June 08, 2003

America Is Going Backward Says

America Is Going Backward

Says Stanley Hoffmann in the NYRB. His introductory graf sets the tone of his hyperbolic piece:

"Less than two and a half years after it came to power, the Bush administration, elected by fewer than half of the voters, has an impressive but depressing record. It has, in self-defense, declared one war—the war on terrorism —that has no end in sight. It has started, and won, two other wars. It has drastically changed the strategic doctrine and the diplomatic position of the United States, arguing that the nation's previous positions were obsolete and that the US has enough power to do pretty much as it pleases. At home, as part of the war on terrorism, it has curbed civil liberties, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and the access of foreign students to US schools and universities. It holds in custody an unknown number of aliens and some Americans treated as "enemy combatants," suspected but not indicted, whose access to hearings and lawyers has been denied. The Republican majority in both houses of Congress and the courts' acceptance of the notion that the President's war powers override all other concerns have given him effective control of all the branches of government. The administration's nominees to the courts would consolidate its domination of the judiciary." [my italics]

Come again? We declared a war (of self-defense) on terror but started two unrelated wars? We can all argue whether the war in Iraq had as a major goal dismantling terror networks but surely we can all agree that, after the Taliban refused the U.S. ultimatum including the critical request to hand over UBL, that the war in Afghanistan was directly related to the war on terrorism. Why is Stanley Hoffmann suggesting otherwise?

His piece includes other egregious parts too, including:

"In order to remove Saddam Hussein from power before the weather became too hot, and to replace a policy of containment of Iraq that had, after 1991, worked reasonably well with the policy of preventive war projected in the National Secu-rity doctrine published in September 2002, the US did not hesitate to do the following...The US split NATO in order to isolate the French and the Germans, provoking both countries by asking for NATO military assistance to Turkey that the Turks themselves had not solicited. The US obtained this aid through the Military Committee of NATO, of which France is not a member. The US then left NATO—which had been so useful to the US in Kosovo—on the sidelines....The US engaged, along with Blair, in an effort to divide the European Union by obtaining the signatures for a statement in support of the US by leaders of several longstanding members and most of the new Eastern European members. As a result, the attempt at shaping a common foreign and security policy for the EU, undertaken in 1998, collapsed."

I'm not sure even Dominique de Villepin would engage in such breathtaking revisionism without blushing (and so soon after the end of hostilities!). Hoffman, in essence, is saying that the unilateralist Crawford cabal took the wrecking ball to NATO and the EU so that, "before the weather became too hot," lone Sheriff Dubya could go into Iraq whatever the costs to assorted multilateral fora.

Let's take each argument in turn. Hoffman contends that the US "split NATO in order to isolate the French and the Germans." But if that was the U.S. policy objective, why did Germany, without France, ultimately support the U.S. policy objective in NATO? Of course, the reason the U.S. went to the NATO Defense Planning Committee to ultimately seek approval of the Turkish defense initiative was because the French didn't sit on that body (having voluntarily removed themselves per de Gaulle in the 1960's from NATO's military command structure). Why? Because Paris had made it patently clear that they would not support the NATO position. So this was the best face-saving solution for all around given the tiresome folie de grandeur machinations.

Put differently, every NATO country but France supported the Turkey initiative. So how did the U.S. split NATO per Hoffmann? When one is seeking unanimity and the score is 18-1 who is the spoiler? Who is doing the splitting? I dare say, it wasn't Washington but Paris--or am I missing something?

Even more surprising given Hoffmann's distinguished career and universally acknowledged reputation as a leading historian is his contention that the Gang of Eight letter (and Vilnius Letter) represented an effort by the U.S. to "divide the European Union" and that such an effort lead to the collapse of attempts "at shaping a common foreign and security policy for the EU." With all due respect to Stanley Hoffman, as a historian he certainly must appreciate the myriad other variables that might have scuttled attempts at cobbling together a common foreign policy for the EU. And to contend that the Gang of Eight's Letter made the whole project collapse is, sorry to say, laughable. The letter was simply an ex post facto manifestation of the chronic inability of the Europeans to come up with a common foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.

For instance, remember when the "hour of Europe had arrived" around the time the first guns were blazing over Vukovar and Dubrovnik in 1991? Remember too the Serbophilia run amok in Whitehall and the Quai D'Orsay (pre-Srebrenica) contrasted with Berlin's favoritism towards Zagreb? All this certainly didn't portend well for Euro-cohesion on the foreign policy front. Recall, of course, that it was Richard Holbrooke that had to gallivant about the region and bring the antagonists to a U.S. military bases in Dayton, Ohio to end the greatest butchery in Europe since WWII. The hour of Europe was delayed a bit.

More recently and directly apropos of Hoffman's piece, remember too the resentment in capitals like Lisbon, Rome, Madrid, and Warsaw regarding a blatant Franco-German attempt at bilaterally imposing, per diktat-style pronouncements, their views on Iraq policy on other Euro-zone countries. This was the cause of the ultimate failure of circa 1998 attempts to resuscitate a cohesive pan-European foreign policy after the abject failures at reaching common positions during the Balkan saga of the 1990s--the letters merely an after the fact symptom of such discord and lack of unity.

Posted by Gregory at June 8, 2003 10:01 PM
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