Monday, February 20, 2006

There is No Third Way

In recent months, both within the Administration and among intellectual circles, there has been a growing attempt to try and divine a "third way" between realism and neoconservatism. This is an outgrowth of an observation that John Mearsheimer made in the Fall 2005 issue of The National Interest, when he wrote that the Iraq war "has been a strong test" of the competing realist and neoconservative theories about international affairs, leading him to conclude, "It seems clear that Iraq has turned into a debacle for the United States, which is powerful evidence, at least for me, that the realists were right and the neoconservatives were wrong."

Neoconservatives, of course, disagree with Mearsheimer's assertion, and argue that short-term difficulties should not obscure long-term objectives. But one thing that leading neocon thinkers have agreed with Mearsheimer on is that "neoconservatives and realists have two very different theories of international politics." This does not mean that neocons and realists can't have overlapping objectives, or can't agree on policies--indeed, the formation of TNI took place precisely during a period of "alliance" as both neocons and realists viewed the USSR as a major threat to U.S. national interests.

Nor should we fall into the trap of using "straw men" to represent inflexible positions. There is a strong realist case that can be made for democracy promotion; neoconservatives can certainly embrace the prudence of Burke rather than the revolutionary fervor of Trotsky. Henry Nau remains one of the most eloquent proponents of the view that neconservatism and realism are like the ying and yang of the conservatives (ying and yang being my characterization), necessary to balance each other.

But recent critiques of neoconservativism that have appeared generally do not start from a Nau-ian search for balance. Instead, they take one of two forms. The first is the "competence" argument, usually made by Democrats--that is to say, the neoconservatives had it right but the neoconservatives were not the ones to do the job correctly. ("Good plan, bad execution"). Neocons, in this view, were too partisan, too dogmatic, too inflexible. This view seems especially prevalent among those who were insufficiently partisan to be invited into the Bush Administration in the first place.

On a side note, about Senator McCain, on whom many of those who hold this first view seem to pin their hopes: McCain is an independent political figure, with strongly held views and someone who will reach across the aisle to form political alliances to get the job done. To assume, however, that a future McCain Administration would hold open the door for hordes of out of office Democrats to cross the line into top jobs--that seems to me to be a bit far fetched. Every McCain staffer I've met has solid conservative, Republican credentials.

The second critique is that of insufficiency (or perhaps superseded revelation): neoconservatism emerged to correct a defective realism, which remains defective, but neoconservatism's defects require a new approach. First, this line of argument treats both realism and neoconservatism as if they were a set of frozen policy prescriptions rather than ways of thinking about the world. Usually too stock figures like Kissinger are trotted out as shorthand (e.g. Kissinger equals love of dictators and tyrants). But re-reading Kissinger's Washington Post op-ed of May 16, 2005, shows how the man often termed America's "uber-realist" could discuss ways in which the freedom agenda could be advanced.

Second, I am not clear how any of these new "third ways" differ.

Let's take Kissinger's points here:

"No serious realist should claim that power is its own justification. No idealist should imply that power is irrelevant to the spread of ideals. The real issue is to establish a sense of proportion between these two essential elements of policy. Overemphasis of either leads to stagnation or overextension.

"Values are essential for defining objectives; strategy is what implements them by establishing priorities and defining timing."

Realists and neoconservatives differ over that sense of proportion, over how establish priorities, to weight different objectives and how to treat different situations. And within neoconservatism and realism, there are different camps and schools of thought--among realists, for example, there are clear distinctions between the realism of a Mearsheimer and the realism of a Lieven. One wing of the neocon camp is very close to one wing of the realist camp--those who might be seen as prudential neoconservatives and those who might describe themselves as democratic realists.

But my point here is that while people may reject the label neoconservative or realist to describe themselves--and want for political purposes to come up with something different--among the center and center-to-right approaches for American foreign policy, I think that neoconservatism and realism are the main schools. To the further right (and to some extent on the left as well) there is isolationism, to the left various forms of progressive internationalism or transnationalism.

If a new school of foreign policy thought is emerging, then its progenitors need to move beyond changing labels or finding fault with tactical decisions. And this new school should be able to make the case it would have emerged even if the Iraq war had gone according to plan.

Changing labels is the name of the game in American politics. Look at how Democrats have tried to find a new term to replace "liberal".

Wouldn't be surprised if there is an attempt to try and make Hillary Clinton the standard-bearer of the new reformed "neoconservatism". Of course, that won't really fly in the primaries.
Leon Hadar has his take on the Fukuyama essay up at Global Paradigms. He also makes the same point about this essay being a pitch to either Clinton or McCain.
Thanks for the link, anonymous.

