July 11, 2003

The Howard Dean School of

The Howard Dean School of Foreign Policy

First, check out this must read from Charles Krauthammer.

Money grafs:

"They all had a claim on the American conscience. What then was the real difference between, say, Haiti and Gulf War I, and between Liberia and Gulf War II? The Persian Gulf has deep strategic significance for the United States; Haiti and Liberia do not. In both gulf wars, critical American national interests were being defended and advanced. Yet it is precisely these interventions that liberals opposed.

The only conclusion one can draw is that for liberal Democrats, America's strategic interests are not just an irrelevance, but also a deterrent to intervention. This is a perversity born of moral vanity. For liberals, foreign policy is social work. National interest -- i.e., national selfishness -- is a taint. The only justified interventions, therefore, are those that are morally pristine, namely, those that are uncorrupted by any suggestion of national interest."

Speaking of liberal democrats, you will likely be hearing much from them in the coming months about how Dubya has taken the wrecking ball to the multilateral order with his gruff, Crawford-style unilateralism.

Yet the reality as prominent, non-neo-cons like Richard Haas point out is much more complex.

"The unilateral critique of American foreign policy is overstated. The most interesting debates are not the debates between unilateralism and multilateralism, but what kind of multilateralism? Is it multilateralism that is formal, in the sense of the United Nations? Is it multilateralism that is still formal, but regional? For example, using NATO, as we did in Kosovo? When do you have to turn to coalitions of the willing? When you do turn to a coalition of the willing, how do you give it a dimension of legitimacy? How do you make it acceptable? Those are the real foreign policy questions, not whether there is a unilateral option, because, quite honestly, there isn't one."

For some recommendations on 'what kind of multilateralism' the U.S. should strive for post 9/11 check out this roundtable study I helped author. This report ultimately sides less with an overly formalistic multilateralism (which Dean appears to unfortunately espouse, see below).

And be careful accepting the proposition that Howard Dean would prove a "credible alternative" on national security issues:

"All, including Dean, support some variant of liberal institutionalism--i.e., working closely with democratic allies, strengthening multilateral institutions, opposing preventive wars, and investing more in homeland defense. And Dean, like the rest of the candidates, extols Harry S Truman and John F. Kennedy as his guiding stars on foreign policy matters. In his speeches, he emphasizes the combination of their hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats. Dean's emphasis on Kennedy's prudence during the Cuban missile crisis was a constant refrain of leading Democrats in late 2002.

Furthermore, Dean's opposition on Iraq does not mean he is opposed to the overseas deployment of U.S. forces. He has been refreshingly candid in advocating a more active nation-building role for the United States, and has advocated sending more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan for that purpose. This week he strongly supported the deployment of U.S. peacekeeping forces to Liberia as part of a multilateral intervention."

First, it's easy to pile on regarding how we should be sending more troops into Iraq and Afghanistan for nation-building. But Dean has yet to provide us with credible, serious details on what he would be doing differently in Iraq today.

Perhaps he would throw more money at it? But given Dean's significant ambitions in the domestic sphere--he will have to explain how a greater than $3.9 billion/month price tag will fit into his expansive domestic programs. And Krauthammer well explains the limitations of Dean's worldview that has him cheerleading a Liberia troop deployment but hyper-reticent with regard to a Persian Gulf operation.

As for the Truman and Kennedy analogies--I disagree with Drezner that Dean mentions them in his speeches to emphasize their "combination of hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats."

This is really more about Democrat iconography. Of course Truman and Kennedy will be trotted out as models--would Dean instead point to a Carter or Clinton? He wouldn't not only because of said prospective predecessors often bungled handling of national security but also because mentioning a Carter or Clinton would also serve to remind voters about the perils of promoting former Democrat statehouse dwellers, largely devoid of foreign policy experience, to the White House.

Am I taking unfair potshots? Let's take a closer look at Dean's CFR speech and what it reveals about his foreign policy views:

"He [Harry Truman] believed that if America reached out to others in friendship and with respect, our strength would be multiplied and that more and more countries would support our policies not because we told them to, but because they wanted to.

