January 16, 2004

The Myth of a Radical Bush Foreign Policy

Today Paul Krugman writes:

"That doesn't mean that the Democratic candidate has to be a radical which is a good thing for the party, since all of the candidates are actually quite moderate. In fact, what the party needs is a candidate who inspires the base enough to get out the message that he isn't a radical and that Mr. Bush is."

Radical seems to be one of Krugman's favorite words. Radical=bad. Moderate=good.

Bush, of course, a radical in the Krugmanian universe.

Radical is typically defined as "(f)avoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions". In turn, "revolutionary" often is defined as the flip-side of radical, ie. "(m)arked by or resulting in radical change."

How does Krugman, willy-nilly, feel he can describe Bush as a "radical" or a "revolutionary" given these definitions?

It appears, somewhat ironically, that Krugman had something of a mini-epiphany about how "revolutionary" Dubya's policies were when reading Henry Kissinger's (no Krugman role model, doubtless) "A World Restored."

From a Guardian piece on Krugman (click "mini-epiphany" link above for more):

"The first three pages of Kissinger's book sent chills down my spine," Krugman writes of A World Restored, the 1957 tome by the man who would later become the unacceptable face of cynical realpolitik. Kissinger, using Napoleon as a case study - but also, Krugman believes, implicitly addressing the rise of fascism in the 1930s - describes what happens when a stable political system is confronted with a "revolutionary power": a radical group that rejects the legitimacy of the system itself.

This, Krugman believes, is precisely the situation in the US today (though he is at pains to point out that he isn't comparing Bush to Hitler in moral terms). [ed. note. Gee, great! Guess Krugman isn't welcome at Moveon.org then!] The "revolutionary power", in Kissinger's theory, rejects fundamental elements of the system it seeks to control, arguing that they are wrong in principle. For the Bush administration, according to Krugman, that includes social security; the idea of pursuing foreign policy through international institutions; and perhaps even the basic notion that political legitimacy comes from democratic elections - as opposed to, say, from God."

Leave aside the absurdities about Bush believing his political legitimacy comes from God rather than chad-ridden Floridian ballots. Let's concentrate on the foreign policy angle.

Krugman contends that Bush is a "radical" or a "revolutionary" because he's abandoned the "idea of pursuing foreign policy through international institutions."

But this is prima facie false.

Don't believe me?

Read the National Security Strategy ("NSS") document prepared in 2002.

Why, if we've abandoned international institutions, do we specifically mention working with the World Bank? NATO and ANZUS?

Oh wait, you protest! What of the United Nations?

Well, how about this portion of the NSS?

"We are also guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone. Alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations. The United States is committed to lasting institutions like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, and NATO as well as other long-standing alliances. Coalitions of the willing can augment these permanent institutions. In all cases, international obligations are to be taken seriously. They are not to be undertaken symbolically to rally support for an ideal without furthering its attainment." [my emphasis]

Could our committment to, rather than gross abadonment of, be any clearer?

Ah, the Krugmans and Soros will say, this is but lip service.

Neo-cons consumed by Jacobean fever run the Beltway--and have duped hapless Georgie--and so a nefarious radicalism is indeed ascendant amidst the Potomac.

They point to portions of the NSS that discuss the U.S. holding out preemption as a policy option. But, as I've written before, such critics aren't reading the NSS closely enough (or are purposefully ignoring all the qualifying language).

And (while we're at it) why is Jerry Bremer spending time with Kofi? Or, as the WaPo puts it, trying to "build a partnership" with the U.N.? I mean, if a radical Bush is hell-bent on ditching international institutions, why all this jaw-jaw over at Turtle Bay?

Our chief diplomat, in a long article, enunciates an American "strategy of partnerships."

Again, I ask, where all the radical/revolutionary going-ons?

I could go on with (many) more examples.

But, finally, I would simply query whether a columnist in the leading American newspaper might not attempt to broach this issue in a more nuanced fashion.

You know, it's easy to throw around labels like "radical" or "revolutionary" and paint Bush as some kind of militaristic Ayatollah. But, when you look at the issue seriously, it's pretty clear that that is all pretty bogus.

The Times, in my view, has gotten a lot better under Bill Keller. He's definitely battened down some of the gross excesses of the Raines regime.

And no, I'm not approaching this as a censorious scold hell-bent on Keller muzzling his more, er, dogmatic columnists. Let them periodically issue their fiery screeds. Strong opinions, especially when intelligently argued, are a good thing all told.

But one wonders whether a quiet editorial word along the corridors of W.43rd, perhaps about the merits of empirical fact-based analysis, uttered discreetly to a Dowd or Krugman, now and again, wouldn't hurt.

Posted by Gregory at January 16, 2004 12:17 PM
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