What I don't understand is the proliferation of largely meaningless adjectives. What is a realistic Wilsonian? Is the opposite an unrealistic Wilsonian?

And wouldn't Wilson himself have been a realistic Wilsonian? He didn't support self-determination at all times, all places. He was prepared to leave the colonial empires intact. He seemed to promote national self-determination only if reasonable stable states could emerge.

Can someone enlighten me further?
Nick, any thoughts on what James Poulos has put up in Postmodern Conservative:

"Should or should not the spread of democracy be used as a tool of an entreprenurial realist policy? ... If it is badly neoconservative to force democracy, as Fukuyama has it, in places where it is not yet truly in demand, is it neoconservative to manipulate democracy to make it so? And if it is badly neoconservative, as others have charged, to encourage democracy in places where it has not yet matured into liberal peaceability, is it neoconservative to double-cross the resulting regimes that are freely and fairly elected?"
Just sent this over to Postmodern Conservative and reproducing here:

Per a poster to TWR who noted some of your observations on this debate--first, I think you'll like the John Owen piece that will appear in the forthcoming Spring 2006 issue of The National Interest, which argues that democracy promotion can serve realist ends.

I think that it is important for the U.S. to nurture and develop pro-U.S. constituencies in other countries, especially emerging democracies. I don't know if that means "meddling" in the sense of imposing something but using U.S. policies to foster pro-American voting blocs elsewhere would seem to be good policy. It surprises me that we could set up a preferential economic zone for Taiwan in the 1950s and 1960s which not only jump-started their economy but bound the island much closer to the U.S. but decide in Ukraine that democracy is its own reward and therefore profess surprise that Yanukovych's party is likely to win big at the elections. I find myself moving closer to some extent to Anatol Lieven's vision of developmental realism as a way to transcend the limits of "classical realism" in seeing how democracy promotion can work to advance U.S. interests.
One of the worst things Democrats can do is to embrace any sort of "reformed" neoconservative vision. Democrats must have a consistent critique of the Bush approach not only in how it was carried out but formulated in the first place.
Has Fukuyama ever repudiated his signature of PNAC letters in 1998 and 2001 calling for military action against Saddam, identifying his regime as the biggest threat to U.S. security, etc. Visiting the PNAC archive, he did not sign the two March 2003 statements on Iraq or the 2005 leetter for increasing ground forces (although he did sign the 2004 "Letter of 100" on Russia). Has he ever been called upon to explain his change of views?
"Realistic Wilsonianism" is whatever you want it to mean. If Iraq had "worked", that would have been an example of it.
In worlds and amongst hordes who place no value on words, - on the meaning, and definition of words, all the pretty patriotic plattitudes ring hollow and moot.

Talking about democracy is convenient but cold comfort, when the government is actually practicing predation, plunder, profiteering, imperialism, and tyranny, - not democracy or liberation.

Please, for the sake of us mere pedestrians out here, - I implore one or more of you experts - to define democracy. Once defined we can hold that template up to the socalled democracy emerging in the bloody, costly, nightmare and Iranain triumph in Iraq, or even the fast eroding democracy here in America and we can all then examine how closely we abide, or honor the word "democracy".

I contend the fascist warmongers, profiteers, and incompetent chickenhawks in the Bush government have intentionally morphed, mangled, shapeshifted, and perverted the idea of democracy to conform to the fascist policies and designs of select cronies, cabals, klans and oligarchs in, or beholden to the Bush government.

Realist should be required to recognize, appreciate, and present evidence of reality, and simply held to the nebulous interpretations of meaningless words spouted by substantless men.
Sorry, but I meant to say ("Realist should be required to recognize, appreciate, and present evidence of reality, and NOT simply held to the nebulous interpretations of meaningless words spouted by substantless men.
For those of us outside the Beltway, a lot of this debate is as relevant as asking how many angels dance on the head of a pin. This may fill time on C-SPAN, but does any of it really matter?
Tony Foresta is right--meaningless words spouted by substantless men. "Poets, priests and politicians/have words to thank for their positions ..." Has any of this policy wonk talk had any positive impact?
"But my point here is that while people may reject the label neoconservative or realist to describe themselves--and want for political purposes to come up with something different--among the center and center-to-right approaches for American foreign policy, I think that neoconservatism and realism are the main schools. To the further right (and to some extent on the left as well) there is isolationism, to the left various forms of progressive internationalism or transnationalism."

