WHEN, on February 16, George W. Bush ordered combat aircraft to attack targets in Iraq, White House staffers let it be known that the new President was putting Baghdad on notice: In Washington, the "adults" had once again grasped the reins of power. The bombing of a handful of Iraqi air defense facilities was indeed an important signal, but not because it marked any notable departure from past practice. On the contrary, taken in conjunction with other early indicators, the incident suggests that when it comes to foreign policy, the new Bush administration will hew more closely to precedents established during the Clinton era than either its supporters had hoped or its detractors are likely to acknowledge. The emerging story is one of continuity, not change. Understanding why is crucial to comprehending the essential nature of American foreign policy after the Cold War.
Throughout eight years during which Democrats controlled the White House, few things raised greater ire among Republicans than the fecklessness with which Bill Clinton employed U.S. military power. Attracting particular ridicule was Clinton's penchant for pinprick air attacks portrayed as demonstrations of toughness and resolve. The effort to contain Saddam Hussein displayed this tactic at its worst. As a symbol of allied vigilance, American (and British) pilots flying nearly daily combat patrols over the so-called no-fly zone have launched dozens of attacks against Iraqi military installations, in effect waging an open-ended war of attrition. Saddam's response has been to mount ever bolder acts of defiance. Determined to sustain the fiction that Saddam remains securely in his "box", but unwilling to risk a showdown, Bill Clinton relied on faux air power to camouflage the deteriorating situation in the Gulf. The impact on Saddam and his regime was demonstrably nil.
During the run-up to the 2000 election, Bush and his surrogates let it be known that, if elected, they would jettison this amateurish Clinton doctrine. When it came to using force, George W. Bush would exhibit the prudence and sound judgment that had characterized his father's administration. By implication, a second Bush presidency would revive some variant of the Powell Doctrine, using military power only when vital U.S. interests are at stake, and then doing so overwhelmingly and decisively. Bush's appointment of Colin Powell, the doctrine's namesake, as secretary of state seemingly affirmed this intention. When it came to Saddam, the Bush team promised to have done with the temporizing and vacillation. Two words sufficed to define the essence of a more assertive policy toward Iraq: "regime change."
But the adults have now had their chance, and the results show a remarkable resemblance to the lamentable practices of the Clinton era. In explaining his decision to bomb Iraq, President Bush took pains to emphasize that doing so had long since become simply "routine." Indeed, the media discovered that the February 16 bombing was by no means the "first" of Bush's presidency, that on several other occasions after January 20, U.S. warplanes had hit targets inside Iraq. Insisting that endless American air patrols form "part of a strategy", President Bush vowed that "we will continue to enforce the no-fly zone." Reporters present for these remarks politely refrained from pressing Bush to explain exactly what that strategy might be.
But within weeks the answer to that question became clear. During the course of Secretary Powell's first trip to the Persian Gulf in February, tough talk about removing Saddam from power was notable by its absence. Instead, Powell touted the administration's plans for "retooling" the sanctions regime established during the first Bush presidency and continued by Bill Clinton. Although Saddam over the past decade has evinced extraordinary skill in evading that regime, Secretary Powell promised that a new set of unspecified "smart sanctions" would deny Baghdad access to arms and militarily relevant technology, keeping Saddam from causing further mischief while easing the hardships of the long-suffering Iraqi people. Yet stripped of the flourishes intended to convey a sense of novelty, the smart sanctions policy amounts to little more than a promise to try harder.
Thus is the Bush team, in the apt judgment of a March 4 Washington Post editorial, well "on its way to adopting the same Iraq policy pursued in recent years by the Clinton administration--a policy President Bush and his top aides repeatedly and vociferously condemned." Why the apparent flip-flop?
SEVERAL plausible explanations exist. The first and most obvious is the different perspective that results from assuming the mantle of power. Advocacy when free of responsibility is one thing; action when one will be held to account for the consequences is, to put it mildly, something else. Employed as a basis for actual decisions, campaign rhetoric is as likely to produce disaster as sound policy. John F. Kennedy ran for the presidency vowing to get tough on Castro, a stance that landed him in the Bay of Pigs. Skeptics warn that attempting to overthrow Saddam Hussein could well produce a comparable debacle --a Bay of Goats. That George W. Bush, wary of such a prospect, might discover hitherto overlooked virtues in the Iraq policy of his predecessor is eminently understandable.
