Monday, November 3, 2008

Editor's Introduction - November 2008

“Foreign Policy Myths Debunked.” The Nation. October 6, 2008.

An Annotation

Amid the competitive and somewhat heated rhetoric on the economy, race, taxes, and healthcare, noticeably down-played from the campaign for the White House has been an in-depth discussion of American foreign policy. With two ongoing and unpopular wars, and a faltering economic position in global markets, the new administration must rapidly address these, and other, demanding foreign policy concerns. In “Foreign Policy Myths Debunked,” the editors of The Nation attempt to outline the foreign policy myths that have adversely impacted American national security, economic growth, and most importantly, international standing.

“As the election draws near, a new set of myths and fallacies as misleading as those that led the Senate to support George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have become embedded in our foreign policy discourse…If left unchallenged, these myths and fallacies could influence the outcome of the election and shape policy in the next administration.”

Given the pressing foreign policy challenges facing the new administration, and the different opinions and perspectives that Senators McCain and Obama would bring to the Oval Office, what can we expect to see from each? This month’s Roundtable asks how human rights factor into the election, and, more specifically, the positions of each candidate. Does the enforcement of human rights play a role in this election’s foreign policy? In the context of genocide in Darfur, and continued ethnic conflict in the Middle East, will human rights norms become the forefront of American foreign policy? If the new administration follows the path set forth by the Bush administration, particularly in the use of human rights rhetoric to justify aggression and intervention, the realities of grave human rights violations and abuses occurring throughout the world will no longer demand immediate, comprehensive action.

“The challenge for the next administration, then, is not how to restore American leadership but how to share these responsibilities in an increasingly multipolar world, and thus free up the energy and resources needed to rebuild American society.”

Come inauguration on January 20, 2009, Senator McCain or Senator Obama will be forced to examine the past, present, and future of American foreign policy. Moreover, their decisive action or inaction will impact, not only Americans at home, but also the entire world. The centerpiece this month asks the key question: Will myths and lies continue to be the foundation for American foreign policy, as they have been for the past eight years under the Bush administration? Indeed, the American people and the international community are watching and waiting to witness the next phase of American foreign policy.

These issues and others are considered in this month’s Roundtable.


America as an Ordinary Nation

by William F. Felice, Eckerd College

"An effective U.S. foreign policy would recognize these limitations to U.S. power and understand the need for vibrant multilateral cooperation and diplomacy to address the most pressing security issues today, from global terrorism to global warming to the global recession."

For decades, scholars of international relations have called attention to the limits of American power. For example, in 1976 Cornel University Press published America as an Ordinary Country: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future, edited by Richard Rosecrance. As the title indicates, Rosecrance’s book analyzed the impact of the economic, military, and foreign policy setbacks of the 1970s on U.S. power. Suddenly the U.S. seemed less the powerful, “indispensible” leader and more the vulnerable, “ordinary” country unable to control external forces lashing the society’s economy and foreign policy. These insights led many scholars to call for a reassessment of basic “common sense” assumptions about U.S. economic, military and political power. In 2003, Columbia University Press published Emmanuel Todd’s After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order. In this work, Todd picks up where Rosecrance left off and documents the many ways in which the world is learning that it can get along without American leadership. In fact, America today is burdened with enormous trade deficits, a declining dollar, and the unanticipated bankruptcies of leading firms and banks. Furthermore, the U.S. has become a dependent state, subsisting on foreign money. All of this, as Todd carefully demonstrates, has appreciably undermined the political and economic influence of the U.S. in international relations today. Other scholars, including Paul Kennedy, have added to this growing body of scholarship and posited similar concerns about the intense confines to American power. It can, in fact, be reasonably argued that the U.S. has become simply one liberal democracy among many with unique and growing economic, environmental, and social vulnerabilities. An effective U.S. foreign policy would recognize these limitations to U.S. power and understand the need for vibrant multilateral cooperation and diplomacy to address the most pressing security issues today, from global terrorism to global warming to the global recession.

