Friday, April 20, 2007

The Grand Illusion

Leon Hadar's latest column has an important reminder of how some of our current difficulties in foreign policy began under the last administration--and how a change of party after 2008 is no guarantee of improvement.
Before going to the extended citation, let me just further say: there is a choice. The United States can be the indispensable nation, or it can promote a community of power system. Either approach carries costs (loss of independence versus burden-sharing). Either choice can be defended. What I am against is the continued illusion that there is no need to choose and there are no costs to pay.
Now, on to Leon's points:

Indeed, one of the major failures of the Clintonites was the unwillingness or inability to put in place political or geostrategic foundations so as to ensure the long-term endurance of the globalization process. Instead, much of what Clinton and his aides pursued in the arena of foreign policy was reactive and "ad-hocish" in nature and based on the assumption that Pax Americana could be maintained with relatively low diplomatic and military costs: sending diplomatic fire brigades to the Middle East to quell fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and pretending to "do something" to revive the "peace process" in the Holy Land; applying a dubious strategy called "dual containment" in order to isolate Iraq and Iran through economic and diplomatic sanctions (and the occasional launching of missiles against Baghdad) while continuing to maintain a US "over-the horizon" military presence in the Persian Gulf; antagonizing Russia by expanding NATO to Russia's borders and insisting that America has the right and the obligation to "export" democracy worldwide.
Instead, Washington could have attempted to work together with the existing powers (EU and Russia) and emerging players (China and India) of the world to create the institutional mechanisms and the policy structure for a multipolar strategy aimed at establishing stability and containing threats like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the arc of instability stretching from the Balkans through the Middle East and Central Asia to the borders of China, including a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
But that would have necessitated granting more diplomatic influence to the Europeans, making more concessions to the Russians, reaching compromises with the Chinese, irritating the Taiwanese, provoking the Israelis. At the end of the day, the political elites in the capital of the world's only remaining superpower were not willing to take such steps that would have involved high domestic political costs in terms of opposition from powerful constituencies in Washington and would have also diminished their status as the Masters of the Post Cold-War Universe.

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