Doctrinal Faith

Doctrinal Faith

Mini Teaser: Unflinching loyalty to the Bush Doctrine leads Robert Kaufman astray in his study of American foreign policy—and Truman, Reagan and Bush do not make a three-of-kind.

by Author(s): Colin Dueck

Robert G. Kaufman, In Defense of the Bush Doctrine (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007), 240 pp., $35.00.

IN THE wake of 9/11, the Bush Administration settled on a stated foreign-policy doctrine embracing the preventive and, if necessary, unilateral use of force against "rogue states" such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea. This doctrine was justified by referring to a new age of catastrophic terrorism; it was also framed in terms of traditional American goals of democracy promotion overseas. In this new book, Robert Kaufman's aim is to provide both a conceptual and historical basis for defending the underlying premises of the Bush Doctrine.

Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, lays out an overarching foreign-policy approach he calls "moral democratic realism." The "realism" element lies in an appreciation of the perennially anarchic, dangerous features of world politics, where the use of force-including its preventive use-is therefore sometimes necessary to provide security. The "democratic" element lies in the belief that the spread of liberal democracy makes the world a freer, safer and more prosperous place; in contrast, undemocratic regimes represent an existential threat to American values as well as American interests. The "moral" element lies in the claim that ordinary standards of Judeo-Christian morality can be applied to international relations, no less than to everyday life. Concepts of good and evil are not out of place in world politics.

Kaufman contrasts moral democratic realism to three other schools of thought: isolationism, liberal multilateralism and realism. The defining feature of isolationism in the American context has been its rejection of a system of U.S.-led bases and alliances in Europe, east Asia and the Middle East. He naturally identifies isolationism with the record of American diplomacy in the interwar years-a disaster for everyone involved. Liberal multilateralism is suspicious of the use of force, committed to the promotion of multilateral institutions and attracted to the use of "soft power." He associates this school particularly with post-Vietnam Democrats and especially the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Finally, realists of various types-according to Kaufman-while obviously appreciative of the anarchic features of world politics, fail to recognize the importance of ideology, regime type and morality in international affairs. He believes it was really the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy team that initiated a period of American weakness, with their willingness to accommodate Soviet power and their purely realist emphasis on power politics as opposed to the internal nature of the Soviet regime. While the criticism of Carter as a weak foreign-policy president is accurate enough, Kaufman's characterization of Nixon and Kissinger turns out to be something of a straw man.

In contrast, he identifies presidents such as Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan with "moral democratic realism." Truman embodied a new and more muscular approach by the late 1940s, calling for the vigilant containment of the Soviet Union. Reagan embarked on a campaign to pressure the Soviet Union on every front-military, economic and ideological. Unlike his predecessors, Reagan believed that it was the USSR and not the United States that was most vulnerable. Through a combination of increased military spending, missile deployments to Western Europe, the Strategic Defense Initiative, support for anti-communist insurgents and psychological warfare, Kaufman argues, Reagan gave Moscow no choice but to eventually retrench and concede. In sum, presidents such as Truman and Reagan were successful in that they combined a realistic sense of power politics with a moral-democratic appreciation for ideology and regime type. Presidents who only did one or the other-such as the liberal multilateralist Carter or the realist Nixon-were, according to Kaufman, much less successful. In essence, Kaufman wants to argue that there is a single successful U.S. foreign-policy tradition since World War II; that it includes, notably, Truman and Reagan; and that the current president is its legitimate heir, rather than realist critics on the one hand and liberal multilateralists on the other.

TWO THINGS in this book may be most interesting to readers of The National Interest. The first is Kaufman's energetic defense of policies that even the Bush Administration has itself begun to back away from. The author remains adamant that the invasion of Iraq was necessary to undercut support for terrorism within the Middle East. Containment, he says, was simply not working in relation to Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, Kaufman defends the invasion of Iraq as not only right and necessary, but as having been conducted in the right way. The outcome, he suggests, has been progress toward democracy throughout the Middle East, together with enhanced credibility for American power. Kaufman opposes any relaxation of effort in Iraq. He looks for continued pressure, rather than negotiations, on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues. He advocates vigilant containment and preventive military actions, if necessary, to bring about the goals of non-proliferation and regime change. More generally, he supports a foreign policy based upon clear assumptions of American primacy, skepticism toward the UN, energetic democracy promotion and a forward military presence overseas.

