Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Review: American Between the Wars, From 11/9 to 9/11

Part I: Summary

Despite President George H.W. Bush’s distinguished service as a diplomat (7), Chapter 1 states that he was unable to create a direction for United States foreign policy after the end of the Cold-War (2). Instead, he made things up as he went along (8) and demonstrated a lack of leadership by engaging in international coalition building rather than promoting the US (10-11), a reliance on old realities and principles that demonstrated a lack of imagination (13) and refused to champion US values (such as democracy and human rights) around the world (26). There was no “new world order,” (7). These mistakes allowed Clinton to campaign on a platform of foreign policy that stressed human rights and democracy (28).

The Democrats believed that they could unify their party and win the next Presidential election (32) by defining a foreign policy based on spreading freedom and democracy (29) and at the same time create a direction for the US, as Bush was unable to do (30). Chapter 2 states that Clinton’s foreign policy was about globalization, democracy, freedom, and empowering individuals (42). Clinton won the election due to his foreign policy push (p.34) and his assertiveness in moral statements in foreign policy (36). Clinton received two memos from Bush’s outgoing staff (43). Although the two memos were different in policy, they both shared the same premise: that the US had an unprecedented opportunity to shape the new international world and that there were a lot of other problems to deal with (48). The memos left Clinton no doubt that his strong words on the role of the US would need to be followed through on (52).

Chapter 3 states that Clinton’s first-year in office was disastrous and due to his ineptitude in international affairs, he lost the ability to have the US define the post-Cold War era (84). The disastrous missions in Somalia (76) and Haiti (82) characterized Clinton’s first year. Rather than standing by the goals of his foreign policy in his action in Haiti and Somalia, as articulated in his campaign, he portrayed uncertainty about being assertive in foreign policy (66) and lacked confidence in his decisions (68). These disasters defined Clinton – and the Democrats – as inept and unable to lead in the new world (84).

The reason that the Contract Republicans (87) took over Congress in 1994, according to Chapter 4, was that Clinton lost his way and appeared muddled on foreign policy issues (90). American foreign policy was simply reactive: from crisis to crisis (91). That, combined with the fact that former-President Jimmy Carter had stepped in and managed to solve the Haiti and North Korea crises (not the President) (96), solidified the perception that Clinton had lost his ability to define a new era (99) and that there was no line from principle to action (100). Instead of delivering on his promises, Clinton was lost and fearful about foreign policy (112).

Although Clinton had a rough start (through 1995) (114), Chapter 5 states that his successful closure of the Bosnia (128-29) and China (136-38) issues enabled him to be re-elected in 1996. It also helped that Clinton worked with the Republicans on these issues (138-39), and they did not have a plan for foreign policy either (144).Clinton might have lacked a grand plan for foreign policy, but he had demonstrated that he didn’t need a plan to execute bold strategies to further American interests (144). Clinton’s success in Bosnia and China improved his – and America’s – image as a competent leader at home and abroad (128, 130, 135).

Chapter 6’s main point is that Clinton’s growing confidence in his foreign policy skills (158) led him to believe that he had to strengthen the US’ international economic leadership (151), and led him to believe that the US was the indispensible nation (147). The concept of the indispensible nation led Clinton to engage in a range of activist international policies, including policies on globalization (148-49). The two most prominent acts of globalization and international economic leadership were getting NAFTA ratified (160-61) and establishing the WTO as GATT’s successor (162). Additionally, it was because of the US’ leadership on economic issues that the Mexico bailout plan worked (166-67). These achievements solidified Clinton’s perception that there was no dividing line between domestic and foreign policy (169). However, despite Clinton’s success and confidence, other states did not agree that the US was “the indispensible nation,” which made global cooperation harder in the face of the new threats (176-77).

The main point of Chapter 7 is that Clinton had a vague policy on dealing with Iraq and Saddam which made for decisions whose purpose was to pass the problem to the next administration and to avoid having Iraq take over all other issues (204). Clinton tried to get the American public behind the perception that Iraq and Saddam were a global threat to America’s security (191). When this did not work, Clinton was unable to have a strong military strategy (193) to deal with the issue. Instead he had a mix of containment (191) – which wasn’t working – and military presence/air strikes (202). Clinton wanted his policy to go both ways: to have economic and military containment and to try and oust Saddam without having to have an actual military campaign (203). This approach, as recognized by all, couldn’t last long – but would last long enough for Clinton’s successor to get in place and for Clinton to try and do other things at home (204).

In Chapter 8, Clinton (243) and domestic forces at home (228) had to decide how America would use its overwhelming power (234). The result of the Kosovo campaign was world-wide concern that the US was too dangerous (226, 228, 230, 232-33). The pursuit of a missile defense shield did nothing to calm this fear among the international community (241-42). Instead of being reassured that the US would use its power only to pursue a responsibility to protect (216) and a greater global good (234), the international community became worried the US would use it in other situations (231).

Chapter 9’s main point is that there were new disorders in the world that Clinton – and the US – was unequipped to deal with (277): globalization caused economic crises to travel fast and not be contained in one region and terrorist threats were the most pressing security threats (262). America’s foreign policy establishment didn’t understand these two threats and as a result were unprepared when crises happened (247). Clinton’s economic policy was simply a reaction to a crisis (252), instead of a policy to build a foundation to prevent crises (248). The intelligence agencies and military were unprepared to deal with terrorist threats, instead of the more conventional threats, and needed restructuring in order to do so (261). All of this resulted in a world composed of disorder (279).