Harry Truman believed that a world in which even the poorest and most desperate had grounds for hope would be a world in which our own children could grow up in security and peace not because evil would then be absent from the globe, but because the forces of right would be united and strong.

Harry Truman had faith as I have faith, and as I believe the American people have faith, that if we are wise enough and determined enough in our opposition to hate and our promotion of tolerance; in our opposition to aggression and our fidelity to law; we will have allies not only among governments but among people everywhere."

This is largely prattle devoid of any real meaning and could just as easily have been written by someone in the Bush Administration. What candidate will not pontificate from the stump about wanting to reach out to other nations in "in friendship"? Or the importance of our children growing up in "security and peace." And what exactly are the "forces of right"? Those forces arrayed against the "axis of evil"?

What here evokes a sense that Dean extols Truman because of his "combination of hawkishness in the face of illiberal threats and multilateralism as the preferred method for combating such threats"? Really, nothing.

But what about this portion of Dean's speech?

"Presidents such as Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy built and strengthened international institutions, rather than dismissing and disparaging the concerns of allies. They inspired and mobilized other countries because they believed there was no more powerful force on earth than that of free people working together.

They helped build global platforms such as the UN, NATO, and the World Bank on which free people everywhere could stand. Our greatest leaders built America's reputation as the world's leading democracy by never resting until they had given life to American ideals."

More boiler-plate campaign rhetoric and Truman/Kennedy hagiography. Dean needs to explain how Bush has disparaged or dismissed the international fora that Truman constructed. But he can't do so convincingly regarding major security issues that Bush has dealt with during his term (in fairness, Dean does rightly suggest that, with treaties like Kyoto, we should at least propose alternatives rather than just dismiss them out of hand).

Again, however, we have an ultimately ineffective critique as Dubya has pursued multilateral avenues in places like Iraq. Iraq was representative of a form of multilateralism, a "coalition of the willing," that comprised nations like the U.K., Australia and Poland. And Iraq didn't destroy the U.N.

More importantly, Dean never delineates how his proposed strengthening of various international institutions would be specifically pursued and how that would improve America's position in the world or the U.S. national interest. They are merely goals we are to assume are good in and of themselves. But his overly formalistic approach to multilateralism is contra the alleged hawkish tendencies a Truman would take in the face of "illiberal threats." (see more on this below)

Here's the real state of play on Dean's likely foreign policy-related critiques of Dubya. Dean, who is prematurely calling for Bush administration resignations in melodramatic tones ("they know who they are") on hyped-up uranium gate--will hammer on two foreign policy themes as the election draws nearer and the campaigining gets nastier.

One, that he was the only Democrat (with a real shot at the nomination who is not an overly pre-packaged Beltway insider like Kerry or Lieberman) to have had the courage to oppose going to war in Iraq because there was no real, immediate WMD threat. And hey, looks like I was right, he hopes to be able to claim, assuming no WMD programs, products or other capability found in Iraq between now and the election.

Second, Bush has, through a combination of arrogance, recklessness and ineptitude split organizations like the U.N. and NATO showing he cares little for international organizations. He will argue that the U.S. is therefore loathed in many parts of the world because it is seen as an arrogant hegemon. Vote for me, and I'll put these various multilateral fora back into working order, make sure no one breathes the words "empire" and "America" in the same sentence, and generally make us loved again from Jakarta to Paris. This is the supposed Kennedy/Truman multilateral good-guy angle.

There are two main problems with all this (leaving aside the WMD and resignations angle). First, as already mentioned, it is not accurate to portray Bush as having pursued a predominately unilateral policy. Related to this contention, and in terms of allegedly splitting NATO or the UN, recall that, regarding the former, it was solely the French who held out on voting for NATO support to Turkey per the U.S. request. On the U.N., Bush delivered a widely applauded speech on September 12, 2002 spelling out U.S. demands to a somewhat receptive international community in measured, methodical fashion. His Secretary of State followed the speech up with securing an unanimous UNSC vote demanding that Iraq provide unfettered access and full disclosure on its WMD programs.