The second is his sweeping critique of realists in both the policy and academic world. He argues that whether in their classical or contemporary form, realists such as George Kennan, Kenneth Waltz, Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft have been consistently wrong about the nature of international relations, and therefore positively harmful to U.S. foreign policy. Among their supposed failings are: skepticism regarding the promotion of democracy overseas; a presumption against the early use of force; a belief that unipolarity is evanescent; a belief that all states are alike; a dismissal of ideology and regime type as insignificant in world politics; an underestimation of man's capacity for devotion to the larger good; a willingness to let the balance of power operate without American aid; a belief that foreign policy should focus only on vital interests; a record in defense of the appeasement of Hitler; opposition to the 1991 Gulf War; opposition to the 2003 Iraq War; a current willingness to engage in diplomacy with North Korea and Iran and a retreat into what Kaufman calls the abyss of moral relativism. The administrations identified by Kaufman as characteristically realist include not only the Nixon-Kissinger team, but also the senior Bush Administration. Brent Scowcroft endures special criticism from Kaufman for having valued stability over democracy promotion in both the Soviet Union and the Middle East from 1989 to 1992.

Let me begin by saying where Kaufman is right. He is right to reject any sweeping disengagement from America's strategic commitments overseas. He is right to say that America's global presence provides certain indispensable public goods internationally. He is right to portray contemporary liberals as all too frequently wedded to a vision of multilateral institutions that has little relationship to international politics as it actually exists. He is right to say that many of the criticisms leveled against Bush as well as the war in Iraq have been overdone, wrongheaded or even hysterical. But contra Kaufman, the fact that Bush's critics have often been wrong does not make the Bush Doctrine specifically the right one for the United States.

Considering that even most neoconservatives have long since abandoned any attempt to argue that the Iraq War was well managed, it is genuinely surprising to come across a reasonably thoughtful author-and Kaufman is one-still willing to defend Bush absolutely to the hilt. Amazingly, Kaufman will not even concede that the Iraq War was badly managed: He calls it a sound application of a sound doctrine. In a way this is actually more pro-Bush than Bush himself, since the president has since admitted that certain key decisions in Iraq were ill-advised. In fact, for a book entitled In Defense of the Bush Doctrine, the author spends surprisingly few pages directly discussing the practical application of that doctrine. All Kaufman will say is that Iraq, like the region in general, continues to make good progress toward democracy as a result of the American invasion. It is almost as if continually deteriorating events on the ground have no ability to penetrate the mental precincts of the war's most enthusiastic advocates. With regard to current policy recommendations, Kaufman tells us that an American retreat from Iraq would be taken as a great victory by jihadi terrorists. This is obviously true, as far as it goes; it is also true only because the Bush Administration put us in this impossible position. Surely the lesson is not more Iraqs, but rather much greater prudence next time in where and how we intervene militarily.

Kaufman is unclear on what course the United States should follow in relation to North Korea and Iran: containment or preventive strikes-again, strange for a book on this precise subject. Instead, he quotes Sun Tzu and leaves it at that. Yet it is worth noting that out of sheer necessity, the Bush Administration has moved pretty far in the direction of negotiations with both of these remaining rogue states-exactly what realists such as Brent Scowcroft have been calling for from the start.

This brings us to Kaufman's list of the many features and failings of realism, laid out above: It is at best a gross oversimplification, and in many respects downright inaccurate. With the dishonorable exception of E. H. Carr, most realists view the appeasement of Hitler as a catastrophic mistake; it was one of the errors that motivated the formation of this school of thought in the first place. Realists like Kennan certainly did not ignore the internal or ideological nature of the Soviet regime. Most realists have no principled objection to the early use of force under certain circumstances. Most realists support the forward strategic presence of the United States in Europe and east Asia precisely because they do not view the world balance of power as operating automatically. Some realists believe unipolarity to be elusive; others do not. Some realists opposed the first Gulf War; others supported it. Realists like Kenneth Waltz emphatically do not deny the importance of ideology and regime type in foreign affairs; they only argue that international pressures ultimately force states to act in ways they might not want. And to say that foreign-policy realism represents a retreat into an abyss of moral relativism is just silly. Realists recognize the place of moral considerations in foreign policy and always have. They simply point out that such considerations are often in tension with other interests; that moral reasons can sometimes be a misleading and sanctimonious rationalization for what is in fact a self-interested approach and that moral considerations are in any case better thought of in terms of actual results on the ground rather than in terms of good intentions or ringing declarations of principle. All of these mischaracterizations matter, because if Kaufman has got realism wrong, then he has got the current policy implications wrong.

Essay Types: Book Review