The main point of Chapter 10 is that the Bush Administration continued to look at the world, and national security, in traditional terms – based on nations states and traditional concepts of threat (310). There was acceptance of terrorism based on the support of nations, not because an individual or non-state actor could be a threat by themselves (310-11). Bush wanted a strong military (296) and to use it to prevent focus on state-based threats to clear national interests – not humanitarian goals or globalization (295).

According to Chapter 11, America’s future is defined by the past (329). The liberal concerns over when to go to war and use military force (320) and focus on promoting democracy (318) still shape debate today (318). The conservatives still grapple with legitimizing American action (324) and globalization (326). These are issues from the past decade that are shaping the foreign policy of the current (and future) decade (328-29).

Part II : Analysis

There is a major theme throughout the book: that domestic and international politics cannot be separated. Domestic elections for President are defined in terms of foreign policy (144-45, 269) or trade deals (161). The choices various candidates made for Vice-President were framed in terms of the foreign policy need of the candidates (294). The role and positions of PNAC, a domestic institution, was discussed in Chapter 6(172). Throughout the book, the competing views of Clinton, liberals and conservatives were compared (one example is on 139). The lack of a coherent and dominant role for the US in foreign policy was often blames on domestic factors (86). Speculations that Clinton’s behavior was based on wanting to draw attention away from a domestic scandal was rampant in the various chapters (200).

This focus on the interplay between domestic and international factors makes a case for a more involved model of foreign policy and international relations. Realism relies only on security, whereas liberalism relies mainly on non-security related threats and institutionalism focuses on institutions. None of these models seem capable of taking in all the factors – security, non-security, economic, globalization, terror and non-state actors. Additionally, there is a distrust of a doctrine which can arise from a particular set of circumstances and cause trouble when applied to a new set of circumstances (218). As discussed in class, realism and liberalism developed in the wake of wars and institutionalism developed once institutions developed. It is possible that these doctrines were developed for a specific circumstance and as such have no application to a different set of circumstances. The author believes that the past decisions define the present (329), I do not think that the past models can define a present, and effective model, for international relations. However, we were presented with a model in our last class on December 2, 2008 that takes into account all of these factors. The model doesn’t prescribe a method of bringing them into balance, but it does create a framework for consideration of all factors.

A model that might be used to analyze these factors would be the two-level game theory approach advocated by Putnam. In this model, the analysis is done on a reciprocal basis between how the actor – the leader of a nation – acts at a domestic and international level. Those two levels are seen as playing to each other. The truth of this can be seen in the results of the last election: Bush lost largely because public opinion had turned against his use of force in Iraq. The interplay of domestic and international policy will only become greater, and some method is needed to analyze the two together. Maybe game theory – with its ability to take in a larger number of factors, will prove to be the basis that IR theorists need to model a new theory.
Another theme in the book was the idea of a single doctrine of concept to base foreign policy on. The second Bush’s doctrine became “war on terror,” (312) and has proven to be his downfall (315) – as this past election proved. Clinton lacked a single over-arching concept, although he constantly tried to find one (90, 144, 315). Clinton showed that although he lacked a doctrine, he could execute a bold strategy in response to events (144). Additionally, it was claimed that the actions in Kosovo might be the most important foreign policy achievement since the Gulf War (221), and Clinton undertook those actions without a grand strategy. Berger stated that the Clinton team wanted to build a new role for the US based on experience and not doctrine, regardless of the fact that this made other countries nervous (219).

American policy makers and scholars have been unable to find a singe catch-phrase for the time between n11/9 and 9/11 (315). Kennan says that this is a good thing because a simple foreign policy leads to disaster (315). This perception, that the lack of a simple foreign policy goal is good, would seem to underline my statement that the world has too many variables to be contained in one doctrine. These variables are not magically developed in the post-Cold War era, which might be one reason that the post-Cold War era has been unable to define itself. Rather, the variables of globalization, security, weak and failing states, political stability/instability etc, have been present since the beginning of time. These are not new concepts; it is simply that things can move faster and more freely in a world with technology like we have today, and so these variables become more apparent. Constructivism is a viewpoint that is taking over in the world of today’s IR theories because it seems to be able to handle the complexities that the world is currently seeing (Wendt). However, like the variables present in the world today that have to be considered, constructivism is an old idea in new clothing (Sterling-Folker).
The world is a complex world with many variables that lead to consequences. It is ironic that the most recent President to consider all the variable (Clinton) was also the one looking for the simple solution – for the knight to come riding in (253). Whereas the President with the simple world view of traditional threats (Bush) (310), did not look for a simple answer but used what he thought was a simple answer – the military (297) – and got engaged in a far more complex struggle than could be imagined.

The irony of the situation only underscores the need for a model to analyze complex factors under. Bush was analyzing factors by a traditional realist threat perspective (310) and that got him into a lot of trouble when the variables proved to be far more complex than he imagined (314). When Clinton was trying to promote democracy and interdependence through globalization, using the more complex model of liberalism (of some sort), he also ran into issues where he did not have the ability to analyze all the factors, including security. A model is needed that will take into consideration all the various complexities that exist in the real world so that policy makers can be sure they are not leaving anything out, but are rather at least looking at all possible variables (even if they are discounting them).

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