A Realist Symposium: Partisans Reviewed

A Realist Symposium: Partisans Reviewed

Mini Teaser: Responding to Dimitri K. Simes’s assertion that we aren’t having a real debate over foreign policy, Derek Chollet argues the Democrats are providing genuine alternatives; Grover G. Norquist looks at the structural reasons inhibiting both parties f

by Author(s): Derek CholletGrover G. NorquistDov S. ZakheimDimitri K. Simes

Kipling Redux
Dov S. Zakheim

LIBERAL INTERVENTIONISTS and neoconservatives share three rather unflattering characteristics. Both have a hair-trigger inclination to promote American unilateral military intervention overseas. Both assume a degree of moral superiority that has much in common with the values of Rudyard Kipling and Benjamin Disraeli. And both make a strong case for promoting democracy abroad even as they ignore or deride a majority of American public opinion that opposes such adventures.

America's vast military superiority over all other states has created new and unprecedented opportunities for policymakers to commit the armed forces to overseas operations with minimal notice and even less forethought. This superiority-powered by both ongoing advances in technology that widen the gap between America's forces and those of other states, and by defense budgets that far outdistance those of any friend or potential foe-is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Interventionists of both the liberal and neoconservative variety thus face, and all too often succumb to, an ongoing temptation to put their theories into practice by resorting to the military as a first alternative rather than as a default option after all others have been exhausted.

Conservatives, on the other hand, share with the overwhelming majority of American military officers the recognition that good policy is not merely a matter of committing military force to achieve a political end. Equally, if not more important, is the need to determine whether a given political end is achievable without the use of force and, even if it is not, whether force would render that end any more achievable. Moreover, conservatives, being more cautious about the use of force, tend to look more carefully at the nature of exit strategies. Interventionists, on the other hand, appear to assume that the change that they are seeking will, by its very nature, spontaneously generate an exit strategy that is both timely and appropriate.

There is little in American post-World War II history to vindicate the interventionists' assumptions. Few, if any, societies have been transformed by unilateral military action by the United States. That fact has not lessened the interventionists' infatuation with the military as a force for societal change, however.

The assumption that America can and should change the nature of other societies presupposes that those societies desperately yearn to adopt the American way of life. There is little evidence for that assumption. Certainly, those who wish to be like Americans often wish for more than that as well-namely, to be Americans themselves. And wealthy, secular, intellectual, English-speaking elites in many non-Western states appear to encourage the importation of "Western values" into their societies.

Yet American liberals and neoconservatives all too often underestimate the pride and nationalism that reside elsewhere in the world. No doubt the citizens of many states seek freedom and liberty; that, however, does not mean that they seek freedom and liberty as defined by the United States, much less imposed by it. Nor does it mean that America's democratic allies share either its penchant for imposing Western values on others or consider their own political systems to be entirely congruent with those of the United States. Interventionists, in fact, have adopted a 21st-century version of the "White Man's Burden", which is no less elitist-and in some cases no less racist-than its Kiplingesque forebear. They should not be surprised that their intentions are viewed with suspicion around the world, particularly when they are so quick to call upon the military to spread Western values to the politically and culturally unwashed.

Finally, with their penchant for the early use of the military instrument, and their insistence on the expenditure of both human and materiel resources in support of democratic values, interventionists invariably trample upon those very same values with respect to their own citizenry. When the views of the public contradict those of the interventionists, they are ascribed to ignorance and xenophobia. Interventionists appear to act on the basis of the proposition that it is the elites who must "lead" the "common" people (presumably to include the "spineless" military and isolationist conservatives). Democracy is evidently only a product for export.

Dimitri Simes is absolutely correct. It is time to revisit and revise the policies and assumptions that have made interventionism the coin of the American realm for much of the past two decades. It is not a matter of ruling out military intervention in defense of clear American or allied interests. Rather, what is required is the recognition that intervention must be undertaken judiciously, after full consultation with allies and friends. Surely liberals should be able to understand what even the decidedly non-democratic Prussian thinker Clausewitz recognized: War is a government's political tool of last resort, to be undertaken only with the full support of the public and with the recognition that such support is unlikely to be sustainable indefinitely. For it is the public whose sons, and now daughters, will be asked to sacrifice their lives to achieve that government's political aims. And it is the public who, if unsatisfied with the stated aims of a military operation or with the vagueness of its progress, will ultimately say "enough."