A realistic appraisal of the facts on the ground provides a second possible explanation for Bush's about-face on Iraq. Although viewed in Washington as an event of cosmic importance, the inauguration of a new president left those facts unchanged, chief among them the strength of the security apparatus sustaining Saddam's grip on power; the haplessness of the Iraqi opposition; the limited appetite of the American people for another large-scale Persian Gulf war; and the cost-benefit calculus persuading other nations that the time has come to cut a deal with Saddam. Just as candidate Clinton, after berating the elder Bush for coddling the "butchers of Beijing", discovered once in office the merits of "engaging" China, so too the younger Bush, who denounced Clinton for being soft on Saddam, is finding practical alternatives to containing Iraq to be few and risky
But there is a third explanation, one that looks beyond the particular problems posed by Iraq. To an extent that neither partisan supporters nor members of the chattering classes are willing to concede, Bush and his chief advisers conceive of America's proper role in a post-Cold War world in terms nearly identical to those used by Clinton and his advisers. They assume the same intimate connection between U.S. foreign policy and America's domestic well-being; they embrace the same myths about the past; they voice similar expectations for the future, ascribing the shape of that future to the same set of factors. To a remarkable extent, they agree on the basic aims that should inform U.S. policy and the principles that should guide its conduct. Even when it comes to overlooking or ignoring inconvenient facts, Bush and Clinton share the same blind spots.
Thus, it is not really surprising that when setting its foreign policy azimuth the Bush administration spent its first weeks tacking away from the positions taken during the campaign, back toward the course previously charted by the Clinton administration. This was true not simply with regard to Iraq but on a number of other issues. Would a Bush administration act promptly to return U.S. forces to their true vocation as warfighters and leave peacekeeping to others, as Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, had hinted during the campaign? Not really: President Bush announced that he had no immediate plan to withdraw U.S. troops from the Balkans and assured NATO that any changes would occur only after thoroughgoing allied consultation--a signal for nervous Europeans to rest easy. Would the new administration reverse the Clinton policy of showering North Korea with blandishments whenever Pyongyang hints darkly about acquiring nuclear weapons? Not according to Secretary Powell, who announced in early March that the new team would "pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off."1 Would Bush act quickly to fix the gaping problems with military readiness that had excited Republicans during the campaign? No again: for now, the final defense budget submitted by President Clinton will serve quite nicely, thank you. Is Colombia another Democratic quagmire in the making, with Clinton's $1.3 billion program of military aid the first step toward plunging the United States into an intractable civil war? Perhaps, but the Bush administration is not going to take the rap for "losing" Colombia or for neglecting the war on drugs. The commitment stays. And then there is China. Republicans had mocked Clinton for categorizing China as a "strategic partner." Candidate Bush had classified the regime as a "strategic competitor." When the "spy plane" incident in April offered Bush an opportunity to show just what that formulation means, his administration demonstrated a Clintonesque penchant for conciliation.
Put another way, Bush and Clinton each fit comfortably within the foreign policy consensus that prevails today in all quarters to the Left of the tattered remnant of hard-core isolationists and to the Right of those few beleaguered radicals still pining for the glory days of the 1960s--that is to say, across the entire spectrum of opinion deemed respectable. That consensus defines the parameters within which the policy debate occurs and provides the language that shapes foreign policy discourse. It establishes priorities and defines options. It focuses, disciplines and excludes. As such, it transcends partisan affiliation and subsumes labels such as liberal and conservative. It renders moot old distinctions between realists and idealists, nationalists and internationalists. To be sure, not every adherent to that consensus agrees on every detail; but on those things that matter most, agreement is well nigh unanimous.
THIS CONSENSUS constitutes the substructure of present-day U.S. foreign policy, superseding an earlier consensus that prevailed from the mid-1940s through the 1980s (although for a time fractured by the Vietnam War). Yet the new consensus has not so much displaced the old as renewed and expanded it. So pervasive as to be all but taken for granted, so authoritative as to be virtually immune to challenge, the renewal of this consensus forms the true centerpiece of the foreign policy legacy left by Bill Clinton. It promises to be the most durable element of that legacy as well.
The consensus consists of five distinctive elements. Each figured prominently in the policies of the Clinton era. Each has now been embraced by the Bush camp.
