tools in the American tool kit.

Also, what I have trouble understanding is why multilateralism is ONLY viewed as bonds. It would seem that if the US can get others to chip in with the division of labour then it would be in American interest.

And as for crack at the liberals, usually I’d let that go, but I think I should add a few remarks. I’m certainly not suggesting that citizens of other countries decide the American fate. Such a suggestion simply goes too far. Rather liberals understand that there are many ways to skin a cat. The trick is knowing when to use what tool. Military intervention is only one way of doing things. Liberals also know that even though the US might constitute a benevolent elephant, it’s still heavy. They realize that it can actually create tension and make it more difficult for the US if it needlessly throws its weight around.

As I see it, the heart of the issue relates to resentment on both sides. American conservatives dislike the binds that other countries, namely Europe, tries to put on the US, largely because Europe does not help to foot the security bill (the military gap). And other countries resent what they view as an American cavalier attitude towards throwing its weight around.
 
I don't see how my comments about liberals constitutes a "crack." The post we are responding to concerns the need that liberal hawks have to find a source of international legitimacy for interventions, and that it seems to focus on what certain western European governments conclude is permissible without deference to our own government's conclusions. That is the subject, so it plainly invites speculation on what lies beneith it.

I think it is a fair observation to point out that American conservatives by and large would not suffer this dilemma -- even, I suspect, when they don't like the president of the day. American conservatives would be much more likely to find legitimacy in the US constitution, as well as in US interests without the need to sample world opinion. So it is not a crack to point out a genuine difference in assumptions, especially when it leads to such radically different decisions.

I think my remarks also support a conclusion that the desire of liberals to see US policy checked by foreign governments is pretty strongly linked to whether or not liberals are in or out of power in the US at the time. Since it has happened before, it is likely that at some future time a Democrat will be in the White House and will find himself at odds with Europe over some issue. I'm sure then it will be easier for liberals to embrace the value of American independence, and distance themselves from international received opinion when that is the case. After all, liberals managed to support the Clinton Administration when it criticized the land mine treaty, declined to attempt to ratify Kyoto, and so on. Politics often trumps consistency.

That being so, I wonder whether this whole subject is looking in the wrong place. The question isn't how liberal hawks can find international legitimacy for interventions, it is how they can explain to their non-hawkish liberal friends how they can find themselves out on the same side of an issue as non-liberal hawks. It is a sad commentary on partisanship that this is even an issue.
 
Hi Anon,

I did not mean to offend by labeling your remark as a “crack”. I enjoy reading this blog because fellow readers are generally cordial to one another and present good cases even when they disagree.

With that said, your remarks about liberals are completely presumptuous. They presume that liberals do not believe in the American constitution or its own political institutions. More importantly, they presume that liberals hold foreign interests higher than American ones.

Instead, liberal believe it to be in American interest to remain cognizant of attitudes in other countries, namely allies. And that it is not in American interest to brush them aside.

Moreover, liberals understand that there are very real and practical limits in trying to bring other countries on side. So, they recognize the need to for unilateralism in given circumstances. But liberals have trouble understanding the stereotypical conservative tendency to write off diplomacy and soft power.

Excuse the metaphor, but when it comes to foreign affairs I tend to think of conservatives as John Adams and liberals as Ben Franklin. John Adams was efficient and urged one way or the other for France to intervene in the American Revolution. Ben Franklin had much more patience for the diplomatic niceties and flirtations. But both were patriots.

Your observation of liberal hawks and moderate conservatives seems to illustrate the nature of the political centre. I have found it just as difficult debating with the perfectionist Left as with the non-centrist conservatives. On both sides of the Left-Right continuum, one can find those who push for isolationist tendencies and those who know that world engagement is the way to go.
 
On one level, the problem is that the real criticism is tough to fit in a sound bite. Here's the problem with Bush diplomacy, from my perspective as a Beinart Democrat:

We can win wars without France and Germany. Wars can be legitimate without France, Germany, or the thugs that run the United Nations. But it's less likely, and will cost us more money and more precious lives. Consequently, there's a serious problem with letting the coalition you have be dramatically different than the coalition you want - a failure of diplomacy, leadership, etc. Poland and Canada aren't good enough. We need to make it work, and to settle for the alliance we settled for is bad for our national security.

Now, say the Admin fails to put the coalition together to prevent a nuclear Iran by force. They shouldn't compound the mistake by letting Iran go nuclear... but they shouldn't get a free pass on the failure, either.

In that sense, whether NATO was enough in Kosovo doesn't affect whether it's enough in Iraq. It's not about the moral legitimacy of the conflict - it's about whether you're good enough at the job of diplomacy to protect our interests by getting a coalition that is enough.
 
To the last comment, I am reminded of an exchange I had with Sandy Berger, just before his legal woes became public. At the time he was working on the Kerry campaign. He spoke to a group that included me, and described how Kerry belived he could get our allies -- specifically, Germany, and maybe France -- who had opposed the war in Iraq to contribute and lessen the need for American soldiers in Iraq. This in effect was Kerry's argument why it was strategically necessary to the war in Iraq to change presidents.

That sounded very attractive to many, but during the question and answer session, I asked Berger exactly which forces would our allies supply? Germany has virtually no power projection capability. In fact, of all our NATO allies, only France and Britain have any ability to move their forces overseas without US (and in many case, Ukrainian) logistics. Britian is straining to keep what forces it already has deployed. France at the time had several existing commitments. Germany had trouble moving heavy forces by train to Kosovo, which is in Europe, and has only light forces in Afghanistan. Those light German forces were flown there by the Ukranians and they are supported by the mostly US logistical train. In fact, NATO throghout the Cold War and into the presence always relied overwhelmingly on US logistics. So I asked him how many forces we really could expect to replace Americans? In other words, would their footprint be real, or just symbolic?

Berger didn't have a good answer to this. He sort of looked at the ground and shuffled his feet. His only concrete response was that our European allies were able to send several thousand troops to Greece to protect the Olympics! I didn't have to point out the obvious difference between sending troops armed with, at most, small arms by commercial jet to Athens and the logistical difficulty with sending an army to fight in Iraq.

The reality is that our allies do not have the capability to make a significant difference to the need for US troops in Iraq. They could maybe send some light infantry, but the heavy forces and vast logistical train would remain American. So while you can make successful (if not always convincing) arguments about the symbolic value of alliances in a soft-power sense, the hard power reality is not there. Even Turkey's last minute denial of territorial rights made little difference in the long run. That reality which is not going to change unless our allies reverse decades of defense policy is why we should not forget that alliances are means to an end, not an end in themselves.
 
Hi Anon,

I've found our discussion interesting. I will think about your comments. In the meantime, I'd invite you to read Michael Ignatieff's foreign policy for Canada. He's in the Liberal leadership race coming up this December. Iggy's a bit of a wonk, but he gives the impresison of having it more together than Peter MacKay, the current Min. of Foreign Affairs, who's meeting with Condi next week.
 
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