A review of:
Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy by Stephen M. Walt
The Opportunity: America's Moment to Alter History by Richard Haass
The Right War? The Conservative Debate on Iraq edited by Gary Rosen
When he was elected in 2000, George W. Bush gave every indication that he, like his father before him, was a conventional "realist" in foreign affairs, committed to a grand strategy of selective engagement and critical of the open-ended nature of the Clinton doctrine and its indiscriminate use of military force in instances not involving vital national interests. In his speeches, Bush stressed foreign policy retrenchment and military "transformation" in preparation for the emergence of a future great-power competitor in the vein of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Neither Bush nor his advisers, most notably national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell, spoke of spreading democracy throughout the world.
Then came 9/11. To the surprise of almost everyone, the president abandoned his apparent realism and embraced an approach to foreign affairs that seems to be nothing short of revolutionary. The "Bush Doctrine" was first enunciated in a speech he delivered September 20, 2001, only nine days after the attacks, and then refined and elaborated in three more speeches over the next nine months.
In the September 2004 issue of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz helpfully identified the four "pillars" of the Bush Doctrine as it emerged in these speeches: 1) The "unapologetic assertion of the need for and the possibility of moral judgment" in international affairs. 2) Repudiation of the "social work" theory of terrorism. The terrorism we face is not spawned by poverty and hunger but by a murderous ideology that desires the destruction of Western liberalism. This ideology is every bit as dangerous as fascism/Nazism and communism. 3) Assertion of the right to undertake what in the past had been called preventive war. 4) The treatment of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs in the context of the war against terrorism. (President Bush is the first American president officially to endorse the idea of a Palestinian Arab state. But the establishment of such a state is to be contingent upon the repudiation of terrorism by the Palestinian Arabs.)
Every sentient citizen of voting age is aware of the visceral and unremitting hostility to the Bush foreign policy in the mainstream media and the Democratic Party, but nowhere has the Bush Doctrine generated more criticism than among academic theorists and professional practitioners of international relations. The reason is not so much that these academics and professionals are predominantly liberal, as that the Bush Doctrine simply does not fit into the framework of academic I.R. theory, within which the dominant perspective is the conventional school of thought President Bush appeared to have brought with him to the White House five years agorealism.
Realists stress the importance of power and military security in international affairs and are most concerned about maintaining stability and a peaceful balance of power. For the realist, the state's most vital interest and its only meaningful goal, no matter its form of government, is to maintain sufficient relative power to ensure its security. Insofar as they are the heirs of Hans Morgenthau, realists also reject the "crusading spirit," eschewing ideology and defining the state's interests as narrowly as possible, making it less likely that they will come into conflict with the interests of other states.
Taming American Power by Stephen Walt, Dean of Academics and Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, is a harsh and highly acclaimed academic realist critique of the Bush Doctrine. The Opportunity by Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a veteran of the administrations of both Bush 41 and Bush 43, makes many of the same points from the practitioner's point of view, and it too has been widely praised in knowledgeable circles for the keenness of its analysis.
Realists take pride in the parsimony of their theory. Accordingly, Walt frames the debate over the Bush Doctrine simply: "In a world of independent states, the strongest one is always a potential threat to the rest, if only because they cannot be entirely sure what it is going to do with the power at its command." Walt does not apologize for American primacy but claims that the way in which the Bush administration has asserted primacy is counterproductive, creating a serious backlash against American power on the part of both enemies and friends.
Taming American Power concentrates on the various ways by which relatively weaker countries can and do counter or accommodate themselves to the U.S. position of dominance: "balancing"including "soft balancing"against the U.S., adopting "asymmetric" strategies, "balking," seeking to "de-legitimize" U.S. actions in the world; or, in the accommodating mode, "bandwagoning," even "bonding" in the hopes of gaining influence over U.S. actions by supporting particular U.S. polices (think Tony Blair). Bolder nations might even seek to "penetrate" U.S. domestic politics (think "Israel lobby"). Yes, this is how academic IR theorists talk about the world.
After defining terms for the ways in which the world might respond to U.S. primacy, Walt suggests how the U.S. might better approach the world. In the main, he recommends that U.S. policy more effectively take into account the likely reactions of other states. The U.S. should reduce its reliance on military force, reject the Bush Doctrine's policy of preventive war, resist the urge to lump adversaries together ("axis of evil"), use public diplomacy to legitimize U.S. primacy, and revamp U.S. policy for the Middle East, reconsidering its "unconditional support" for Israel, achieving a "grand bargain" on nuclear weapons and terrorism. All of these policies are meant to return America to its allegedly traditional grand strategy of being neither isolationist nor hegemonic, but an "offshore balancer," deploying "its power abroad only when there are direct threats to vital American interests." This means a grand strategy of retrenchment, reducing the U.S. military footprint throughout the world.