First, America as historical vanguard. According to this notion, history has a discernible direction and destination. Uniquely among all the nations of the world, the United States comprehends and manifests history's purpose. That purpose is freedom, achieved through the spread of democratic capitalism, and embodied in the American Way of Life. As that way of life mutates so too does the meaning of freedom.
The conviction that America is, in Melville's phrase, "the Israel of our time", possesses a distinguished pedigree, but it is one to which the end of the Cold War, victory in the Persian Gulf War, and the prosperity of the 1990s imparted fresh life. During the Clinton era, that conviction gave rise to all manner of gaudy claims about America's indispensability and its providentially endowed mission. Clinton believed that, as the nation that defines what he called "the right side of history", the United States possesses an inescapable mandate to enlighten those who have thus far failed to decipher history's meaning. Thus, as president, Clinton publicly reproached the Chinese government for languishing on "the wrong side of history." On the eve of his 1998 trip to the People's Republic, he explained his personal obligation to the Chinese "to create for them a new and different historical reality." Revising China's view of the past, Clinton said, would enable the government in Beijing to "feel more confident in doing what I believe is the morally right thing to do."
Setting himself up as a source of instruction on the finer points of morality exemplifies the sort of effrontery that triggered paroxysms of disbelief among Clinton's many critics. But the conviction that the United States has indeed solved the riddle of history finds equal favor at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Speaking at the Reagan Library on November 19, 1999, then-Governor Bush was explicit on this point: "We firmly believe that our nation is on the right side of history." For Republicans, too, the point is not merely to claim an honorific; with it comes responsibilities. Condoleezza Rice wonders "if we are going to accept responsibility for being on the right side of history" and expresses concern about the willingness of Americans to step up to the task. Should they fail to do so, should they squander the opportunity to seal the triumph of democratic capitalism, she warns that future generations will be asking "why we were on the right side of history, and did not take care of this."2
Colin Powell entertains a similarly expansive conception of America's purpose. During his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Powell acquired a well-earned reputation as cautious and circumspect. Upon his appointment to be secretary of state, he shed his soldierly inhibitions to reveal his Wilsonian inner self. In his confirmation hearing testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for example, Powell waxed eloquent: "There is no country on earth that is not touched by America, for we have become the motive force for freedom and democracy in the world." As such, he said,
We are attached by a thousand cords to the world at large, to its teeming cities, to its remotest regions, to its oldest civilizations, to its newest cries for freedom. This means that we have an interest in every place on this Earth, that we need to lead, to guide, to help in every country that has a desire to be free, open, and prosperous.
What might leading, guiding and helping entail? When it comes to China, Powell endorses a tutelary approach not unlike that pursued by Clinton. The key, he explained to the committee, lies in "exposing them to the powerful forces of a free enterprise system in democracy, so they can see that this is the proper direction in which to move."
SECOND, the promise of openness and integration. Previous U.S. efforts to lead, guide and help others toward the right side of history have achieved mixed results. Americans take pride in their contribution to democratizing Germany and Japan after World War II. Yet earnest and determined efforts during the decades before the war to teach Latin Americans to elect good men yielded resentment and reaction. A Herculean attempt after the war to graft liberal institutions onto South Vietnam failed spectacularly. Efforts closer to home in a much earlier time to lead, guide and help Native Americans produced a disaster of such magnitude that Americans are able to assimilate the outcome only by practicing a form of cognitive dissonance, acknowledging the facts as incontrovertible and then shrugging them off as irrelevant.
Given this spotty record, heeding present-day American calls to hop aboard the express train of history might strike some as an iffy proposition. Not so, according to members of the policy elite: climbing aboard has never been easier, nor has the prospective journey been more exhilarating. Thanks for that goes to that signal phenomenon of the post-Cold War era: globalization.
Combined with its fraternal twin the information revolution, globalization is accelerating the inexorable process of international integration. In so doing, it enhances the appeal of America's message, investing it with an allure that is well nigh irresistible. As President Clinton never tired of declaiming, globalization sweeps aside barriers impeding the movement of goods, capital, ideas and culture. It creates boundless new opportunities for the creation of wealth. But globalization also does much more: it imprints onto its beneficiaries the expectations and sensibilities of the nation acting as the project's chief sponsor, namely, the United States. A world opened up by the forces of globalization will not only be more affluent; it will also be freer, as Americans define freedom. It will be more democratic, as we understand democracy. It will be more peaceful, as we ourselves are a peaceful people.
