Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?

Mini Teaser: There is no shortage of books on security and strategy in a world beset by terror. "Fortunately," writes Harvey Sicherman, "most are short."

by Author(s): Harvey Sicherman

John Lewis Gaddis, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (Boston: Harvard University Press, 2004), 150 pp., $18.95

Owen Harries, Benign or Imperial? (Adelaide, Australia: ABC Books), 138 pp.

Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies (New York: Free Press, 2004), 304 pp., $27.

Walter Russell Mead, Power, Terror, Peace, and War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), 226 pp., $19.95.

David Frum and Richard Perle, An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2003), 284 pp., $26.95.

These days, American foreign policy analysis revolves around two vast and far-reaching surprises. On the morning of December 25, 1991, the United States was one superpower in a two-superpower world; by day's end, as the Soviet Union dissolved, it became the sole survivor. At dawn, September 11, 2001, America was arguably the most secure of nations. By noon, it appeared among the most vulnerable. The first was an unalloyed American victory. The second was an unalloyed American defeat.

The American people reacted to these disturbances in most revealing ways. They declined the invitation to empire offered by sole superpower status after they elected Bill Clinton in 1992, a man not only inexperienced in foreign policy but also fairly promising to ignore it ("It's the economy, stupid!"). They remained oblivious to dangers from abroad, electing at the end of the decade the equally inexperienced George W. Bush, after a ferocious campaign dominated by domestic issues.

Neither Bush's initial plans for his presidency nor American complacency survived 9/11. The United States has now pledged, through the War on Terror, to rehabilitate Afghanistan and Iraq as democracies and to transform the Middle East, among other things. The Bush Administration has compared this campaign to change the world with America's historic efforts in post-1945 Europe and Japan.

What to make of it all? The books under review are eager to instruct Americans on the proper course of action. Authored by an eminent historian, a former diplomat and former editor of The National Interest, an analyst and several former officials, they focus on the war, or more precisely, Mr. Bush's version of it. They are a contentious lot with contentious conclusions. Fortunately, most are short.

John Q. and George W.

John Lewis Gaddis, one of America's most eminent diplomatic historians, reflects on American reactions to the burning of Washington in the 19th century, Pearl Harbor in the 20th, and 9/11 in the 21st. The book, a collection of lectures, sustains Gaddis' reputation for eloquent yet affable prose, a skill honed no doubt by the vagaries of his student audience.

In discussing America's experience with such surprises, Gaddis also aims to surprise. And so he does, discerning beneath George W. Bush's Texas drawl the formal New England accents of John Quincy Adams. He asserts that, after the 1814 disaster, John Q. developed what Gaddis terms a pre-emptive, unilateral and hegemonic foreign policy--although limited to the Western Hemisphere, given America's very modest military power. George W. is pursuing a variation of Adams' biggest achievement, the Monroe Doctrine, on a global rather than hemispheric scale. This comparison allows Gaddis to put Bush squarely into American diplomatic traditions.

Gaddis admires Bush but does not think he has gotten it entirely right. He advises the President to emulate FDR rather than Adams. Gaddis offers a brilliant analysis of Roosevelt's post-Pearl Harbor blending of Wilson (whom FDR served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy) and his cousin Theodore, he of soft speech and big stick fame. By reconceiving the stillborn League of Nations on a "cold-blooded, at times even brutal, calculation of who had power and how they might use it", FDR made Wilsonian ideals practical.

Or so he hoped. I fear Gaddis has succumbed to Saint Frank's charm (who has not?), mistaking the great improviser for a visionary statesman. Like most presidents, FDR's foresight consisted largely of avoiding past disasters--he backed into the future with 1919 in mind. Great coalition builder that he was, he began (and ended) with one, Great Britain, and another, Stalin's Soviet Russia, that hardly agreed with his plans. Still, Gaddis wants Bush to exercise hegemony the Roosevelt way, clothed in the disguise of coalitions and international organizations, the (sound) theory being that leaders of inferior powers still like to be asked and consulted. A kinder, gentler approach (as in George the father) makes it easier for others to agree.

"With Us"

But will these other leaders agree? We turn now to a book that offers advice not only on the war itself but also what to expect from allies.