Yet, the Bush administration never acknowledged how this new world of complex interdependence created such great power vulnerability and dramatically limited the utility of America’s hard power resources, in particular its military power. The current administration never understood how this pressing and dangerous new agenda of world politics demanded a multilateral approach, and that such a cooperative framework would enhance, not diminish, U.S. power. Instead, the neoconservative foreign policy team surrounding Cheney and Rumsfeld pursued a radical, more muscular foreign policy agenda based on American exceptionalism and unilateralism and a desire to make the world more like us. Instead of recognizing the critical role of international law and international organization in a world of common threats, the administration marginalized the United Nations and a rule-based world system, and sought to fight terrorism and promote democracy around the world according to its own determination of right and wrong. In the name of fighting terrorism, the administration abandoned the rule of law. The most basic norms necessary to create international cooperation and multilateralism were jettisoned, including equality, transparency, fair procedures, individual culpability, clear rules, checks and balances, and respect for basic human rights. In 2007, David Cole and Jules Lobel in Less Safe, Less Free documented how the Bush administration had systematically violated each of these basic legal commitments and instead imposed double standards, secret trials, guilt by association, obscured clear rules, asserted unchecked unilateral power, and sullied universal prohibitions on torture, disappearance, and the like. The tragic irony is that all of this has made the U.S. not only less free, but less safe and much more vulnerable to attack.

Sherle Schwenninger is thus absolutely correct when she writes in The Nation: “Neither campaign has grasped the central lesson of the Bush era: the world does not need strong U.S. leadership as much as it needs constructive U.S. participation as a great power.” American security and world peace depends upon the U.S. denouncing the neoconservative policies of exceptionalism and double standards, and committing our country to equality, justice, fairness, and the rule of law. In the end, an effective foreign policy and U.S. national security rest on a fundamental respect for human rights.

In his campaign for the presidency, George W. Bush stated: “If we are an arrogant nation, [other countries] will view us that way, but if we’re a humble nation, they’ll respect us.” Tragically, the Bush foreign policy was arrogant to the core and we now suffer the consequences. The next administration will hopefully reject this failed arrogant path and pursue the “humble” road with the realization that “humility” can be shown through a basic and even-handed commitment to human rights norms and standards. When we become a nation that practices what it preaches about human rights, we will be a state that others will want to join with to collectively address terrorism, ecological dangers, and economic malaise. Unfortunately, neither campaign has argued vigorously for this type of multilateral, common security approach to U.S. foreign policy. But, once in power, the new president could use the “bully pulpit” of the office to challenge the current malignant quagmire of U.S. exceptionalism and articulate a vibrant road forward based on respect, multilateralism, and human rights.


Speak Softly...With Everyone You Can

by Todd Landman, University of Essex
"Fifty years of human rights achievements that had been originally crafted by Eleanor Roosevelt became undermined in one fell swoop with the establishment of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. And it is to the unintended consequences of American foreign policy that I would like a McCain or Obama administration to pay close attention."