Dov S. Zakheim was undersecretary of defense (comptroller) and the Defense Department's chief financial officer from 2001 to 2004. He is a member of the board of the Nixon Center.

A Realist Responds
Dimitri K. Simes

DEREK CHOLLET wonders where I could have been during the last 15 years to have failed to notice the "intense, sometimes stifling, but largely healthy debate" regarding the U.S. role in the world. I was in Washington. But perhaps we have different definitions of "debate." Certainly there have been interesting and provocative articles in academic journals, presentations on C-SPAN and occasionally fierce, meaningful exchanges on CNN and Fox. There has also been a good deal of partisan sniping. But this is not debate.

Has any major candidate been prepared to subject America's post-Cold War triumphalism to serious examination? Been prepared to acknowledge that in the rapidly changing conditions of the 21st century the United States may need to set priorities and be prepared to accept compromises and trade-offs-whether in addressing trade issues, preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power or enlisting the support of other states to combat terrorists who threaten America? No. Derek Chollet pretty much admits this when he writes: "To be sure, leaders from both Right and Left often came to agreement on certain questions, such as the interventions in the Balkans or the enlargement of NATO." And, as much as a number of Democrats today would deny it, on the need for "regime change" in Iraq.

But did this consensus come about in the aftermath of a vigorous national conversation similar to the one that took place in the United States during the late 1940s? No, it did not. Rather, a series of propositions were put forward-America is the indispensable nation, America's motives cannot be questioned, America is the sole superpower and does not have to choose among priorities-and unconditionally accepted by significant segments of the foreign-policy establishment, in both parties. Indeed, when Texas Representative Ron Paul raised-in an admittedly awkward fashion-the possibility that America's Middle East policies might have contributed to the September 11 tragedy, something the 9/11 Commission itself acknowledged, he was roundly attacked. Most of today's foreign policy discussion is about how badly the Bush-Cheney team mismanaged policy, not whether their fundamental assumptions were flawed.

And why is the recent brouhaha as to whether Barack Obama would meet with a Hugo Chávez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under different circumstances than Hillary Clinton a sign of debate if, in the end, both would insist on compliance with all American priorities and preferences without being prepared to offer anything meaningful in return? One would think that as the opposition party, the Democrats would be able to offer credible alternatives to an administration they claim so vocally to despise. But this has not happened. Not on Iran, not on the Arab-Israeli dispute, not on international trade and not on China.

One cannot escape the impression that many Democrats have come to the conclusion Dov Zakheim outlined-"No doubt the citizens of many states seek freedom and liberty; that, however, does not mean that they seek freedom and liberty as defined by the United States, much less imposed by it"-not because they agree with those sentiments, but because Iraq has turned out the way that it has.

Indeed, while denouncing Bush for his "unilateralism" in Iraq, many Democrats are more than happy to embrace it when it suits their interests. Take Kosovo. Key Democratic foreign policy strategists such as former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke and others are indistinguishable from the Bush Administration in arguing for bypassing the UN Security Council should it not immediately comply with American preferences. In a piece in the Washington Post, John Podesta, president of the Center for American Progress and chief of staff in the Clinton White House, has called on the administration to recognize Kosovo's independence even in the absence of a un Security Council resolution. He believes that as long as the United States works with some of its European allies, we will have "international legitimacy to act." Wasn't this the same logic behind the 2003 "Coalition of the Willing" for Iraq? It certainly seems like the same attitude-other states can agree with a decision taken in Washington, and if they don't, the United States is free to override their objections and act anyway. But somehow we expect other countries simply to accept American fiat time and time again without any consequences.

Essay Types: The Realist