When Bush announced his criterion for coalition in the war, he said in effect you're either with us or against us. This omitted a group of significant states who were both with the United States on some aspects of the war and against it on others. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia come to mind. Russia is also among them, critical to the affairs of Central Asia and a unique source of nuclear technology for Iran. Most notoriously, of course, were the cases of France and Germany, opposed to the Iraq War at the UN but which facilitated America's effort by allowing the use of their airspace, roads and ports, among other things.

Australia, however, offers an example of a country entirely with the United States. But do not take any allies, even Australia, for granted. This is the insistent warning of Owen Harries, founding editor of The National Interest, one-time Australian diplomat and now senior fellow at the Centre of Independent Studies in Sydney. Benign or Imperial, consisting of the Boyer Lectures plumped out by several reprints from this magazine, exemplifies Harries's skill at concise, clear expression, and his ability to combine profound scholarship with sprightly prose. He, like Gaddis, finds Bush's policy deeply rooted in American tradition. But he worries about exercises in naked hegemony, and he catalogues errors that could debilitate American policy. Among the most serious is to mistake transient episodes for permanent trends. Worse yet are exercises in "alleged cultural traits" whether Hindu or Muslim. Worst of all is to confuse cultural sentimentality with hard interests, such as the "Anglosphere", a latter-day version of Churchill's imaginary English-speaking union.1 By these lights, it should not surprise us that Harries holds a dim view of Tony Blair.

All of these lectures bear Harries's call for caution and modesty. But for my money, the most interesting essay is "Punching Above One's Weight", a brilliant analysis of Australian foreign policy that addresses directly the question of just how much the country should be "with" the United States in the war against terrorism. Harries wants Australian statesmen to mind the country's resources, its ratio of means to ends, and the real threats it confronts. By his lights, Canberra should concentrate on regional terrorism, not global; the Iraq War is "not compelling;" the Anglosphere will not guarantee gratitude for America; and the UN is useful for the Aussies and therefore not to be unduly weakened. In short, the ends-and-means ratio dictates that Australia side with the United States but not sign onto every American global initiative. This is a sober reminder that Washington should not expect lapdog obedience from its allies.

Traison de Clarke

As Ambassador Harries notes--no doubt outraging many multipolarists:

"the really interesting and important debate is not between anti-American and pro-American; it is between two different American traditions concerning how the United States can best promote its values and ideals."

These are well represented here by the Mead and Frum-Perle books. But Harries has overlooked a third: the bureaucratic traditions whereby political ideals are wrestled into policy. In the absence of such skills, administrations are merely exercises in empty rhetoric.

Such a wrestler was Richard Clarke. Three administrations managed to overcome their distaste for his enemy-making personality because of his bureaucratic efficiency. Clarke took on the orphaned cause of anti-terrorism in the late 1980s and created a unique situation: Chief analyst on the NSC, he was also chief crisis action officer in the Counter-terrorism Coordinating Group. This gave him a seat at the top table.

Against All Enemies makes abundantly clear that Clarke preferred Clinton's top table to Bush's. The main charges are that Bush, unlike Clinton, gave the Al-Qaeda threat lower priority before 9/11, and then after 9/11, diverted to Iraq. In other words, Bush should have pre-empted Bin Laden and not pre-empted Saddam. The proof of priorities? Clinton (and his staff) held many meetings with Clarke in attendance; Bush but few. Clinton went after the danger vigorously; Bush had not even approved a strategy until September 4. And Clinton kept his eye on the ball while Bush strayed to Saddam's Iraq, a presidential fixation and a diversion from the War on Terror.

Clarke's pious hope that his efforts might result, as he wrote recently, in an "energetic and mutually respectful public discourse" is belied by the record. Against All Enemies often reads like the fury of a bureaucrat scorned, and Clarke himself turned the otherwise staid 9/11 Commission hearings into a political theater that compelled even Condaleezza Rice to take the stage. The idea that a meeting a day (with Clarke) would have kept Al-Qaeda away in summer 2001 is ridiculous, especially when Bush was getting his information directly from the CIA Director's daily briefings, a practice Clinton had discontinued. And Clarke's hyperventilation about Bush's action against Iraq ("an oil rich country that posed no threat to us, while paying scant attention to the Israeli-Palestinian problem") is factually incorrect.

Essay Types: Book Review