Clinton and his advisers frequently voiced these expectations; Bush and his advisers concur. Thus in December 2000, upon being introduced as the next secretary of state, Powell, with nary an acknowledging footnote, appropriated the cliches that Clinton himself had never tired of reiterating. According to Powell, the "information and technology revolutions ... are reshaping the world as we know it, destroying political boundaries and all kinds of other boundaries as we are able to move information and capital data around the world at the speed of light." Removing boundaries fosters free trade, to which Bush, like his father before him and like Clinton, evinces a cult-like devotion. Like them, Bush also attributes to openness benefits that extend beyond mere commercial opportunity. "Free trade brings greater political and personal freedom", he told the Congress in February. Or, as he stated it more grandly in the November Reagan Library speech, his own approach to foreign policy derives from a "vision in which people and capital and information can move freely, creating bonds of progress, ties of culture and momentum toward democracy."
But the creation of an open world is not just about creating ties of culture. Globalization is not social work. The pursuit of openness is first of all about Americans doing well; that an open world might also enable them to do good qualifies at best as incidental. As Raymond Aron observed over a quarter century ago, "A world without frontiers is a situation in which the strongest capitalism prevails."3 An open global order in which American enterprise enjoys free rein and in which American values and tastes enjoy pride of place is a world in which the United States remains pre-eminent. Clinton and his advisers knew this. So do their successors.
THIRD the duality of openness. As senior members of the Clinton administration acknowledged, openness is a two-edged sword. The prospect of a world remade in America's image does not strike all with equanimity. Although post-ideological Washington cannot conceive of the future harboring any significant secret or surprise--have not all of the big questions been settled once and for all?--elsewhere History remains hotly contested.
So, even in the absence of any viable alternative to democratic capitalism or of any remotely comparable great power, America's enthusiastic promotion of openness incites resistance. Based on the record of the Clinton era, opponents fall into one of three distinct categories. In the first are those, such as adherents of radical Islam, who advance an altogether different view of history's purpose and their own distinctive claims to truth. Speaking on behalf of such groups, critics--some honest, some dishonest--assert that the values that America exports have less to do with authentic freedom than with a popular culture that they view as vulgar and meretricious, where not simply debased and dehumanizing. They are determined to prevent that culture from inundating their own.
The second category of opposition to openness includes those who reject universalism of any stripe and cling ferociously to their own particularistic vision. The perverse attempt by Kosovar guerrillas to carve out a Greater Albania offers only the most recent illustration of this phenomenon. Since the end of the Cold War there have been countless others: bloody purges fueled by tribal hatred in Africa, violent separatist movements across Asia, and, most vividly, the intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, who, we are told, have no choice but to live together but who regularly choose to do otherwise. Not for these groups the tolerant pluralism and easygoing multiculturalism that is the ultimate promise of an open world. They will not condone any blurring of the distinctions between "us" and "them." They persist in believing that identity is indelible, sacred and worth fighting for.
The final category of opposition includes various parties intent simply on grabbing their share of the loot. Although Americans take it as a given that the United States should benefit disproportionately from the spoils that globalization throws up in such profusion, to others the logic of this arrangement is not self-evident. Some opponents in this category are merely aggravating--like the industrious Asian entrepreneurs who pirate the latest CDs, videos and software and thereby siphon off profits rightfully belonging to Hollywood or Silicon Valley. Others--like the narco-traffickers of Latin America--pose a far more insidious threat.
The various elements forming this opposition differ in their capacity to act. They also differ in the means that they employ. But all are alike in rejecting the norms that the United States insists are necessary for globalization to work. 4
Openness greatly complicates the task of suppressing these adversaries. Removing barriers to commercial activity likewise removes barriers that once protected everyday life within the borders of the United States. Openness exacerbates existing vulnerabilities and creates new ones. It facilitates the theft of technology; the transport of contraband, and the acquisition of weapons. It eases intelligence collection and infiltration. Thus, thanks to openness, and despite the absence of any single power capable of directly challenging the United States, Americans today ostensibly find themselves less secure than during the bad old days of the Cold War. At least one would think so as evidenced by the senior officials who issue stern warnings about fanatics releasing anthrax in downtown Washington or paint lurid scenarios in which hackers acting on a whim disable the nation's financial networks.