Neither were forthcoming. No reason to revisit all the Quai D'Orsay perfidy or the recycled Iraqi document drop on their WMD programs here now--but the diplomacy at the U.N. and Bush Administration conduct generally was not about Dubya trying to destroy Acheson's "Present at the Creation" postwar system (as Dean would have you believe).

A second problem is Dean's overly formal approach to multilateralism alluded to above which renders his attempted linkage to Truman's foreign policy disingenuous. What would allegedly hawkish, humanitarian-minded (and fervent international law stalwart too) Howard Dean do in the face of a Kosovo, for instance? Kosovars are being massacred by Milosevic's forces. Population transfers are underway. The Russians and Chinese are going to veto any credible UNSC resolution calling Milosevic to task.

Would he go in regardless to protect civilian lives? Of course he would, his defenders would argue. Look at his stance in Liberia. Folks, don't be fooled.

Going into Liberia is a no-brainer for any Democrat on the campaign trail for electoral reasons (among other factors, because it helps with the African-American vote) and it presents no real controversy on the international stage. Virtually everyone wants Americans in Monrovia. I mean, the French are urging us to go into Liberia.

Back to the Kosovo hypothetical. All told, I would predict that the likely amateurish foreign policy team he would assemble would back away from the brink. It would be a Clinton (pre-Holbrooke) redux. Lot's of hang-wringing. Lot's of late-night Yale Law style bull sessions with Dominos deliveries keeping the pow-wow going into the wee hours. And little action. Partly because of concerns the integrity of UNSC decision-making would be violated if Moscow wouldn't grant us an abstention, for instance.

Check out this PBS Gwen Ifill interview of Dean for a sampler of the likely impotence a Dean would bring to U.S. foreign policy related to this point:

GWEN IFILL: Governor, by my count, you just used some version of the word "unilateral" six times in that response. If... the president would argue he is not favoring a unilateral attack, that he has support from Britain and other nations and is now going to the United Nations for a second resolution. Under what circumstances could you imagine a multilateral attack?

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN: Well, I think that the United Nations makes it clear that Saddam has to disarm, and if he doesn't, then they will disarm him militarily. I have no problem with supporting a United Nations attack on Iraq, but I want it to be supported by the United Nations. That's a well-constituted body. The problem with the so-called multilateral attack that the president is talking about is an awful lot of countries, for example, like Turkey-- we gave them $20 billion in loan guarantees and outright grants in order to secure their permission to attack. I don't think that's the right way to put together a coalition. I think this really has to be a world matter. Saddam must be disarmed. He is as evil as everybody says he is. But we need to respect the legal rights that are involved here. Unless they are an imminent threat, we do not have a legal right, in my view, to attack them. [my emphasis]

Hostile planes might well have to be in Manhattan airspace before a Dean Administration judged a threat sufficiently "imminent." And respecting the "legal rights that are involved here" means, in practice, kowtowing to a Moscow, Beijing or Paris to the detriment of vital American interests or in the face of gross violations of human rights.

Of course it's always better to act with UNSC cohesion on war and peace issues. But we cannot become entrapped by a UNSC unwilling to assume its responsibilities in the face of genocidal horrors and/or where vital American interests are at stake. We need to pursue more flexible multilateral strategies, for example, occasionally employing ad hoc coalitions of the willing and the like.

Bottom line: if you want to vote Democrat and care about national security--look perhaps to a Bob Graham or Joe Lieberman. But not to Howard Dean. You won't get a top-flight foreign policy in a Dean Administration. And U.S. national interests will therefore suffer on the global stage.

UPDATE: Joe Klein in Time has Dean supporting the interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia. That would evidently weaken some of my arguments above. I'm going to have to do some digging around on this. Part of me thinks he's gotten a pass by stating he supports NATO-style peacekeeping efforts like Bosnia/Kosovo rather than having confronted directly the question of how he would have intervened without an UNSC resolution. More soon when time allows.

Posted by Gregory at July 11, 2003 11:51 AM
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