Posted: October 3, 2007
Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American Grand Strategy, by Colin Dueck
Colin Dueck's Reluctant Crusaders is a well-researched, cogently argued explanation of how America's internal political characteristics have shaped its strategy toward the world.
A professor of international affairs at George Mason University, Dueck focuses on the persistence of what he calls American "strategic culture," as defined by two key attributes: classical liberalism and the desire to maintain limited liability. The first "assumes that progress in international affairs is possible," and that the more democracy in the world, the greater the likelihood of peace. Thus the promotion of a liberal international order has always been a tenet of U.S. grand strategy.
But this goal has conflicted with the American tradition of limited liability, or "avoiding costs and commitments in the pursuit of grand strategy." The "tug of war" between these principles has often led to unanticipated results. After World War I, for instance, Woodrow Wilson's attempt to establish a liberal international order through the League of Nations was stymied by the American disposition to avoid major international commitments. Given this stalemate, the U.S. adopted, by default, a strategy of disengagement from European affairs. Similarly during the Cold War, when proponents of "rolling back" the Soviet Union clashed with neo-isolationists who preferred a "fortress America," the result was containment, the only strategy that promoted the ends of classical liberalism at the right costs.
Dueck writes that 9/11 "shocked" the United States into adjusting its post-Cold War strategy. The Bush Administration adopted aggressive democracy promotion, embracing a "kind of muscular, assertive Wilsonianism." At the same time, the principle of limited liability explained Bush's unwillingness to commit more troops to the invasion of Iraq. Here, however, Dueck neglects alternative explanations, like America's penchant for technological solutions to military challenges, or its preference for "decisive battles." Besides, in Iraq and Afghanistan the American aversion to extensive entanglements may well prove advantageous to the broader global counterinsurgency strategy of our war on terror, and not, as Dueck suggests, become a hindrance to it.
Reluctant Crusaders is a welcome starting point for understanding how America's history and beliefs have enforced a surprising continuity in U.S. foreign policy, even as international threats and conditions have changed dramatically.
—Todd R. Lowery
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The End of Government...As We Know It: Making Public Policy Work, by Elaine C. Kamarck
Elaine Kamarck is a Kennedy School lecturer who worked for Bill Clinton and Al Gore. In this concise and useful analysis of government reform, she discusses three alternatives to old-style bureaucracy.
The first is "reinvented government," which judges programs by how well they perform instead of how much they spend. This seemingly commonsensical notion marked a true innovation in the 1980s and 1990s. In New York City, Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Police Commissioner William Bratton used daily statistics to hold precinct captains accountable for crime trends. The result was a stunning plunge in crime. While less dramatic, other such initiatives have improved service delivery at all levels of government.
The second is "government by network," in which a bureaucracy funds other organizations to carry out its tasks. These organizations—public, private, or nonprofit—will compete and learn from one another. Kamarck points to "welfare-to-work" programs as a success story. But she also cautions that accountability can be a problem with contractors, as we have seen in Iraq.
The third is "government by market," which creates a market that serves a public end. Kamarck cites the case of child care. Rather than create government day-care centers or contract with a few centers, welfare reformers gave vouchers to low-income parents. The outcome was greater choice, to the benefit of poor children.
What are the constitutional limits of public policy? When should government simply do nothing? This trim volume does not take on these big questions. Nevertheless, it makes a worthy contribution because there is value in studying government reform. Even if you zap every scrap of waste, fraud, abuse, and unconstitutional activity, government will still be large. The bureaucracy ought to be effective, doing the right things in the right way.
—John J. Pitney, Jr.
Claremont McKenna College
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The Inner Vision: Liberty and Literature, edited by Edward B. McLean
The belief that literature has been neglected in the study of political freedom has inspired this collection of seven charming essays on classic books. The highlights are George B. Martin on Milton's Paradise Lost, John Alvis on three of Shakespeare's Roman plays, Catherine Zuckert on Tom Sawyer, and Steven D. Ealy on Robert Penn Warren's World Enough and Time and All the King's Men.
Taken together, these essays show that true liberty is responsible liberty, and that freedom is achieved only in the service of the good. For the individual, this means that freedom is accomplished when reason, with spiritedness, governs the passions. To earn the public recognition he so craves, Tom Sawyer must learn to help his friends rather than outsmart them (as in the famous whitewashing scene), and by the end of the novel he has learned to act courageously. Though he thinks he wants to live licentiously, Tom discovers he's only happy when he follows his conscience.
In Shakespeare, the difference between Lucrece (whose death sets in motion the founding of the Roman republic) and Julius Caesar (whose death dooms it) is that Lucrece's soul is ordered properly. Caesar was never free within himself, and under him Rome loses its freedom as well: the connection between individual and political freedom is more than a coincidence.
Liberty requires self-knowledge (so Lear, who has "ever but slenderly known himself," is incapable of living freely) and obedience—the "filial freedom" Milton ascribes to Adam and Eve in their original state. The truly free soul, as the great works discussed here teach, recognizes a natural standard and measures itself by it.