This depiction of the United States as besieged by "new threats" is very much the handiwork of the Clinton years. Yet the idea is one that the Bush administration has adopted without reservation. On the campaign trail in September, Bush depicted the twenty-first century as "an era of car bombers and plutonium merchants and cyber terrorists and drug cartels and unbalanced dictators." Once in office, the new President affirmed that the dangers facing the United States in this new era "are more widespread and less certain." Cribbing a term invented by the Clinton administration, Bush has cited the great danger posed by "rogue nations" intent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction, the "rogue" label obviating any need actually to evaluate the capabilities of nations such as North Korea that fall into this category. When it comes to terror, Bush likewise endorses his predecessor's view, ignoring (as did Clinton) data indicating that the incidence of international terrorism is actually on the wane. For Bush, as for Clinton, the utopia implicit in the vision of a globalized world will, it appears, be a precarious one.
FOURTH, the necessity of military supremacy. Even as openness exposes the United States to what Bush has called "all the unconventional and invisible threats of new technologies and old hatreds", it remains an abiding imperative. Once having decided that the protective barriers must go, there can be no retreat. To do so would be to jeopardize domestic prosperity, unsustainable absent ever expanding access to global markets. Furthermore, the most effective way to defend the open order (and to promote economic growth) is to continuously expand its perimeter.
Policing the perimeter and pushing it outward requires power, above all coercive power. As a result, the passing of the Cold War has accelerated the transformation of the U.S. military from an institution charged with providing for the common defense into an instrument of power projection and political influence. Begun haphazardly in 1898 when American soldiers set sail to liberate Cuba, that transformation reached a culminating point of sorts in the 1990s when the Pentagon promulgated its "strategy of engagement", formally charging U.S. forces with responsibility for "shaping" the international environment.
Formalized during the Clinton years, the notion of using the military to sustain the momentum toward openness and integration under the aegis of the United States is by no means the exclusive property of liberal Democrats. It commands bipartisan support. Consider the post-Cold War U.S. military presence and activities in Europe. A half century after World War II, with Europe prosperous, democratic, stable and easily able to defend itself, leaders of both parties take it for granted that the United States should maintain in perpetuity a European garrison of 100,000 soldiers. Similarly, leaders of both parties agree on the wisdom of expanding the "Europe" that the United States is committed to defend. A decade ago, the elder Bush first proposed the program of NATO enlargement. Clinton converted that idea into reality. But Clinton went even further: he also enlarged NATO's charter, exploiting the opportunities presented in Bosnia and Kosovo to convert a defensive alliance into a vehicle for policing Europe's pe riphery. The younger Bush--who supported the war for Kosovo--shows little sign of undoing the work that Clinton began.
This reorientation of purpose--not simply in Europe, but in Asia, the Persian Gulf, the Western Hemisphere and even, to a lesser event, in Africa--has profound implications. In contrast to the soldier's traditional stance--awaiting the summons--engagement requires an activist posture. In contrast to the soldier's traditional expectations--responding to the occasional war or emergency--engagement entails continuous exertion. Thus engagement implies a continuing need for a large, highly capable and highly professional, even praetorian, military establishment, charged with shouldering a wider array of responsibilities.
On this score, too, the elite consensus is firm. Indeed, to judge by the most recent national elections, the proposition that the United States must remain militarily supreme attracts something close to universal assent. In mainstream American politics, there is nothing even remotely resembling an anti-military party. Nor does either national party contain an antimilitary wing or faction. Indeed, in all of American public life there is hardly a single prominent figure who finds fault with the notion of the United States remaining the world's sole military superpower until the end of time.
If disagreement exists, it concerns not the ends of strategy but the means to achieve those ends. Critics have charged Clinton with having left the U.S. military in a parlous state. Stripped of its partisan underpinnings, that charge is difficult to sustain. By any conceivable measure, the United States ended the Clinton era as it began it--as easily the strongest military power on the planet while far and away outspending allies and adversaries alike in its determination to maintain that status.
