Report and Retort: A Response to John Hulsman

Report and Retort: A Response to John Hulsman

The following is part of an ongoing debate between Barak M. Seener and John C. Hulsman. Seener gets the last word here.

The following is part of an ongoing debate between Barak M. Seener and John C. Hulsman.Seener offered a critique of Hulsman's article "Designated Driver Diplomacy." Hulsman responded, and Seener gets the last word here.

It is impressive how a supposed response manages to ignore several examples of how Britain either openly opposed or pro-actively reinforced U.S. foreign policy. These examples cannot be dismissed as merely being "trees pointing the other direction" in comparison to a forest, as they were pivotal moments in history. Instead, an onslaught is made upon my alleged policy leanings due to my being a "representative of the Henry Jackson Society." I have never been affiliated with neoconservatism for reasons described below. Ironically, I find myself in the position of wanting to cite the same Cary Grant lines despite it being unbefitting for an alleged neoconservative to recall the effeminate and debonair British actor.

In an emotive appeal to those subscribing to conspiracy theories, the author holds neoconservatives responsible for hijacking U.S. foreign policy. None of the Bush's cabinet advisors were neoconservatives. They were traditional realists who perceived the world as a dark and dangerous place with amorphous transnational threats that needed to be tackled, especially after 9/11. The notion of a neoconservative coup- which ignores most Democrats' position in 2002-is facile. It also enables those not subscribing to neoconservatism to evade responsibility for also actively promoting Iraq's invasion.

Just as historical readings ought not be conducted in a two-dimensional manner, similarly policy affiliations are allowed to be nuanced.

Condoleezza Rice, the disciple of the archetypal realist Brent Scowcroft, had, by 2002, already said extensively that the debate between realists and idealists was outdated. It made sense during the Cold War to weigh the contrasting approaches of realism and neoconservatism, focusing on the external balance of power between states or internal machinations. It is also worth noting Rice's poignant declaration: "I recognize that this debate has won tenure for and sustained the careers of many generations of scholars. As a policymaker, I can tell you that these categories obscure reality. In real life, power and values are married completely." Indeed, Scowcroft was among other realists that included James Baker who wrote an open letter published by the Council on Foreign Relations, which stated that nation-building was one of the most pressing strategic requirements for the United States to invest in. One would have thought that such aspirations would be the remit of liberal imperialists. The eminent British professor Robert Singh has repeatedly offered his perspective that due to the coherence and general cross-party consensus on foreign policy, it is to be assumed that a future administration, regardless of the party, will adopt similar policies.

Indulging in perceiving a "macro-historical reality" obfuscates an undisciplined attempt at making sweeping generalisations and ignoring counter-trends that are not peripheral to geopolitical developments. Such untidiness is reflected in not addressing a specific example that I provided which demonstrate that I am not "firmly placed in the neoconservative camp." While the neoconservatives embraced the 2002 National Security Strategy, I clearly referred to it as having committed the cardinal sin of promoting democracy indiscriminately, disregarding local cultures. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, a paragon of neoconservatism, also recognized in her classic essay "Dictatorships and Double Standards" that there was a sequence for democracy promotion and that right-wing authoritarian regimes ought to be supported as opposed to left-wing autocratic ones. She also did not embrace whole-heartedly the Iraq War or the notion of regime-change. Despite retaining her neoconservative credentials, these ideas also happened to sit comfortably with realists. A more recent example can be provided in the generic concern among those in the democratic West with China's appalling human rights record. Irrespective of policy leanings, nobody in the policy community advances outwardly hostile policies towards China, despite awaiting the surge of democratic forces in China. This is because the United States seeks China's compliance with international interventions in areas such as Darfur. Thus the United States wields traditional diplomatic tools to bring China into the capitalist world. Similarly, the United States involves China in security frameworks so that the latter will maintain a vested interest in North Korean stability. At the same time, we do not avoid lecturing China on human rights. Attempting to establish distinctions between ideologies which genuinely were dichotomous at the time of the Cold War is today simply spurious.

There are numerous flaws with the neoconservative approach which are not simply evident as a result of the debacle in Iraq but were glaring at the time of the war's genesis. Realism and liberal interventionism were also not fully equipped to deal with the post-Cold War threats. I, however, will not divert the attention of the topic at hand to address them as it is not within the remit of the article.

