Monday, August 27, 2007

Guliani on Foreign Affairs

In the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Rudolph Guliani presents an essay about what he would do as president, with respect to foreign affairs (Guliani, R. (2007). Toward a Realistic Peace. Foreign Affairs, 86 (5), Sept/Oct. The essay is one of a series by 2008 presidential hopefuls. I have previously reviewed essays by Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and John Edwards.

Guliani’s essay is a dazzler. It is smart, sophisticated, thoughtful, insightful, articulate, persuasive, and remarkably free of empty rhetoric and sloganeering. He may not have literally penned it himself because the level of diction in the essay far exceeds his speaking performances, but all candidates have speech writers, so that is no big deal. We can assume that the ideas presented here fairly represent Guliani’s thinking.

“War on Terror” is never used in his essay, but “Terrorists’ War on Us” is prominently displayed a couple of times. It is a pointed and witty rejection of facile sloganeering and sets a straight-talking tone for what follows.

Guliani defines three foreign policy challenges. 1. Victory in the terrorists’ war on the global order. 2. Strengthen the international system. 3. Extend the benefits of the international system across the globe.

The reader immediately wonders what this “international system” is. The term is used repeatedly throughout the essay without definition. Its meaning can be contextually inferred only much later in the essay.

Basically what he’s talking about is the network of sovereign states with democratic governments and free market economies. This is inferred from his list of examples of “great powers” who are members of the “international system:” the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, and other western European nations, and also “the states of central and eastern Europe and the Baltic and Balkan nations.” Notably excluded are the dictatorships of central Asia.

Guliani includes Japan, Korea, Australia, and India and the “rising powers of Asia” as “other friends,” presumably also members of The System. Not all of these “other friends” have shared the historical trajectory of Western civilization and its values, but they are democratic and free-market. Since other candidates are notably omitted from this list, such as Singapore, and Indonesia, one might infer that to be a member of the International System, one must also have a strong military. That criterion is unclear.

Canada and Mexico are members of The System, according to Guliani, as are several Latin American countries. “Africa” is lumped into an indiscriminate category of its own, neither In nor Out, South Africa no different from Libya. This is an under-informed vision of Africa.

There is a contradiction in the case of the Palestinian territories, which freely elected Hamas, a terrorist organization dedicated to the destruction of Israel. What if the democratic process does not turn out the way we would like? Guliani has a ready answer. Before the Palestinians can hope to achieve sovereignty (a prerequisite for membership in The System) it would need to achieve a semblance of good governance, something a terrorist organization cannot provide. QED.

What about China and Russia? Are they In or Out? Guliani hedges. “We must seek common ground without turning a blind eye to our differences with these two countries… they have a fundamental stake in the health of the international system. But too often, their governments act shortsightedly, undermining their long-term interest in international norms.”

China more or less meets the free market criterion but not the democratic one. Russia also has a fledgling free market but only a pretend democracy. Both have large militaries and strong internal security. On points they each get 2 out of 3, explaining why Guliani could not say if they are In or Out. He suggests that at best, they are not members in good standing.

This then is the world according to Guliani: Democracy, free markets, and military strength attached to sovereign states. All others are to be converted to our values or defeated. It is clear, simple, and more nuanced than President Bush’s crude dichotomy of allies and “evildoers.”

Guliani explicitly rejects the “realist” school of foreign policy that “avoids attempts to reform the international system according to our values.” He is clear that he would, like President Bush, attempt to re-create the world in his own image. That does not bode well for a peaceful American future. Evidence from Iraq alone would suggest that urging one’s values on other people really gets up their noses. It makes international relations more tense and bellicose, not less. What is the rationale for doing it then?

The Immediate Future
In the short run, according to Guliani, America needs to defeat radical Islamic fascism which, he says, “uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.” That characterization sounds off center to me. The Islamic fascists are religious totalitarians. They are not using a mask to hide what they want. They are absolutists. Their goals are not primarily economic, military, or political, but rather total mind-control. They are totalitarians of the mind. It is a serious error to mischaracterize the enemy and misunderstand what it wants.

