OxBlog

Friday, November 14, 2003

# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

JOSH MARSHALL IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS: It looks like Generation X is taking over the foreign policy establishment. Too bad FA doesn't print author photos, otherwise Josh's oh-too-stylish headshot from the TPM website could have livened up the pages of that august publication. Anyhow, what's going on in is that FA has published Josh's review of Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay's "America Unbound", a mildly critical account of the Bush administration's foreign policy by a pair of scholars at the Brookings Institution.

While endorsing the standard multilateralist critique that Daalder and Lindsay advocate, Marshall takes them to task for underestimating the neo-con influence on Bush's foreign policy. As Marshall writes,
The "neocons," they say -- referring to them as "democratic imperialists" -- may be powerful at magazines such as The Weekly Standard and think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, but key movement figures such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle actually missed out on the top appointments. Those plums went to people such as Cheney, Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who the authors claim are more properly classified as "assertive nationalists."
I think "assertive nationalists" is a pretty good way to describe them, with the exception of Rice, who is a dyed-in-the-wool realist. While Marshall shares that assessment of Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., he counters that
The defining characteristic of the Bush administration's foreign policy, in fact, has been the way the neocons in and out of office have been able to win so many of the key battles -- if not on the first go-round, then on the second or the third...

At the Pentagon, for example, Rumsfeld may have played the key part in internal debates over defense transformation, but on foreign policy issues, his neocon lieutenants, Wolfowitz and Feith, were decisive, and managed to secure nearly total control of all aspects of policy surrounding the war and the subsequent occupation.
And what is it that differentiates a neo-conservative policy from an assertive nationalist one? Marshall's answer is that,
Although it is the sworn enemy of realism, neoconservatism has never been and is not now limited to one particular foreign policy school. It is a protean construct centering on a belief in the righteousness of American power, the wonder-working qualities of bold gestures, and an unwillingness to muddle through.
Righteous power? Bold gestures? That sounds like....assertive nationalism. According to the conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle, what separates neo-conservatism from assertive nationalism is its hopeful vision of a global democratic revolution. Yet Marshall dismisses this distinction on the grounds that too many neo-conservatives showed too much sympathy for too many right-wing Third World dictators back in the 1980s.

That point is a fair one. Yet it completely ignores the transformation -- better, purification -- of neo-conservatism that began during Reagan's second term and accelerated during the aftermath of the Cold War. Moreover, it prevents Marshall from emphasizing the best evidence for his theory of neo-con dominance, i.e. the ideologically-charged occupation of Iraq.

Strangely, Marshall insists on
the essential continuity of the administration's policy before and after September 11, 2001. The attacks on that day allowed President Bush to refashion American foreign policy in a far bolder and more audacious fashion than otherwise would have been possible, the authors argue, but in fact the administration's essential goals, premises, and assumptions changed very little.
But what about the pronounced aversion to nation-building that defined Bush's foreign policy on the campaign trail? Surely the simplest explanation for his about face on this issue is the influence of the neo-conservatives.

Ultimately, Marshall's hands are tied by his unwillingness to acknowledge that intellectually dishonest neo-conservatives could be the driving force behind a morally progressive international agenda such as global democracy promotion. While there is no direct evidence of this in Marshall's review of America Unbound, it is a point that will be familiar to those who have read "Practive to Deceive" Marshall's anti-neo-con polemic in the Washington Monthly or to those who visit his website on a regular basis.

When it comes down it, Marshall is right that the neo-cons credibility is on the line in Iraq and that its success or failure will have a tremendous impact on their reputation. Yet that suggestion only makes sense if one gives the neo-cons credit for giving the occupation of Iraq its moral foundation, regardless of whether the implementation of their vision was competent enough to ensure its fruition.
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