November 13, 2005

Two Views of American Foreign Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, the New Yorker published a Jeffrey Goldberg article based on an interview with former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft. Scowcroft gets a lot of press for being a Republican foreign policy mandarin critical of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

In setting up the article, Goldberg gives too stark a description of the Scowcroftian foreign policy worldview…

Like Kissinger, he is a purveyor of a “realist” approach to foreign policy: the idea that America should be guided by strategic self-interest, and that moral considerations are secondary at best.
I know you have to simplify when describing political philosophies, but Goldberg completely misses the essential divide that exists within Republican foreign policy circles. The Scowcroft/Kissinger view of the world is based on accepting the permanence of your enemies. The key assumptions are that opposing leaders are ultimately reasonable and that foreign policy is process of continuing deal-making over who can do what in the other side’s sphere of influence. The opposing school of thought is the Reagan school of thought. The key tenants are a belief that an enemy who says that his goal is to destroy you probably means it and that security comes from defeating your enemies.

The White House sent out an e-mail in response to the Goldberg article. Some national Republican version of Michael Levesque had this to say about the e-mail

"I was so disgusted that I deleted the damn e-mail before I read it," the Republican said. "But that's all this White House has now: the politics of personal destruction."
Actually, the e-mail turned out to be a list of sober, substantive rebuttals to various issues raised in the Scowcroft interview.

I’ll reprint the points from the e-mail in the extended entry (courtesy of RealClearPolitics). You have the link to Goldberg article/Scrowcroft’s comments. Which vision of American foreign policy do you prefer?

Here is the rebuttal to the points made by Scowcroft...

1. Bernard Lewis is perhaps our greatest living historian on the Middle East.

2. Ronald Reagan calling the Soviet Union an "evil empire" was accurate, courageous, and important, as we learned from (among others) Soviet dissidents.

3. The assertion that we have had "fifty years of peace" in the Middle East is an odd one, if you consider (a) America's 1991 war against Iraq (which General Scowcroft favored); (b) the Iraq-Iran war (in which there were a million casualties; (c) the conflict in the early 1970s between Jordan and the Palestinians; (d) the civil war in Lebanon; (e) the four wars between Israel and Arab nations; and (f) the attacks of September 11, 2001 (which was carried out by Islamic radicals who emerged from the broader Middle East).

In some ways this point underscores the enormous difference between the worldview of Mr. Scowcroft and those in the Bush Administration. Mr. Scowcroft seems to believe that the status quo in the Middle East is tolerable, maybe even preferable; we do not. The President believes that if the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation and anger and violence for export. In the words of President Bush, "In the past, [we] have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold."

4. The "bad guys" -- the most ruthless among us -- do not "always" rise to the top. In fact in many elections - in Spain and Portugal, Nicaragua and El Salvador, the Czech Republic and Romania, South Africa and the Philippines, Indonesia and Ukraine, Afghanistan and Iraq, and many more - we have seen enormous strides toward freedom. For example, the Western Hemisphere has transformed itself over the last two decades from a region dominated by repressive, authoritarian regimes to one in which the overwhelming number of countries there have democratically-elected governments and growing civil societies.

It's also worth bearing in mind that some pretty bad guys (like Saddam Hussein) "win elections" in authoritarian and totalitarian societies. Indeed, non-democracies make it far easier for the "bad guys" to prevail than is the case with democracies. Is it the supposition of Mr. Scowcroft that from a historical point of view dictatorships have a better record than democracies? Or that because democratic elections don't always turn out well they can never turn out well? Or that because democratic elections don't always turn out well we should prefer authoritarian and totalitarian regimes? The habit of mind that sees all the weaknesses in democracy and all the "strengths" in authoritarian and totalitarian regimes is, well, curious.

5. Mr. Scowcroft insists we will not "democratize" Iraq and that "in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful." Except that in the last two-and-a-half years Iraq has moved from tyranny, to liberation, to national elections, to the writing of a constitution, to the passage of a constitution. By any standard or precedent of history, Iraq has made incredible political progress. Iraq still faces challenges, including a ruthless insurgency -- but there is no question that the people of Iraq long for democracy and for victory over the insurgency.

The charge that the way we have sought to bring democracy to Iraq is "you invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize" is itself deeply misleading. Mr. Scowcroft's invasion was in fact a liberation -- and overthrowing one of the worst tyrannies in modern times and replacing it with free elections is a good start on the pathway to liberty. And of course this year we have also seen political progress -- not perfection, but progress -- in Kuwait, Egypt, and among the Palestinians.

6. The notion that democratic progress in Lebanon is "unrelated" to the war in Iraq is undermined by what the Lebanese themselves have told us. To take just one example, here are the words of Walid Jumblatt, who was once a harsh critic of American policy: "'It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it."

7. Mr. Scowcroft seems to wish that Syria were still ruling Lebanon with an iron fist. Brutal repression may be wicked -- but (Scowcroft seems to believe) it does keep a lid on "sectarian emotions."

8. Sometimes when given a chance, we humans don't screw up. Sometimes human beings reach for, and (even if imperfectly) attain, nobility and the advancement of freedom and human dignity.Which seems to me to be an argument against cynicism and despair -- to say nothing of repression and tyranny. Let the debate proceed.