Guliani emphasizes that America must never show “weakness,” but this attitude itself is a weakness. Obsessive emphasis on appearances is a distraction from the needed focus on goals and actions. He, like all the other presidential candidates, is worried about America’s prestige in the world. But prestige must be earned, not arrogated. In several long paragraphs, Guliani obsesses about what other countries, especially “the terrorists” will think of us if we act this way rather than that. That kind of self-obsession I associate more with Republican than Democratic candidates, but it is in any event, a dangerous distraction.

In Guliani’s favor, he explicitly includes Afghanistan among the immediate issues of defeating terrorism. Other candidates often act like Afghanistan doesn’t exist. But on the down side, he lumps all “terrorists” into a single stereotype, failing to note, for example that some of the people fighting us in Iraq are anti-imperialists, not global fascists. Some of the insurgents are sectarian chess players, fighting us or helping us only as it suits their political ambitions. If we were to leave Iraq, the population of “terrorists” might drop dramatically. In Afghanistan, much the same analysis would prevail, with the addition of those terrorists whose primary interest is opium. Guliani’s habit of referring to “terrorists and insurgents” in the same breath reveals a flaw in his thinking.

Nevertheless, he admits that U.S. forces will need to remain in that region “for some time.” “We cannot predict when our efforts will be successful,” he says. But at least, unlike the Bush administration, he has a definition of success, creation of members in good standing of the International System, which means sovereign states with strong military force (or at least internal security), democracy, and free-market economies. To me, that sounds like at least 50 years, two generations. It is not a hopeful outlook, but realistic if we accept his definition of success.

An alternative scenario can be gleaned from what happened in Vietnam. We pulled out, the South fell, and communism, rather than democracy was installed. Notwithstanding the tragedy of societal upheaval and lives lost during that transition, a rational person would ask, why is that a horrible outcome? Today, only 30 years later, we have normal relations with Vietnam, a sovereign state with internal security, and it is a large U.S. trading partner, a popular destination for U.S. tourists, and no obvious threat to American security. But Guliani says, no, that sort of outcome is unacceptable. He doesn’t say why. “The consequences of abandoning Iraq would be worse,” he warns. But I’m not seeing the apocalypse.

He fears that Iraq and Afghanistan would become “breeding grounds for expanded terrorist activities.” If anyone has been breeding terrorists, it has been the U.S. There were no terrorists in Iraq before we invaded. So this common threat has little force. Guliani apparently assumes that if the U.S. were to pull out, there would be a vacuum of power and utter chaos. But why assume that? It wasn’t the case in Vietnam and it wouldn’t be the case here. Powers inside Iraq and other powers in the region have very strong interests in avoiding that outcome.

Despite his presumptuous militarism, I give Guliani credit for this simple statement: “The United States must not rest until the global terrorist movement and its ideology are defeated.” Rarely do we see statements so plain and forceful from other candidates.

Interesting Ideas
Guliani subtly suggests some interesting ideas on fighting terrorism. One is to do it covertly, outside the frame of the sovereign state. In other words, why not engage the enemy on its own battlefield by having the CIA and other intelligence forces pursue them without regard to state borders? That suggestion has already been floated with regard to Pakistan. It’s a good idea, and there is little doubt that we are already pursuing such a strategy, but it is not smart to say so, for it undermines the very International System it is designed to uphold.

Guliani has a clear-headed view of the uses of diplomacy. In an apparent potshot at the Democrats, he says, “Whom we choose to talk to is as important as what we say. Diplomacy should never be a tool that our enemies can manipulate to their advantage. Holding serious talks may be advisable even with our adversaries, but not with those bent on our destruction or those who cannot deliver on their agreements.” That is a well-reasoned statement that rises above recent straw man arguments on the topic.

On a sour note, Guliani momentarily lapses into monarch-envy when he insists that “Members of Congress who talk directly to rogue regimes at cross-purposes with the White House are not practicing diplomacy; they are undermining it. The task of a president is not merely to set priorities but to ensure that they are pursued across the government.” I’m sure he meant to restrict his remark to “the *executive branch of* the government.”