From the Monroe Doctrine to the Bush Doctrine, United States foreign policy has been predicated on the assumption that somehow it knows what is best for the rest of the world. Monroe feared a potential encroachment from Russia and meddling in the “American” Hemisphere by the European powers and issued what originally appeared as a modest statement about resistance to intervention by any other country than the United States. Ironically enforced by the British Navy at that time, the Monroe Doctrine went far beyond its modest beginnings to set a precedent for the development of U.S. foreign policy. The logic of the doctrine would later be buttressed by other presidential decrees and doctrines, most notably the Roosevelt corollary, which extended U.S. “police power” over the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean; the Truman Doctrine, which sought to contain the Soviet Union through the establishment of allies and a ring of missiles in Europe; the Reagan Doctrine, which sought to “roll back” communism through the use of “proxy wars” in Latin America (the soft underbelly of the United States), Africa (most notably Angola), the Middle East and Central Asia (e.g. Afghanistan); and the Bush Doctrine, which justifies pre-emptive use of force against any threat that is deemed to be “imminent” (see the 2002 National Security Strategy).
Like Barack Obama, I was a freshman in the 1980s at the University of Pennsylvania, which also had its anti-apartheid and anti-Reagan Doctrine protests. While the Vietnam “syndrome” limited the willingness of the United States to engage directly in conflicts around the world and the Iran-Contra affair taught us about the abuses of executive authority (as the Nixon years did when I was a child), we implored our university to divest from South Africa to punish an unacceptable regime that had endured for an unacceptable period of time. My studies also led to a deeper understanding of the nature and extent of widespread human rights abuse committed by the military authoritarian regimes in Latin America. Many of these regimes enjoyed staunch support from the Reagan administration, which drew its foreign policy inspiration from Jeane Kirkpatrick’s misconceived notion that right wing authoritarian regimes were somehow more susceptible to democratization than left wing authoritarian regimes. The paradigmatic case was Pinochet’s Chile, where the full extent of U.S. involvement and complicity in what took place there between 1973 and 1989 has finally been authoritatively documented in Peter Kornbluh’s The Pinochet File (see also my 2004 review essay on this book published in HRHW).
Beyond the more famous cases from Latin America, the Reagan Doctrine also led the U.S. to commit covert funds, weapons, and materiel to Afghanistan through Pakistan to support the Muhajadeen’s battle against Soviet occupation, where the consequences have included the disenchantment with the United States, recruitment into Al Qaeda terror networks, and at least until the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, a training base for Osama Bin Laden. Again, like in the case of Chile, the links between U.S. policy and the most perverse of unintended consequences has been authoritatively documented in Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars.
And it is to the unintended consequences of American foreign policy that I would like a McCain or Obama administration to pay close attention. McCain’s hero is Teddy Roosevelt, but the “big stick” of American unilateralism, carried out with alacrity during the Bush years has led to huge loss of life around the world and significant discredit of the American ideal among many of its trusted friends and allies. Fifty years of human rights achievements that had been originally crafted by Eleanor Roosevelt became undermined in one fell swoop with the establishment of the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. The general disdain for hard-fought international human rights standards in the name of fighting terror that developed within the upper echelons of the Bush administration was raised to high relief by the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib. Mr. McCain’s personal experiences with the excesses of “reasons of state” in Vietnam must surely make him wary of the pursuit of national objectives at any cost and his measured approach to committing U.S. troops abroad (perhaps with the exception of the war in Iraq) suggests that an administration under his leadership will be less bellicose than its predecessor. But his gaffes with respect to Iran suggest that voters ought to think hard about what kind of image and what kind of foreign policy America will have with McCain and Palin in the White House.Obama takes his inspiration from John F. Kennedy (or at least his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis and not the Bay of Pigs) and seeks a more consultative base for his foreign policy rather than the big stick of the “neo-Rooselveltian,” as Newsweek describes McCain. But JFK also had his fair share of unintended consequences, not least of which the Alliance for Progress, a foreign aid and technical assistance package extended to Latin America in the 1960s trained the military personnel and laid the foundations for the authoritarian period that soon followed. Obama’s Asian experiences have sensitized him in some degree to the plight of poor Muslims and poor people more generally and suggested one strand for U.S. foreign policy address the long term structural problems associated with maldistribution of wealth within the world. His choice of running mate suggests that he will have a firm knowledge of the travails of the Reagan and Bush Doctrines. Moreover, as a lawyer and community activist in Chicago, Obama should be well-versed in the power and meaning of human rights. But I do hope that the pressures of being the President and the many contradictions that come with holding that office will not distract him from a commitment to our most basic of human values.


Myths, Reasonable Disagreement, and a League of Democracies

by James Pattison, University of West England
"The subsequent impact of the basing of U.S. foreign policy on the protection of human rights worldwide on these egregious lies is well-known, from Guantanamo Bay to the courting of tyrannies as partners in the War on Terror."

The United States’ election in 2004 was based on a number of foreign policy myths. Three of the most obvious were:
The war in Iraq was necessary as a response to the threat of international terrorism. As a result, the world is now a safer place; The institutions of the UN are corrupt and do nothing but restrict American power; Al Qaeda and international terrorism more generally are extremely significant threats to American national security.

These myths were the centerpiece of the Bush re-election campaign that realized, as the philosopher G. W. F. Hegel argued two hundred years ago, that the best way to quell domestic criticism is to wage war and exacerbate fear from external attack. The subsequent impact of the basing of U.S. foreign policy on the protection of human rights worldwide on these egregious lies is well-known, from Guantanamo Bay to the courting of tyrannies as partners in the War on Terror (such as Islom Karimov, president of Uzbekistan). More diffuse effects included the weakening of the U.S.’s ability to act as “norm-carrier” for human rights and related ideas, such as humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. That is, the power of the U.S. to influence the Global South on such matters waned as skepticism of its War on Terror increased. Perhaps most notably, these policies stymied the possibility of more robust action to the crisis in Darfur, as American military resources and attention were focused elsewhere and the Global South became less willing to listen to a unilateralist, chauvinistic U.S.