Yet critics can quite justifiably fault Clinton's stewardship on another score: Throughout his two terms in office, efforts to transform the way that the American military thinks, organizes and operates have lagged well behind the actually ongoing transformation of what U.S. strategy calls upon the military to do. A combination of factors--lackluster civilian leadership, obstructionism on the part of hidebound senior officers, and the military's distracting involvement in the culture wars--has impeded efforts to restructure the services for their expanded role. In short, although Clinton succeeded in broadening the purposes that U.S. military power would serve, his efforts to adapt the armed services to those new purposes foundered.
The Bush administration has forcefully declared its intention to close this gap, if necessary bludgeoning the services into discarding the Cold War era structure to which they have clung. But in vowing to create, in Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz's words, "a future force that is at once more agile, more lethal and more rapidly deployable", the Bush national security team is reciting the very same litany of qualities that the Clinton administration had long since identified as essential for effective global interventionism. In other words, although on defense matters notable differences do exist between Bush and his predecessor, it is easy to make more of these differences than they deserve.
Ballistic missile defense--the signature initiative of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld Pentagon--offers a case in point. The new administration's commitment to missile defense does not signify an abandonment of Clinton's paradigm regarding the proper role of American forces; if anything, it affirms that paradigm. The true purpose of missile defense after all is not to permit the United States to withdraw behind the ramparts of Fortress America. It is not a step toward isolationism. Rather, ballistic missile defense will facilitate the more effective application of U.S. military power abroad. By insulating the homeland from reprisal--albeit in a limited way--missile defense will underwrite the capacity and willingness of the United States to "shape" the environment elsewhere. As Lawrence F. Kaplan, writing in The New Republic, has correctly discerned, "Missile defense isn't really meant to protect America. It's a tool for global dominance."5 Credit the Bush administration with having a better appreciation of what military tools dominance requires. But do not credit it with changing the larger purpose to which the tools will be put.
FIFTH, the imperative of American "leadership." The final element of the consensus to which leaders of the Clinton administration and of both Bush administrations have subscribed stipulates that there exists no alternative to global U.S. leadership. To be sure, during his first year in office, Clinton dallied briefly with "assertive multilateralism." But any fanciful notions that Washington would routinely work with or through the United Nations did not survive the debacle of Mogadishu in October 1993. Subsequent to that chastening experience, the Clinton administration acted unilaterally or at the head of a coalition, working in concert with international organizations only as it saw fit. In speech after speech and in crisis after crisis, members of Clinton's team and the President himself made it clear that the United States would defer to no one.
What the Clinton administration never could bring itself to acknowledge is that leadership is really a code word, one whose use honors the cherished tradition according to which the United States is not and cannot be an empire. Leadership has become a euphemism for hegemony.
In the public statements of senior officials, the word "hegemon" figures only by way of identifying threats that the United States must anticipate and deflect. For example, Condoleezza Rice has stated that the paramount aim of U.S. foreign policy should be to "make certain that the international system remains stable and secure . . . so that no hegemon can rise to threaten stability."6 But what is the exercise of U.S. power to maintain global stability and security if not itself hegemony? There is today no region of strategic significance in which the United States is not pre-eminent. Thanks to NATO, the United States remains the leading power in Europe. With its permanent commitment of 100,000 troops in the Pacific, it is the leading power in East Asia. With its various bases and garrisons established subsequent to the Persian Gulf War, it is the guarantor of order and stability in that region as well. And that does not even count America's sway over the Western Hemisphere.
Back in the days when President Bush's father was in the White House, the Pentagon prepared a document suggesting (in so many words) that something approximating global hegemony offered a useful principle around which to organize U.S. strategy after the Cold War. The document leaked, the New York Times professed great shock, and Democrats pilloried its chief author, then Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Eight years later Wolfowitz is back in the Pentagon as deputy secretary of defense, and there is no evidence that he has modified his views. What has changed is the climate of informed opinion. Were Wolfowitz today to publish a new draft of the strategy he devised in 1992, it would produce nary a ripple. As a result of the Clinton era, hegemony--although few dare to call it by its rightful name--has gone mainstream.