It may be an occupational hazard of presidential candidates to want to be king (or queen), but the urge must be resisted. We have a tripartite system of government designed to counterbalance extremism. Reasonable people can disagree and that is a strength no candidate should forget.

Guliani would reorganize the State Department in unspecified ways to focus the mission of diplomacy more on international advocacy for U.S. policies. “Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives… the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end.”

That’s not a bad idea. Even though it could result in the reduction of State to a cheer-leading section for the president’s pronouncements, the president does legitimately “own” State and it is within his rights to use it as he sees fit. The down side is the risk that the president would destroy the considerable expertise and wisdom built into the diplomatic corps, which does, after all, see the president as a transient. When the tempering effect of that continuity is ignored, the result can be a travesty like the Colin Powell WMD speech to the U.N.

Guliani, like some other candidates, has a refreshingly sensible attitude about foreign aid. He understands that foreign aid can help establish good governance and long term security around the world. Unlike Edwards, he would explicitly link foreign aid to performance criteria that lead to good governance (i.e., democracy) and free markets. Not everyone would agree with that approach but at least he understands the strategic value of aid. He would create a “A hybrid military-civilian organization -- a Stabilization and Reconstruction Corps staffed by specially trained military and civilian reservists” to deliver foreign aid by building roads, schools and legal systems. This is similar to a John Edwards proposal.

Standard Ideas
Guliani would, consistent with every other candidate, rebuild the military. He would add a minimum of ten new combat brigades to the U.S. Army. Where he would get these troops is not mentioned. If they existed, they would be in the pipeline right now. He offers no solution to the personnel problem, but he would also increase our inventory of subs, long range bombers and in-flight refueling tankers. These steps are consistent with the idea of a military with global reach.

Less convincingly, Guliani would step up development of the “Star Wars” missile defense system, claiming “It is well within our capability to field a layered missile defense capable of shielding us from the arsenals of the world's most dangerous states.” But that assertion is highly debatable, disputed by many experts, and there is no actual evidence to support it. It may be a good bluff, but as a serious policy, it is highly questionable. More realistic is would be a plan to deal with the proliferation of nuclear materials and weapons, something Guliani also addresses.

He would expand and strengthen the Proliferation Security Initiative, identifying and tracking nuclear materials worldwide. He would harden ports and borders to keep terrorist nukes out. These are sensible goals, difficult to achieve, but again I give Guliani credit for a clear, forceful statement that I have not heard from other candidates: “Preventing a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear attack on our homeland must be the federal government's top priority.”

Along with some other candidates, like Romney, Guliani does not think much of the U.N., and would turn to NATO instead to enforce international order. The error of that thinking is that NATO is not a law-making body. It is a mainly a military surrogate for U.S. power. Nobody is fooled by its sheep’s clothing.

The U.N. has the legitimacy of international consensus, and if it does not reach consensus very often, especially not the kind the U.S. would like, maybe that’s a sign that there is no consensus on the matter! It is a grave and very dangerous mistake to simply substitute enforcement of arbitrary decisions for a legitimate, lawful deliberative body. This is another example of Guliani’s impulse to establish an American monarchy. It must be resisted.

Furthermore, the U.N. has thousands of troops on the ground around the world. Are they doing nothing? The U.N. has many flaws, but it makes my blood run cold to read that “The UN has proved irrelevant to the resolution of almost every major dispute of the last 50 years.” If Guliani believes that, why not pursue an aggressive U.N. reform policy with the same zeal that he would devote to expanding and re-arming NATO?

Guliani did himself some good with this essay. He addressed the germane issues in a thoughtful and even insightful way, stated his policy persuasions clearly, and offered some solutions, not shrouding them in clich├ęs and political doublespeak. I was surprised and impressed with his articulate intelligence here, even where I disagree with his ideas.

He closed with a Bush-like comment: “Above all, we have learned that evil must be confronted -- not appeased...” We imagine that he would like to be the arbiter of good and evil, a prerogative he apparently believes comes with the presidency. It is disturbing and frightening to realize that any presidential aspirant has such monumental hubris. We can only hope the statement was mere rhetorical flourish.

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