January 05, 2004

Spinning for the Clintonista Restoration: Traub Cheerleads for the Podesta-Wing

James Traub's NYT magazine cover article on Democratic approaches to foreign policy has gotten a decent amount of attention in the blogosphere over the past couple of days. Drezner calls it a "decent piece" overshadowed by Saddam's capture. David Adesnik blogs it somewhat more critically.

But neither Adesnik nor Drezner seem to have an issue with the fact that Traub's piece might have been penned by former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta touting his new, er, "non-partisan" public policy think tank.

In other words, it's a pretty classic NYT magazine piece--a bunch of pot shots taken at Republican foreign policy views--while, brow furrowed in deep think and dense prose, casting about (ultimately futilely) for a stolid Democrat foreign policy (Wes Clark, darling of the Clintons, the savior, but more on that in a follow on post).

Consider some passages from Traub's piece:

"It's not just the war in Iraq that prompted these hopes of realignment; it's the Bush administration's penchant for bellicosity, its barely concealed contempt for the United Nations and for many of America's traditional allies, its apparent confusion about how to deal with North Korea." [my emphasis]

A "penchant for bellicosity"? The war in Afghanistan enjoyed near universal support given the Taliban's refusal to hand over al-Qaeda culprits. Given this reality, to have not pursued a military option (and one where we retained maximum flexibility) would have been constitutive of something akin to a masochistic, fanatical pacifism.

I think most people would agree with that (unless you are Wes Clark, who would have expended precious diplomatic capital over at the U.N. to, per his words, ask "for an international criminal tribunal on Osama bin Laden". Call it the Radovan Karadzic approach to international relations. Impunity for genocidaires).

Of course, another (much more controversial) war, was fought in Iraq. But, and particularly given this Administration's preference for non-bellicose approaches to NoKo, Iran, Libya, Syria and points beyond, does this a "penchant for bellicosity" make? I think not.

Traub also describes a "...barely concealed contempt for the U.N." See Colin Powell on this oft-trotted out fake meme:

The key Powell grafs:

"Above all, the president's strategy is one of partnerships that strongly affirms the vital role of NATO and other U.S. alliances -- including the UN.

Don't believe it? Perhaps this is because the commentariat widely claimed that the president's recent decision to seek a new UN Security Council resolution on the postwar reconstruction of Iraq was a sharp break with policy. To think this, one would have to ignore the fact that President Bush went before the UN on September 12, 2002, to make his case for the UN's enforcing its own resolutions (16 of them in total); that Security Council Resolution 1441 -- which warned the Iraqi regime to comply with its own obligations under previous UN resolutions -- passed unanimously in November 2002; that we tried for a further resolution to unite the international community in the months before Operation Iraqi Freedom began; that we went to the UN in May 2003 after Operation Iraqi Freedom to secure Resolution 1483, lifting sanctions against Iraq that had become obsolete; and that we sought and secured Resolution 1500 in August, recognizing the Iraqi Governing Council."

Memo to Traub: Barely concealed contempt doesn't jive with bending over backwards to get four resolutions passed in the august halls of Turtle Bay on a specific issue.

Or working the phones overtime with Dominique de Villepin to get the French to play ball-- at least when the French Foreign Minister was reachable at the Quai D'Orsay and not gallivanting about sub-equitorial Africa rounding up anti-preemptive war votes amidst such avatars of democracy as Angola, Guinea, and Cameroon.

More from Traub's piece:

"In October, the Center for American Progress, a new liberal policy institute, held a two-day conference in Washington designed to lay out the foundations of an alternative, and politically viable, national security policy. The panels at the symposium (which was also sponsored by the Century Foundation and The American Prospect magazine) featured, in the main, nonideological figures offering sober and pragmatic counsel: reserve the right to act pre-emptively but don't make a doctrine of it; do peacekeeping right; focus on ''failed'' states like Afghanistan and Sudan; devise carrots as well as sticks to deal with state sponsors of terrorism; forge a global strategy to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons." [emphasis added]

Leave aside whether the conference was comprised of, "in the main," "nonideological figures." [ed. note: "Nonideological" figures, methinks, has become code for anyone in the Beltway that is not Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz).

But more important, how is what Traub describes an "alternative" national security policy?

I mean, the National Security Strategy enunciated by the Bush Administration does precisely the same as what Traub describes as the "sober and pragmatic counsel" enunciated by all those Democratic wise men over at John Podesta's homme (and femme, lest we forget Hillary Clinton) serieux think tank conclave (I'm curious: was Lanny Davis there?)