The Theater of Continuity
IN THE aftermath of the Cold War, public discourse about U.S. foreign policy retains a strong element of theater. Especially when it comes to political campaigns, the parts are prescribed, the players know their roles, and everyone sticks to the script, sustaining the fiction that in the forthcoming balloting the differences separating the candidates are large and the stakes profound. Thus in the fall of 2000, during the second of the three debates between Bush and Gore, the moderator charged the two presidential candidates with identifying the "guiding principles" of U.S. foreign policy. Governor Bush, coached to play the role of hardheaded realist, explained that, "The first question is what's in the best interests of the United States." The vice president--ostentatiously donning the mantle of progressivism--demurred: "I see it as a question of values."
Thus do candidates pretend to differ. After the fact, partisans in both camps pretend that those differences actually matter. Journalists chime in with commentary pretending to spin out the weighty implications. In fact, comparing the actual views of Bush and Gore, or more generally comparing the views of Democratic foreign policy experts with those of their Republican counterparts, is akin to comparing the primetime programming of competing television networks.7 Some differences exist--after all, people actually make a living contrasting the finer points of sitcoms--but enumerating those differences does not go very far toward identifying the true nature of the enterprise known as commercial television. Similarly, some people actually make a living parsing the differences between where Democrats and Republicans stand on foreign policy. But doing so does not get you very far toward understanding the essential nature of U.S. foreign policy after the Cold War.
In the period following World War II, the pivotal year for U.S. foreign policy was not 1947, the year of "Mr. X", the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Nor was it 1950, the year of NSC-68 and the Korean intervention. Rather, the defining moment occurred in 1953. In January of that year, Republicans, after a long and frustrating absence from set reclaimed the have House. For years, they had been charging that on the paramount issue of the day-responding to the threat of communism--the Truman administration had been pusillanimous and inept. During the presidential campaign, Dwight D. Eisenhower had hinted at a new approach: his administration would seek ways to "roll back" communism. Privately, Eisenhower favored lowering the U.S. profile abroad, even toying with the idea of phasing American troops out of Europe. Once in office, he did neither more nor less. Instead, Eisenhower embraced the logic of the strategy that his predecessor had devised: containment. In doing so, Eisenhower paid his predecessor a very large if backhanded compliment. More important, he invested U.S. policy with a continuity that it would retain--with the exception of a brief period following the Vietnam War--until the end of the Cold War.
In a similar sense, 2001 may well prove to be the pivotal year in fixing the azimuth of U.S. policy in the emerging global era. Historians may well look back on the transfer of power from Clinton to Bush as the moment in which conservative Republicans, after a long and frustrating absence from power, after years of complaining about pusillanimity and ineptness, affirmed the course set by liberal Democrats--and in doing so made manifest the new consensus underlying U.S. strategy.
When President-elect Bush introduced Colin Powell as his nominee to be secretary of state, the retired fourstar general let it be know that "the world marches to new drummers, drummers of democracy and the free enterprise system." In Washington a new set of drummers may have picked up the sticks, but, to a far greater extent than they are willing to acknowledge, the rhythms that they are tapping out do not differ appreciably from those favored by their predecessors.
1 The White House subsequently seemed to distance itself from Powell's position. But any differences in the Bush take on North Korea are ones of tone rather than substance. "All that has happened", one observer noted, "is that the public enthusiasm of President Clinton--which masked the private skepticism of everyone else--is gone, replaced by the public skepticism of President Bush." Anne Applebaum, "Ping Pyongyang", Slate, March 30, 2001.
2 Rice, "American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century", Speech at Los Angeles World Affairs Council, January 15, 1999.
3 Aron, The Imperial Republic: The United States and the World, 1945-1973 (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1974), p. 176.
4 Some might see Europe as possessing the potential to oppose the United States. In terms of aggregate wealth and population, it does. In its resentment of perceived American highhandedness and arrogance--expressed most vigorously by France--it would seem to possess a motive of sorts. But Europe lacks political will. It talks, but actions seldom match words. The proposed European defense identity is a case in point. Who among the Europeans is willing to pay for it?
5 Cover text, New Republic, March 12, 2001.
6 Interview by Haim Zaltzman with Rice, "The Future of Foreign Policy", Hoover Digest (Fall 1999), www-hoover.stanford.edu/publications/digest/994/rice.html
7 Once the campaign ends, so does the posturing. Once safely elected, but even before his inauguration, Bush declared that, "American values always are at the center of our foreign policy."
Andrew J. Bacevich teaches at Boston University and is currently writing a book about U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.Essay Types: Essay