While ramifications of the myths of the 2004 election for human rights were as clear at the time as they are now, I’m less convinced that the ten points listed by the editors of the Nation should be viewed as “myths,” “lies,” or “gross distortions.” Take, for instance, “Myth 2”—that the “surge has worked.” Although the editors may rightly point to the other factors involved in the reduction in violence and question the success of the surge, a reasonable case can be made that the surge has been a significant factor in the improvement of the situation in Iraq. Or, take “Myth 10,” that the “world needs American leadership.” A similarly reasonable case can be made for the need for strong U.S. leadership, particularly on human rights and environmental issues, where American leadership on such issues has been lacking. Of course, leadership on such issues may necessitate constructive engagement rather than unilateral obstinacy.

My point, then, is that most of the ten “myths” identified by the editors of the Nation are nowhere near the egregious lies of the Bush Administration. They are instead more like points of what John Rawls calls “reasonable disagreement” about the current international climate. To be sure, I’m sympathetic to many of the claims by the editors. But casting alternative arguments as “myths” is unhelpful in two ways. First, it denies the acceptability of debate about these issues, denying other positions as “lies,” when debate is surely what is required. Second, it over-exaggerates the extent to which the current election is based on myths. Unlike 2004, this election has a more serious, somber tone (despite some notable exceptions). Part of this is perhaps down to McCain’s seeming reluctance to go along with the Neocon’s dirty tricks, which he himself was subject to in 2000.

My focus thus far has been on the problem with the framing of reasonable, ulterior viewpoints as “myths.” But I have also said that I agree with the broad thrust of the editors’ arguments. There is one point, however, where I think they are wrong. This is their rejection of the idea of a League of Democracies. This idea has a long and rich history, and was most famously defended by Immanuel Kant in his proposal for Perpetual Peace. Kant’s suggestion is for a loose confederation of liberal democracies that would spread over the world as the pacifying effects of democratization are realized. To a certain extent, we already have a League of Democracies—NATO. One option would be the extension of NATO to include other democracies beyond Europe and North America. But perhaps a better option, and more in line with the Kantian ideal, would be to look to such a body not to provide military leadership, but to work as a political and economic forum to improve the promotion of human rights worldwide. It would essentially be a talking shop that deals in international legitimacy, working alongside the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council would still be tasked with dealing with matters of international peace and security. Indeed, the re-emergence of Russia and the growing power of China make an alternative to the Security Council on such matters unlikely. The League would instead meet every so often to debate key international issues, just as the non-aligned movement and the G8 currently do. This weaker institution would avoid many of the practical problems highlighted by the editors. And still, very occasionally, it may be able to pass resolutions endorsing humanitarian intervention outside the auspices of Security Council, helping to legitimize action such as NATO’s intervention in Kosovo 1999.
The editors of the Nation propose the expansion of the Security Council to include emerging powers such as India and Brazil. This would obviously increase the likelihood of stalemate in the Council. In fact, it would further exacerbate the need for alternatives sources of legitimacy, such as a League of Democracies, to ensure an effective response to serious humanitarian crises. Such a solution would, of course, face some practical hurdles, but we should not foreclose its possibility by viewing it as “mythical,” especially when it could have an important role in improving compliance worldwide with human rights norms.


Human Rights and the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election

by Brent Steele, University of Kansas
"While it may not be the case that the 'world needs' U.S. leadership, certain areas may not resist it. This is especially the case if either of these men—Obama or McCain—can quickly regain the trust of the world community through a set of policies which approach global problems with honest assessments and earnest commitments."

There has been a vivid tendency this year by the conventional keepers of Washington wisdom to explicate the two presidential candidates’ foreign policy views using old frameworks of “hawk” and “dove.” Not only is this binary wrong, it fundamentally obscures some rather ironic potentials for how each candidate, if elected president, will focus upon human rights in their foreign policy. McCain’s neoconservative view of the world is founded upon the Wilsonian call for democratization—culminating in what he terms a “League of Democracies.” To use a concept that Arnold Wolfers first coined, and one which Joshua Muravchik has proffered as well, McCain has at heart “milleu” goals for the world. The U.S.’s prominent position as a great power can not only secure American national interests in anarchy, it can change that notion of anarchy altogether – a world constituted by liberal democracies is one which will be radically more peaceful than one where rogue states reside.