As a good "structural" realist, Walt does not care about the differences between the United States and other regimes throughout the world. According to the reductionist logic of structural realism, regimes don't matter when analyzing relative power within the anarchic structure of the international political system. But the dire consequences of the Bush Doctrine, predicted by Walt and other realists, have not come to pass
Apparently, even countries that are unhappy with the Bush Doctrine don't believe that Bush and the neo-conservative cabal (which Walt claims has hijacked American foreign policy on behalf of Israel) want "to govern vast areas of the world by force." These countries also see the need to confront radical Islamic terrorism. If one of the goals of a theory is to predict behavior, Walt's enterprise has come up short.
Haass is less harsh than Walt in his appraisal of the Bush Doctrine, but he too argues that the unilateralism of the administration will, to American disadvantage, reinvigorate balance of power politics. Haass is a realist, but his agenda in The Opportunity is similar to that of G. John Ikenberry, the author of After Victory and a well-known liberal internationalist. Both see American primacy as the means to achieving the goal of a liberal world order, but contend that the key to success is not power politics but the creation of effective rules, policies, and institutions. This reminds us that the debate over the Bush Doctrine is not primarily a liberal-conservative debate. Gary Rosen is correct, in his introduction to The Right War?, when he writes that the debate about the Bush Doctrine among self-described members of the political right "represents what is perhaps the most interesting and consequential foreign-policy discussion now going on in the United States."
The Right War? is an edited selection of non-academic essays and opinion pieces by representatives of what Rosen identifies as three conservative American foreign policy schools. Among them: realists Henry Kissinger, Owen Harries, Robert Ellsworth, and Dimitri Simes; traditionalists Patrick Buchanan, George Will, Andy Bacevich, and James Kurth; and neo-conservatives Norman Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Fouad Ajami, Max Boot, and Francis Fukuyama.
Like the realists, the traditionalists reject the Bush Doctrine, but they do so precisely on the grounds of regime: it violates American republican principles. The traditionalist view reflects "the instinctive desire of many American conservatives to stand apart from the seemingly distant, corrupting affairs of other nations, a position motivated in part by a belief in American exceptionalism but also by fears about the size and reach of the federal government." The essence of the traditionalist conservative perspective is captured by the title of one of Buchanan's books: A Republic, Not an Empire.
The Bush Doctrine is inextricably linked to neo-conservatism, so it is not surprising that supporters of the Doctrine in The Right War? are neo-conservatives, though there is debate among them as well (see Fukuyama's criticism of Krauthammer). The primary neo-conservative enterprise has been, in the words of a fair-minded critic, "to fuse American power to American principles, ensuring the survival of those principles and subsequently their propagation to the benefit of all humankind." To keep the regime at home, you have to export it abroad.
Of course, the traditionalists argue that American principles cannot be propagated abroad without damage to the American body politic itself (you can't export the regime, if you want to keep it at home). The realists, for their part, see the fusion of power and principle as a manifestation of the "crusading spirit" against which Morgenthau warned. This spirit ignores the realities that the world would be governed by if it would be realistic enough to be governed by realist advice. But while the realists do not adequately take into account the reality of regimes generally, the traditionalists join them in failing to understand the American regime. They mistake the vision of Thomas Jefferson for that of the founders as a whole and thus make no room for Hamilton's vision of a "republican empire."
Both realists and traditionalists reject the Bush Doctrine's emphasis on expanding liberal democracy as "muscular Wilsonianism." But regime change as an instrument of foreign policy was not unknown to Thucydides (an author much admired by realists), who described how both Athens and Sparta in the Peloponnesian War sought to establish and support regimes similar to their own, democracies in the case of Athens and oligarchies for Sparta. The Bush Doctrine endorses this Thucydidean perspective. As the president declared during a June 2004 speech at the Air Force Academy:
Some who call themselves "realists" question whether the spread of democracy in the Middle East should be of any concern of ours. But the realists in this case have lost contact with a fundamental reality. America has always been less secure when freedom is in retreat. America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.
Bush and the neo-conservatives understand, like Thucydides, that the security of a state is enhanced when it is surrounded by others that share its principles and interests. CRB editor Charles Kesler shows them in his contribution to The Right War? how they might be more clear-thinking about those principles and interests: Compassionate conservatism is as problematic abroad as it is at home.
We cannot say with any certainty whether or not the Bush Doctrine will succeed. But critics of the doctrine should note that adherence to a particular theory is no guarantee of success. American foreign policy has tried a realist approach (Nixon) and a traditionalist (Carter), and both failed. The Bush Doctrine too will fail, if it is not applied with prudence and blessed with good fortune.