FDR's Children

FDR's Children

Mini Teaser: The Democratic rebirth of the virtue of FDR's realism.

by Author(s): Nikolas K. Gvosdev

Dennis Ross, Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), 384 pp., $26.00.

Amitai Etzioni, Security First: For a Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 336 pp., $27.00.

Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen, The Next American Century: How the U.S. Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 368 pp., $26.00.


NEARLY ALL of the 2008 presidential candidates-both Democrats and Republicans-have made some version of "restoring America's global leadership" a key foreign-policy priority. Dennis Ross, Amitai Etzioni, Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen have plenty of advice to offer-and their recommendations seem to parallel those often heard from "Republican realists." But aren't these authors on the other side of the aisle? The Washington Post identifies Dennis Ross as a foreign-policy advisor for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama; Amitai Etzioni is a long-standing member of the progressive community (and served in the Carter White House); Nina Hachigian and Mona Sutphen were part of the Clinton foreign-policy apparatus (and Hachigian is now based at the Center for American Progress).

But why should this approach to U.S. foreign policy be considered outside the mainstream of the Democratic Party? After all, one of the defining figures for the Democrats in the modern era-Franklin D. Roosevelt-would feel quite comfortable with the proposals laid out here. Paul Starobin, in his 2006 National Journal essay on foreign-policy realism, identified FDR as the "most cunning (and successful) realist ever to occupy the White House"-this, the president who co-authored the Atlantic Charter, with its vision of a world at peace, defined by free states. But FDR balanced his idealism-his hopes for a globe defined by his Four Freedoms-with a realistic assessment of what could be achieved in a given space of time. Unlike those British idealists who in 1940 called for war against both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (under the assumption that both were totalitarian dictatorships), Roosevelt worked in stages-allying with the Soviet Union to ensure the liberation of Western Europe in 1945 and laying conditions for the eventual spread of freedom elsewhere. Susan Butler, who produced an edited volume of FDR's correspondence with Stalin, observed, "Roosevelt wanted to win the war; he wanted to win the peace that followed." Ross, Etzioni, Hachigian and Sutphen are the heirs of FDR's vision and approach.

Ross takes his service in two administrations (those of George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton) to produce a series of case studies (including how the reunification of Germany was accomplished in 1990, the formation of a truly international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991 and the emergence of a transatlantic consensus that facilitated joint action to bring about a peace settlement in Bosnia in 1995) that illustrate the lessons of "statecraft"-that the successful policymaker must have clear foreign-policy objectives in mind; understand what means are needed to achieve them; and know how to apply leverage to obtain desired outcomes. Ross has no objection to ambitious foreign-policy goals-as long as an administration has lined up the wherewithal to implement them. In many cases, this means that the United States will have to shape its objectives in ways that allow other states to become shareholders when they have the ability to make substantive contributions.

His principal criticism of the current administration-criticism he hopes a future president will take to heart-is not as much with specific policy choices made by the Bush team but with its lack of effectiveness-its propensity for engaging in foreign policy "on the cheap" and its seeming unwillingness to undertake the "intensive and extensive efforts" to convince other governments to support its plans. He contrasts this with what Secretary of State James Baker did to secure votes for the United Nations resolutions that first imposed sanctions on Iraq and then authorized the use of force to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait-bringing together a coalition of states where the burdens of the first Gulf War were truly shared. The first Bush Administration never compromised on what it sought to achieve in Kuwait, but Baker, in private, conveyed a message to other capitals that, in asking for their support of U.S. plans, "if there was something we could do to make it easier for them to do so, they should let us know what that might be."

What happens if another country wants to be "left alone" in return for cooperation on our top priorities? Say, if an authoritarian regime agrees to give up a nuclear-weapons program in return for security guarantees from the United States? Amitai Etzioni argues that this is a bargain worth considering, especially if one can demonstrate concrete results. In Security First , Etzioni argues that the United States would be well served digesting the "Libya Lesson"-Muammar Qaddafi's willingness to give up his nuclear- and chemical-weapons components and end his support for terrorist groups in return for reintegration into the international system as a legitimate member of the family of nations. "There is little to be lost and much to be gained by providing security guarantees and other rewards in exchange for vigorous and verified deproliferation and an end to harboring, financing and equipping terrorists", he observes.

If a necessary trade-off for compliance with a U.S. security agenda is for Washington to stop engaging in regime transformation, especially in pursuing democratization, then so be it. Etzioni has little faith that "big bang" efforts designed to produce instant democracies will succeed. He finds himself in agreement with what Richard Haass wrote in these pages one year ago-"the principal business of American foreign policy must be the foreign policy, not the domestic policy, of others."

Why Etzioni is skeptical of U.S. "social engineering" in the name of democratization comes from his assessment that, at present, many in the world-and certainly a majority among Muslims-are best described as "illiberal moderates." These are people who reject violence and extremism and support the concept of an accountable government operating under a rule of law but do not subscribe to Western notions of secularism or cultural pluralism-for example, Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. If the United States adopts an approach that only liberal democrats are worthy partners for Washington, then America runs the risk of rejecting "hundreds of millions that might be at least neutral if not allies in fighting against terrorism and other forms of violence."

Essay Types: Book Review