Obama, despite all of the grandiose rhetoric, and despite having liberal internationalist advisors such as Anthony Lake and Ivo Daalder, has emphasized and even championed realist principles of prudence, self-limitation, restraint and caution, which explicates his stated admiration for a variety of realist icons such as Reinhold Niebuhr, George Kennan, and Dean Acheson, (see Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of him from May of 2007 in this regard). This also elucidates why he has been supported, either tacitly or explicitly, by realist Republicans such as Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel and Colin Powell. It is the realist emphases on diplomacy, “soft power” and the U.S. national interest, which pulse Obama’s position on dialogue with adversaries such as Iran, rather than some cosmopolitan notion that he is trying to get us all to “get along.”

How will these policies impact human rights in the world? For starters, both men will move away from the current administration’s embrace of coercive interrogation techniques in combating terrorism. Arguably, there has been no darker turn in U.S. foreign policy than this, and it looks very likely the use of such techniques will end. Admittedly, there are differences on this issue between the two—such as McCain’s support for, versus Obama’s opposition to the 2006 Military Commissions Act which, among other provisions, will make it more difficult for either man as president to prosecute government officials for criminal misconduct in regards to interrogation. But overall either Obama or McCain would be, and have been as senators, more forceful in their condemnation of such techniques. And as constructivist scholars of International Relations would point out, both men have justified this condemnation with powerful references to U.S. identity: Obama repeatedly asserts his opposition to torture with the words “That is not who we are,” and McCain has mentioned on several occasions that regardless of who the enemies are (even terrorists), “We are Americans, and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be.” For those who care about human rights, on this issue there is hope for optimism.

When it comes to other practices which implicate human rights, make no mistake that if Obama is elected, his Iraq withdrawal plan will inevitably entail some instability in Iraq such as a return of sectarian fighting between the Shia and Sunnis in Baghdad and surrounding areas. McCain’s stated goal to keep troops in Iraq would most likely in the short-term serve to continue the fragile peace between contentious factions there (I say “most likely” since it’s not entirely clear that the increased U.S. presence there via the “surge” is solely responsible for this fragile stability), but in the long term it may constrain the U.S.’s ability to deploy forces to stem humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world.

On the issue of genocide, those who see Obama as an “idealist” advocate of humanitarian interventions throughout the world are, I believe, going to be sorely disappointed if he is elected. Admittedly, he has had advisors such as Anthony Lake and Samantha Power who have articulately argued that genocide is an important U.S. national security threat. But the principles of realism that Obama supports—caution and prudence, for example—are not conducive to interventionist policies. Realist-influenced administrations, such as that of George H.W. Bush (a president for whose foreign policies Obama has on more than one occasion expressed admiration), have been extremely reticent to deploy force for humanitarian purposes, although they did, in rare occasions (such as Somalia). But if Obama were to support action in Darfur, for example, it would likely be done with the knowledge that U.S. material resources are finite, and accordingly U.S. actions to assist the humanitarian efforts there would need to be cheap and limited, as he intuited in his second debate with Senator McCain in early October, Obama’s approach would more likely emphasize long-term tactics designed to alleviate global poverty and the raising of individual’s living standards—purposes which would presumably reduce the need for interventions in the first place.

Senator McCain’s neoconservative leanings would lead one to tentatively conclude that he would be more supportive of intervention than Obama. But as Matthew Bai found out in an interview he conducted with the Senator, McCain has a very nuanced view of intervention that reflects a more sophisticated understanding of the situations where U.S. soldiers could stop humanitarian disaster, versus others (such as Zimbabwe) where they may exacerbate more than mediate humanitarian crises.

Finally, I must take a bit of issue with the 10th “debunked” myth in The Nation article. The article asserts that “much of the rest of the world is more skeptical, if not outright resistant, to Washington’s global leadership than at any time since the end of World War II.” This may be true, but in my brief interactions outside of this country in the past couple of years, I am amazed at how captivated some citizens of “the world” are with this U.S. presidential election. Many view it as an historic opportunity for the U.S. to re-enter the world community, and whether the individuals in these countries informed me of their preference (Obama, McCain, or, at the time of my travels, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton), they were all intensely interested in this election. While it may not be the case that the “world needs” U.S. leadership, certain areas may not resist it. This is especially the case if either of these men—Obama or McCain—can quickly regain the trust of the world community through a set of policies which approach global problems with honest assessments and earnest commitments. I am fairly optimistic that even if much of the world remains skeptical regarding U.S. leadership after what has transpired over the last eight years, Barack Obama and John McCain each possess the capacity to restore some semblance of the moral authority that the U.S. possessed in many pockets of the world community not so long ago.