Wednesday, October 25, 2006

One response to "Don't Hold Your Breath"

The IHT printed a response to my op-ed, which I reproduce here:

Nikolas Gvosdev (''In foreign policy, don't hold your breath,'' Views, Oct. 19) argues that despite campaign rhetoric to the contrary, there is little difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. But Gvosdev uses a sleight of hand to make his case.

Regarding Iraq, it's safe to say that no serious Democratic candidate would have rushed to war. Arguments over failed intelligence have obscured an important policy difference. Neoconservatives were advocating war with Iraq even before Bush won the presidency in 2000 and were public about their distrust of UN inspectors. But despite neocon suspicions, we now know that the inspection regime effectively ended Saddam Hussein's illegal weapons programs. Democrats would have been more likely to pursue the sort of multilateral arrangements that we now know were effective.

Even before Sept. 11, the White House aggravated our allies by refusing to cooperate on issues important to them. It walked away from the Kyoto environmental treaty. It later asserted a first-strike option with tactical nuclear weapons. These and other examples alienated other nations.

So Gvosdev is right that Democrats can't snap their fingers and induce other nations to cooperate with us. To do so would be impossible in the current climate. But a greater emphasis on soft power and multilaterism consistently applied over time would yield substantially different results.

Michael Phelps--San Pedro, California

My response would be: the past is done. Whether Democrats would have gone to war or not is not relevant for how we get out of Iraq--and I think misses the point about Democrat "enabling" of the war (as I like to put it, Clinton set the table, Bush sat down for dinner--even if Gore might not have done so). All the elements were in place after 1998.

He's right that a "greater emphasis on soft power and multilaterism consistently applied over time would yield substantially different results"--except the mainstream of the Democratic foreign policy establishment, while talking a better game, isn't willing to pay the costs that true multilateralism will entail. Asking the French more nicely is not the issue; it is what the U.S. is prepared to do to accommodate the concerns and interests of other major powers.

Part of the problem as well is that some of the leading Democratic spokesmen for this type of multilateralism are NOT the ones who would end up occupying the key offices in a future Democratic administration.

But I thank him for his response and contribution to this ongoing debate.


"All the elements were in place after 1998."

Yes in a formal sense. But I don't think we would have seen a US invasion of Iraq without the events of September 2001.

The real question is what a Democratic President would have done militarily after 9/11 with multilateral support. A Democratic administration might not have invaded Iraq but in that case Afghanistan would have been the central front and I wonder if we would have tolerated the use of Pakistan by surviving Taliban and al-Quaida elements as a base for a long-term struggle to retake Afghanistan.

Multilateralism would not have been an obstacle to stronger US pressure on Pakistan, and if we applied such pressure there would surely have been a more explosive situation in southwest Asia than the one created by President Bush. What Bush did has demoralized the American people but (at least for now) prevented a wider clash with Islam.

A Democratic President who tried to limit the war on terror could have faced impeachment by a Republican Congress, and a President who actually delivered on rhetoric about not tolerating terror sanctuaries anywhere could have triggered a world war.

It may turn out to be better for America to have bungled two small wars, if we learn from the experience, than to have made a disastrous mess of a very large war, which we would have been in real danger of making if the central front was the Afghan border.

Any American administration would have struggled after 9/11, partly because of two-party dynamics and partly because of the tacit agreement in both parties about what should really be changed in the world. Unfortunately, changes in party are unlikely to address these deeper problems. You are certainly correct in your view that foreign policy needs to focus on the longer-term.
I haven't been here in a while - sorry - but I felt that your "Change Is not On The Way" article was fairly seriously flawed.

You've equated the failure of the Democratic Party candidates running for office to articulate a single, unified, detailed alternative to Bush's current "strategy" - you know, something suitable to be published in TNI - with the assumption that therefore a Democratic foreign policy would be "the same" as a Republican one, or different in only trivial ways.

Your expectations in this area are unrealistic, and your personal preference for a better platform have interfered with your predictive abilities.

I'm pretty sure that the "Contract With America" in 1994 didn't offer a fifteen-point plan for containing the conflict in Bosnia or for reforming the UN. Opposition party *legislative* candidates always have as many opinions and ideas as there are candidates. Politicians running for office almost always focus on broad themes and avoid details, which will only be used to deconstruct and discredit the themes anyway. Nevertheless, when they take office, the divergent ideas of the legislative candidates are pared down to a common denominator, which usually is quite different from that of the current Administration.

It may be that you can't be sure exactly *what* Democrats controlling the Legislature will do differently on foreign policy than what Republicans are currently doing, but it is poor analysis to suggest that they won't attempt to make some serious changes.
For example, I have a feeling - regardless of whether or not every single Democratic candidate is running on this fact - that the Bush Admin's moratorium on family-planning-financing across the globe has met the end of its day in the sun. If nothing else, the institutional dynamics of opposition vs. support would dictate different behavior.

And "if nothing else" doesn't imply a long list of others reasons to break from the Bush reservations - that's just the shortest one to put down in a blog comment.

Of course, since the legislature doesn't have much control of foreign policy anyway - now *that* would be a sound logical basis for suggesting a limited scope of change post-2006.

Jordan W. '02
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