One tremendous short-coming of neoconservatism, like Hulsman's view, was precisely its consistent attempt to identify broad patterns of history. This culture took on with key realist members of the Bush administration. Condoleezza Rice back in 2005 stated, "I tend to see things in the grand sweep of history. . . ." Testifying before a Senate committee hearing Rice said that the invasion of Iraq would have to be viewed through how it adds up in the "grand sweep of history." Donald Rumsfeld used exactly the same language when commenting upon Iraqi elections, stating that, "the grand sweep of history is for freedom and that we are on the right side." The problem is at what point in time, when viewing a macro-historical reality, can one stand back and offer a decisive judgement, especially one as emotionally pronounced as saying that neoconservatives are responsible for "account for the foreign policy disaster of a generation in Iraq." The "grand sweep of history" may show it to be otherwise.

Hulsman's patterns, which he ascribes to the neoconservatives who at a single historical juncture ignored political units in Iraq, are completely unrelated to the Macmillanite strategy that Britain is alleged to have conducted over long periods of time. As I have never proclaimed adherence to realism, neoconservatism or any other dogma, it is inappropriate for me to address the mistakes conducted in Iraq or to conflate them with the topic of the special relationship.

The Macmillanite strategy, alleged to have taken place over a number of decades, is more sweeping and can be compared to various theses advanced in the advent of the "New World Order" that claimed to describe a "macro-historical reality." Robert Kagan's Of Paradise and Power, which advanced the notion of a United States readily capable of wielding its military capabilities unilaterally, neatly placed the geopolitical landscape into Hobbessian and Kantian paradigms. But Kagan lacked the nuance of others, such as Philip Zelikow, who stated that in order to attract a coalition consisting of moderate but "undemocratic" Arab countries and EU states in order to normalize the crisis with Iran, it would have to oblige their interest in increased U.S. engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The neoconservative penchant for identifying broad historical trends undermined its effectiveness in the realm of practical implementation. Borrowing heavily from Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History" thesis, believed that modernization was to be endowed upon the entire geopolitical landscape due to the comprehended folly of Communism by the global community. Similarly Charles Krauthammer's "Unipolar Moment" advanced military primacy and vigorous democratic promotion without conducting empirical studies of various areas which were or were not conducive to democratic promotion, or quantitative studies of military resources to determine whether indiscriminate democratic promotion was feasible. It merely appeared axiomatic that the "macro-historical trend" was favourable to the spread of modernization, reinforced by military primacy.

Due to the confidence in macro-trends, there was no "neoconservative" position on troop levels and deployment despite the fact that practical execution of military strategies would determine the outcome of their philosophy. Fredrick Kagan, author of the surge (and seen as a neoconservative), had already in 2002 criticized the U.S. troop model as being too light for Afghanistan and that this strategy should not be duplicated in Iraq. The only other neoconservative to oppose the Afghan troop model in Iraq was Bill Kristol. Rumsfeld's occupation strategy in Iraq proved ineffective with insufficient troops and ultimately facilitated the de-legitimization of neoconservatism.

The "macro historical reality" lens of the neoconservatives did not anticipate that 40 percent of the U.S. military's reserve capacities would be exhausted by the protracted conflict zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the contrary, it was predicted that a domino effect would sweep away autocracies from the region in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, and that the main consternation of U.S. forces was that they would have to avoid the roses pelted in their direction. Such is the danger of identifying alleged macro-historical trends that do not make differentiated analysis of cultures and various histories of different geographic zones.

Of course the Iraq War was dominated by the United States and Britain, and not Italy, Poland and Spain, but to dismiss the other nations as not being major powers is exactly the kind of insult Hulsman and Anatol Lieven have said the United States should avoid. Hulsman and Lieven have gone on to criticize Rumsfeld et al. for having done just that.

It would be a stretch to consider that President Bush would not have invaded Iraq without British support. After a prime minister won an election despite the increasing domestic discontent with the Iraq War, what exactly does it mean that Tony Blair was "destroyed" by his foreign policy? It is possible to endlessly conjecture why Tony Blair left office but this was anticipated for a while, especially with the antagonism between himself and Gordon Brown. It is surprising that Blair's departure from office did not occur sooner.