If the choice is limited to the major schools of thought, then I would agree with your description of the spectrum. It might be useful, however, to overlay some parameters:

1. Timeframe (a. 1-5 months, b. 1-5 years, c. 1-5 decades).
2. Priority (a. overrules all, b. concurrent with other priorities).
3. Primary line responsibility (a. presidential, b. departmental).
4. Primary lateral responsibility (a. unilateral, b. multilateral).
5. Forecast method (a. extrapolate, b. interpolate).
6. Degree of freedom (a. high risk, b. low risk).

The Standard Paradigm might be characterized as 1b, 2b, 3b, 4a or b, and 5a. The Crisis Paradigm would be 1a, 2a, 3a, 4a, and 5b. The outcome (6a or 6b?) would depend on how well it integrates all of these elements.

The most important is the timeframe. For example, if the Bushehr reactor in Iran is scheduled to be fully fuelled in the next five months, then we may be in a 1a timeframe if an air strike afterward would blow the containment structure and irradiate the oil facilities of the western Persian Gulf. If Bushehr is not likely to go hot for another year or more, or if blowing it up wouldn't damage the world's oil supply, then we are in a 1b timeframe with respect to Iran.

In the above example, if the timeframe is 1a, we would have to decide fairly soon whether to live with a nuclear Iran or try to prevent it; in 1b, Iran would be one of many ongoing priorities managed most likely at a lower level. In a 1a situation, however, leaving primary responsibility at the level of 3b for too long could result in a 6a outcome. Differences within schools of thought over the elements of this matrix may be as significant as any differences between them.
Does it "fill time on C-SPAN?" As useful as the cable channel is, what you see are the often the surface-ripples of large hidden fish wrangling one another below.

Mark Beissinger at U Wisconsin-Madison now has a clear and clearly-worded contribution to this debate posted at Dissent. I'm afraid we have to be willing, in this time of flux, to let the waters be as muddy as they are before making sense of them. I continue the attempt in a third analysis now posted at Postmodern Conservative.

In your own blog you write:

"There are convergences enough to shape a policy program built around the deliberate advance of ordered liberty along its Eurasian fringe, with an eye toward (1) the consolidation of Western security in Europe, (2) the control of cultural and regional chaos along adjacent flashpoints, and (3) the ongoing integration of Eastern Europe and Russia into the Western commonwealth of nations."

If you saying in other words that synchronic notions of general orientation to the world (realism, idealism) are less useful than a policy that is tailored to a specific geopolitical context, then I couldn't agree more. But I think the issue of timeframe needs to be addressed as well.

The neoconservative approach collapses into realism as you lengthen the time interval in which results are expected. What really divides the two schools is time: the question of whether WMD control is urgent or not, and if urgent, what to do about it and how to manage the consequences.

The deeper question is the long-run status of "adjacent flashpoints" in your three-element program. Are you proposing a Euro-Atlantic with fire brigades to deal with the areas beyond it on an ad hoc basis, leaving the permanent status of these areas for a future generation to determine, or would you endorse something along the lines proposed by Asmus and Jackson last spring in Policy Review?
The Policy Review article was winter, not spring:

Ron Asmus has restated the proposal more briefly in today's Washington Post:
All the catagories and conjured framing are meaningless. Conservative, liberal, realist, pessimist, pragmatist, anarchist, terrorist - these are terms historians or complicit parrots in the MSM misuse to define other forces or populations. None of these hollow terms having any single meaning or clear definition. Each and every catagory will offer a myriad array of positions, terms, and guiding principles that define that specific klan, cartel, cult, or cabal.

Every opposing force will hurl additional meanings, positions, terms, and misguided principles as a percieved description of the particular klan, cartel, cult or cabal.

In the end, there are no clear definitions, there are no principles, - words are hollow and impotent - "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

With no principles, there can be no law. With no law, the way of the gun pervades. Societies crumble as the underlying structures and girding of the nations basic tenents and beliefs buckle under the crushing weight of the leaderships deception, abuse, and lawlessness.

New circles form, new forces coagulate, and learn to navigate and survive in a realm where there are no rules, and no laws, - and where words, promises, agreements, oaths, pledges, arrangements, and constitutions mean absolutely nothing!

Of course there are artificial exceedingly oppressive laws policing and controlling the peoples lives - but our leadership, - the sworn custodians of our nations laws and principles, - are fascist, supremist, corporatist, imperialist, predatory, rapturist, religious fanatics, - conjuring heretofore unrecognized powers and authority to break the laws of the land repeatedly and insistantly, operate above, beyond, outside, and in total disdain for our own laws and principles, - and ruthlessly decieve the public trust to advance the governments fascist imperialist designs.

We swim in an ocean of lies.
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