Take "reserve the right to act pre-emptively but don't make a doctrine of it". On this, read my previous analyses of the '02 National Security Strategy document (the NSS) here and here. And here's the key text from the NSS document:

"The United States has long maintained the option of preemptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction— and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.

The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions. To support preemptive options, we will: build better, more integrated intelligence capabilities to provide timely, accurate information on threats, wherever they may emerge; coordinate closely with allies to form a common assessment of the most dangerous threats; and continue to transform our military forces to ensure our ability to conduct rapid and precise operations to achieve decisive results." [emphasis added]

Maintain an option (the NSS). Reserve the right (Podesta's wise men). What's the big difference here?

Put differently, what's the value added from the Center for American Progress?

The real story is that a bogeyman of a big, bad "doctrine" of preemption has been hyped by the Krugmans, Dowds, Soros' for many months now (call it, you know, a commentariat 'bubble'). Such intemperate musings do not a judicious appraisal of the NSS make.

But like so many of the criticisms floating about against the Bushies--it's taken on an air of reality. Thus a Democrat criticism that adds no value or no new thinking regarding preemption post 9/11 is touted as some grand, sober newfangled strategy by Traub (of course, alacrity re: pursuing this genre of spin re: Democrat foreign policy is somewhat of a professional deformation on W. 43rd St).

So don't buy into the hype--its got no legs folks.

Next major insight from Podesta's shop: Focus on "failed" states like Afghanistan and Sudan.

I think we've focused on Afghanistan quite a bit since October '01, don't you?

And the nation-building is for wimps, 'we don't do kindergartens' strain of macho talk has pretty much been tossed out the window since 9/11 too.

So what's new here? In a word, nothing, again.

Devise carrots as well as sticks to deal with state sponsors of terrorism:

Here I think the record is less clear. In Bush 43, on NoKo for instance, bureaucratic warfare as between Rummy's crew and those cocktail-swilling, pinstriped, yellow-bellied appeasers at Foggy Bottom has created policy drift. I've criticized that here before (needed: an NSC advisor to batten down the differences and act as a real broker as between State and Defense).

But the very existence of all these policy battles mean precisely that regime change was not the only policy option put forward by the Bush Administration regarding NoKo.

In other words, there have been carrots. As even an article in left-leaning Slate suggests--we are pursuing carrots in NoKo right now.

And here's a story on a slight thaw in the always complex thicket of U.S.-Iranian relations.

One can even espy carrots in the humanitarian aid proferred up by Washington in the aftermath of the horrific earthquake that stuck Iran a couple weeks back.

Finally, Podesta's think-tankers would, contra the Bushies, "forge a global strategy to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons."

You mean like the global strategy enunciated at Bush's last major U.N. address?

"One crucial step is to secure the most dangerous materials at their source. For more than a decade, the United States has worked with Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union to dismantle, destroy, or secure weapons and dangerous materials left over from another era. Last year in Canada, the G8 nations agreed to provide up to $20 billion -- half of it from the United States -- to fight this proliferation risk over the next 10 years. Since then, six additional countries have joined the effort. More are needed, and I urge other nations to help us meet this danger.

We're also improving our capability to interdict lethal materials in transit. Through our Proliferation Security Initiative, 11 nations are preparing to search planes and ships, trains and trucks carrying suspect cargo, and to seize weapons or missile shipments that raise proliferation concerns. These nations have agreed on a set of interdiction principles, consistent with legal -- current legal authorities. And we're working to expand the Proliferation Security Initiative to other countries. We're determined to keep the world's most destructive weapons away from all our shores, and out of the hands of our common enemies.

Because proliferators will use any route or channel that is open to them, we need the broadest possible cooperation to stop them. Today, I ask the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new anti-proliferation resolution. This resolution should call on all members of the U.N. to criminalize the proliferation of weapons -- weapons of mass destruction, to enact strict export controls consistent with international standards, and to secure any and all sensitive materials within their own borders. The United States stands ready to help any nation draft these new laws, and to assist in their enforcement." [emphasis added]

Wow, and Bush's initiative is (hold tight onto your chair and take a deep breath) consistent with international legal norms and multilateral to boot!

Listen, Traub's piece is something of an opus (13 pages printed out) so it will take a bit more than a single post to respond in full. Consider this a preliminary, quasi-Fisking of sorts.

Coming soon, however, discussion of the Traub article in relation to his (hyped) analysis of Chuck Hagel's criticisms of Bush, objections to some comments by Fareed Zakaria, airing of more unfair potshots and distortions by Traub more generally (sprinkled liberally throughout the article), and why a Clark Presidency would prove detrimental to the national interest of the United States.

Posted by Gregory at January 5, 2004 07:56 PM
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