January 10, 2004

James Traub, Part Deux

As promised, we are returning to James Traub's long NYT magazine article from last week.

Readers may recall my thoughts on parts of the article from last week.

Back then, I relayed that I would have some additional thoughts on Traub's treatment of some Chuck Hagel and Fareed Zakaria comments--in addition to a few other additional observations. (Traub's analysis of Wes Clark to be blogged later).

So here goes.

On Hagel, Traub writes:

"More striking still was the closing speech delivered by Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, who is often spoken of in Washington as a probable presidential candidate in 2008. Hagel sounded a decorous, Midwestern version of Brzezinski's rather frantic alarums. ''Crisis-driven coalitions of the willing by themselves are not the building blocks for a stable world,'' he said. And, ''Iraq alone cannot define our relationships.'' And even, ''Other countries have their own interests, and those interests need to be acknowledged and heard.'' Presumably that included France. Hagel also observed that ''the American image in the world is in need of immediate and long-term repair'' and suggested such instruments of ''soft power'' as educational and professional exchange programs, as well as increased language training for American students.

There are two very large inferences that can be drawn from comments like these and, more broadly, from the current debate over national security issues in policy institutes, academia and professional journals. One is that the Bush administration stands very, very far from the foreign-policy mainstream: liberal Democrats, conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans have more in common with one another than any of them have with the Bush administration." [emphasis added]

Does Traub really mean to suggest that Hagel believes key administration figures like Condi Rice or Colin Powell don't understand that "other countries have their own interests, and those interests need to be acknowledged and heard"?

I mean, is this how Traub hopes to evidence that Hagel is closer to Dean ("liberal Democrats") on matters foreign policy than Bush?

Take a look at the text of a major Hagel foreign policy speech.

To be sure, he stresses the need to pursue multilateral strategies and the need to not too myopically view our entire foreign policy solely through the prism of the war on terror. Still, Bush's supposed tendency to act unilaterally has been greatly hyped.

And does this part of Hagel's speech sound closer to a Dean or Bush geopolitical worldview?

"The "war on terrorism" rubric provides neither clarification nor direction regarding our non-proliferation policy options. That said, if a proliferating state sponsors terrorism, or has links with terrorists opposed to the United States, then these two areas of focus converge. And our tools to deal with both threats should be squarely focused on those states. It is doubtful that we face a viable threat of a large-scale nuclear attack from another major nuclear power. The more real threat is now the development and deliverability of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons by terrorist organizations and the states which sponsor them. The Bush Administration has charted a new course in our relationship with Russia by moving to reduce nuclear arsenals to historically low numbers and engaging our former adversary on controlling the spread of nuclear technology. Nunn-Lugar non-proliferation programs have institutionalized an essential cooperative relationship committed to the reduction and control of nuclear or dual use materials."

Speaking of Nunn-Lugar check out this portion of Traub's article:

"Clearly, the policy makers in the administration do not agree that regime change and fighting proliferation are unrelated, and in recent weeks they have produced what they maintain is proof of their belief: Libya's agreement to abandon its unconventional weapons programs for fear (the administration says) of being the next Iraq. At the same time, the administration has starved the budget for nonproliferation measures. After first trying to zero-out the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which provides money to help the Russians keep their thousands of nuclear weapons secure, the administration ultimately agreed to keep financing steady at $451 million, or one-tenth the annual cost of the national missile-defense program."

Is keeping financing steady tantamount to starving the budget?

Of course it isn't. And note that (harsh Dubya critic) Hagel praises Bush's support of Nunn-Lugar.

Traub also quotes Fareed Zakaria saying:

"...with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it."

Leave aside whether diplomats in Canberra, Warsaw, Lisbon, Rome, Madrid and Bucharest felt humiliated by U.S. diplomacy in the advent to the Iraq war (it's too easy, and ultimately of no real utility, to play this kind of blogosphere 'gotcha').

Zakaria is a really smart observer of the foreign policy scene. Traub's quote came from this long and typically thoughtful Zakaria article.

