Wednesday, January 12, 2005

# Posted 2:08 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GRAND STRATEGY 101: If you have enjoyed OxBlog's occasional rumblings about American grand strategy or the lack thereof, then the one you should really be thanking is John Gaddis, who taught me almost everything I know about that subject.

If you think OxBlog's occasional pronouncements about American grand strategy are a load of misguided and pretentious balderdash, then you should hold Prof. Gaddis directly responsible, because he encourages his students to grapple with the Big Questions that that supposedly must be answered only by those the well-groomed experts over at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Anyhow, for the moment, I will spare you from any further ramblings on my part, since Prof. Gaddis's own thoughts on American grand strategy can be found in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. (But I won't spare you from my commentary on his thoughts!)

Here's what I found toe be the most thought-provoking paragraph in Prof. Gaddis' essay:
And what if the United States, despite its best efforts, ultimately fails in Iraq? It is only prudent to have plans in place in case that happens. The best one will be to keep Iraq in perspective. It seems to be the issue on which everything depends right now, just as Vietnam was in 1968. Over the next several years, however, President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger showed that it was possible to "lose" Vietnam while "gaining" China. What takes place during the second Bush term in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, and especially the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may well be as significant for the future of the Middle East as what occurs in Iraq. And what happens in China, India, Russia, Europe, and Africa may well be as important for the future of the international system as what transpires in the Middle East. All of which is only to say that Iraq must not become, as Vietnam once was, the single lens through which the United States views the region or the world
This one paragraphs slices though the conventional wisdom of our day like a hot knife through butter. While our strategic commitment to Iraq forces us to treat the situation there as a constant priority, the instransigence of both the war on the ground and the partisan divide at home means that the greatest opportunities for progress may lie elsewhere.

The elsewheres that seems most important to me fall into two categories. First, aspiring nuclear states such as Iran and North Korea. Second, pro-Western Arab dictatorships such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Gaddis himself points to the importance of the first category, writing that
The Bush team made the worst of Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD, while making the best of the more credible capabilities Iran and North Korea have been developing. Whatever the reasons behind this disparity, it is not sustainable. For even if the United States should succeed in Iraq, its larger strategy will have failed if it produces a nuclear-capable Iran or North Korea, and those countries behave in an irresponsible way.
That being the case, one might hope that Prof. Gaddis would have something more specific to say about what exactly we should do about Iran and North Korea. Not that I have any answers myself, but the thing about grand strategists is that their (our?) global prescriptions don't mean much if you can't apply to them to specific cases, especially hard ones.

Although Prof. Gaddis doesn't make specific comments about Egypt and Saudi Arabia, I think they are pivotal states because the first objection always raised to George Bush's vision of a democratic Middle East is that the US supports some of its most backwards dictatorships. Once again, I don't have specific ideas about what to do here. However, my suspicion is that there is a lot more room for American pressure and Egyptian/Saudi compromise than currently thought possible.

Part of what informs this suspicion is an analogy, like Prof. Gaddis, to a situation faced by an earlier Republican president at the beginning of his second term. Twenty years ago, Ronald Reagan considered the Philippines, South Korea and Chile as critical bulwarks against the expansion of global communism. Yet during his second term, the Reagan administration -- sometimes over the objections of the President himself -- did quite a lot to push all three of those dictatorships toward dramatic, democratic openings.

It's hard to say whether Prof. Gaddis would endorse such a notion. Although he has been far more generous toward the President's vision of a democratic Middle East than any other scholar of comparable stature, his essay doesn't envision democratic values as a focal point around which the West can unite in the war on terror.

For example, the most important recommendation Gaddis has for the Bush administration is that it must persuade Europe to support its approach to the war on terror. Gaddis writes that:
The American claim of a broadly conceived right to pre-empt danger is not going to disappear, because no other nation or international organization will be prepared anytime soon to assume that responsibility. But the need to legitimize that strategy is not going to go away, either; otherwise, the friction it generates will ultimately defeat it, even if its enemies do not. What this means is that the second Bush administration will have to try again to gain multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power...

The president and his advisers preferred flaunting U.S. power to explaining its purpose. To boast that one possesses and plans to maintain "strengths beyond challenge" may well be accurate, but it mixes arrogance with vagueness, an unsettling combination. Strengths for what purpose? Challenges from what source? Cold War presidents were careful to answer such questions. Bush, during his first term, too often left it to others to guess the answers. In his second, he will have to provide them.
Yet Gaddis often seems to dodge the quesiton of what basis there actually is for true unity of purpose between American unilateralists and their multilateral counterparts in Europe. On a hopeful note, the good Professor writes that winning multilateral support:
Will not involve giving anyone else a veto over what the United States does to ensure its security and to advance its interests. It will, however, require persuading as large a group of states as possible that these actions will also enhance, or at least not degrade, their own interests. The United States did that regularly--and highly successfully--during World War II and the Cold War. It also obtained international consent for the use of predominantly American military force in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. Iraq has been the exception, not the rule, and there are lessons to be learned from the anomaly.
I'm not sure I find any of these examples persuasive. In 1991 and 2001, the United States used overwhelming force to punish aggressors who had clearly violated international law. In 1995 and 1999, it used limited force to confront human rights violations that had minimal direct impact on US national security. Thus, what potential is there for winning multilateral support for controversial enterprises such as the second invasion of Iraq, which are of dubious legal standing and are not framed as humanitarian ventures?

My tentative answer to this question is that our best hope of winning belated European support for the invasion of Iraq is to demonstrate that this controversial action really can create a democratic opening in the Middle East. Although the Europeans may never sign off on the way such an opening was created, they do care about spreading democratic values. If Europeans really come to believe that all of our talk about democracy promotion is part of a sincere commitment rather than a cynical front for aggression, then further debates within the alliance will seem more more like arguments within the family rather than threats to the entire postwar global order.

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