A relevant graf:

"In diplomacy, style is often substance. Consider this fact: the Clinton administration used force on three important occasions?Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo. In none of them did it take the matter to the United Nations Security Council, and there was little discussion that it needed to do so. Indeed, Kofi Annan later made statements that seemed to justify the action in Kosovo, explaining that state sovereignty should not be used as a cover for humanitarian abuses. Today Annan has (wrongly) announced that American action in Iraq outside the United Nations will be "illegal." While the Clinton administration?or the first Bush administration?was assertive in many ways, people did not seek assurances about its intentions. The Bush administration does not bear all the blame for this dramatic change in attitudes. Because of 9-11, it has had to act forcefully on the world stage and assert American power. But that should have been all the more reason to adopt a posture of consultation and cooperation while doing what needed to be done. The point is to scare our enemies, not terrify the rest of the world." [emphasis added]

Any of you who clicked through and read the interview I linked of Walter Russell Mead yesterday might recall his statement that:

"[Administration officials] presented something that was not revolutionary as if it were revolutionary. My guess is that they were more concerned with frightening our enemies than in reassuring our friends, that they wanted to draw a line under what they saw as a somewhat indecisive policy in the past. There were better ways to do this. They could have had all the scary impact on the bad guys they wanted without giving a propaganda excuse to all kinds of people and also creating a whole lot of misunderstanding. So, in that sense, I think Powell's interpretation of the core policies is the right one, and I wish the administration had used Powell's language and arguments more. We would have had a smoother ride if we had done that."

Zakaria and Mead make good points. We should have tried to strike a better balance as between scaring our enemies but not our friends.

B.D. will be returning to this theme in more detail shortly--particularly as it (tough Admin rhetoric meant to scare our foes) contributed to the creation of an entire cottage industry (see Krugman, Dowd, Soros, Kerry, and many many more) spouting on about how a revolutionary break in U.S. foreign policy has occurred imperiling myriad multilateral fora and the entire underpinnings of the post-war Achesonian order.

Finally, a couple last points on Traub's article (his treatment of Wes Clark, as mentioned above, to be addressed later).

It's again worth stressing that these types of breezy distortions litter the piece from beginning to end:

"Democratic strategists initially expected to concede the issue of national security in 2004. Howard Dean said that he planned to conduct his campaign on ''balancing the budget and having a health insurance program for everybody.'' Other candidates, like Representative Richard Gephardt, barely mentioned foreign policy at all. But when Bush tried and failed to get a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq, decisively alienating almost all of our European allies in the process, foreign policy was back in play." [my emphasis]

This is simply flat out false. Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, the U.K. (and more) were not "decisively alienat[ed]".

In fact, they supported the U.S.

I mean, even Germany and France were not necessarily decisively alienated.

Final thought. I do agree with Traub on his quoting of this report:

"The State Department asked a nonpartisan group to study American public diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim world; the report, issued in October, concluded that ''a process of unilateral disarmament in the weapons of advocacy over the last decade has contributed to widespread hostility toward Americans and left us vulnerable to lethal threats to our interests and our safety.'' These were weapons we wielded boldly during the cold war; we allowed them to lapse in the 90's, when the only instrument that seemed to matter was the marketplace. The study found that the State Department has all of 54 genuine Arabic speakers, that outreach efforts rarely reach beyond capitals, that the American-studies centers that were once ubiquitous around the globe scarcely exist in the Arab and Muslim world."

This is painfully true. We must do better on this front. If this is indeed WWIV--well, we need to win the minds of those who might sooner blow themselves up in our cities than travel to our shores as curious, benign tourists.

Hostility to the U.S. in large swaths of the Islamic world, like it or not, has indeed reached "shocking" levels. But we can't just blame, as some chest-thumpers do in the blogosphere, those damn backwards Arabs who just ain't gonna get it.

Nor is mocking Islam as the 'ROPMA' ("religion of piece, my ass") in assorted comments sections of arm-chair warrior blogs going to get us anywhere.

That's not a strategy for the long-term successful projection of the American national interest. That's just the flip side of idiotarianism.

Anyway, read the State Department advisory report for recommendations on how to improve our public diplomacy in the Muslim world.

[Full disclosure: My father, a retired diplomat, chaired the advisory panel that produced the report submitted to Congress].

Posted by Gregory at January 10, 2004 06:05 PM
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