November 13, 2004

Weekend Reading

Don't miss this Robert Tucker and David Hendrickson piece over at Foreign Affairs. Tucker and Hendrickson argue that the legitimacy of U.S. power has always rested on "four pillars": 1) pledging the use of U.S. power to international law; 2) Washington's commitment to "consensual modes of decision-making"; 3) America's "reputation...for moderation in policy"; and 4) Washington's "success in preserving peace and prosperity within the community of advanced industrialized democracies."

Not suprisingly, the authors believe the Bush doctrine has run afoul of all four of these pillars of legitimacy. They quote Edmund Burke, speaking of the French revolutionaries, to the effect that Bush's policy has been "military in its principle, in its maxims, in its spirits, and in all its movements." Tucker and Hendrickson even charge that the U.S. has "assumed many of the very features of the rogue nations against which it has rhetorically--and sometimes literally--done battle with over the years." In this vein, the authors' argue that world public opinion has reached something of a "tipping point," with Washington defined more "by the ease with which it justified illegal actions as by its commitment to legality."

These academics are not wild-eyed Chomskyites and Tucker, in particular, is an eminent diplomatic historian I respect much. But, like so much of our public discourse today, I believe their piece unfortunately spills into hyperbole. I'll comment on the piece in detail when time allows (likely Monday night)--but do take the time to read it and provide comment, if any, before then.

Oh, and if you haven't read this post over at the Belmont Club--well, go do so soonest. It touches on themes of maximum import to our collective futures--and is well worth your time. I hope Wretchard will return to this theme more often in the coming days. I certainly hope to and have been negligent in not addressing these issues full-square before. Regardless, here are some key portions of Wretchard's post worth cogitating over:

When that underlying civilizational consensus has been destroyed or diluted, as is the case in Western Europe and to a lesser extent the United States, what intrinsic ends does a value-neutral democratic mechanism serve? The answer possibly, is whatever it can be put to, like a Turing Machine which adopts whichever persona the loaded instruction set demands. Then Dutch democracy becomes the Muslim right to chuck a hand grenade out the door at policemen come to arrest them for plotting to blow up a public landmark. Democracy becomes a vehicle waiting to be hijacked; a metaphor for the old saw that someone who believes in nothing will believe in anything.

But of course the process of secularization -- or 'value emptying' as Pell might put it -- has not been entirely uniform. In actuality, while whole chunks of the West have thrown out their traditional value systems, other chunks have been busy proseletyzing theirs. As Episcopalian churches have emptied the fundamentalist Islamic mosques have filled. That uneven development, if left unchecked, may eventually mean that the magnificent mechanism of secular democracy, which serves no value of itself, will be arbitrarily assigned a goal by the majority most willing to hijack it.

I often think of this issue (the perils of a lack of spirituality in the West) in relation to Solzhenitsyn's fascinating Harvard commencement address in 1979. Go read that too. Recall, everyone was expecting a grateful Solzhenitsyn, recently exiled to Vermont, to beat up on the big, bad Soviet bear. He did so, of course, but he also addressed significant moral/spiritual shortcomings in the West. His speech engendered much controversy and was attacked by most quarters of the U.S. intelligentsia--but it's important and worth revisiting in relation to Wretchard's post. More soon.

Posted by Gregory at November 13, 2004 02:40 PM

The bishop's observations are quite accurate and nothing new. St. Augustine noted that a republic could only endure as long as the morals of its citizens were strong. Such morals are not "value free." For those who don't accept a religious authority for insight, there is Vico, who described how society went through cycles from barbarian periods of strong beliefs to effete, humanist periods before eventual disappearance. And if you want a non-Western perspective, there is Ibn Khaldun, who likewise spoke of the heroic period of society based on the firm beliefs of a rising group's "assabiya," which might be defined as a strong communal sense of solidarity and values. The great English historian in the last century, Christopher Dawson, wrote that the rise of skepticism since the Enlightenment, if not the Rennaisance, meant that Western society was living on moral capital that its reigning ideas were sapping. Some observers might argue that recent events in the Netherlands, and perhaps elsewhere in Western Europe, show that a sufficiently skeptical society does not have the intellectual means for self defense. I'm not so sure, but it is possible.

Posted by: Outsider at November 13, 2004 07:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Quite the contrary. Any decline is caused by a retrogression to the old values, not the embrace of the new.

remember the goal-strangle every last king with the entrails of every last priest.

The kings are reviving and the priests are triumphant. The Aufklarung is barely born yet you seek to strangle in its womb.

Stay thine bloody hand.

Posted by: martin at November 13, 2004 07:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The founding fathers also had much to say the subject of values and government.


Posted by: steven at November 13, 2004 08:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

While in the referenced issue of FA there's also a brief but powerfully incisive and cogent reply by Larry Diamond - targeting a broadside by Tony Smith - that should not be missed. Diamond's bona fides are impressive vis-a-vis both Iraq specifically and democratic initiatives more generally and he marshalls a substantial defense for continuing the Iraq effort and investing a well reasoned hope therein. It's also noteworthy that Diamond's is fundamentally a realist based and transparently argued defense, one that avoids the facile presumption and excessive rhetoric that marks so many of the critics, not only the illtempered ones but the more earnest and thoughtful among them as well, such as is represented in Tony Smith's salvo.

The Smith/Diamond piece.

Posted by: Michael B at November 13, 2004 09:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The question is not, then, whether the United States should accord a veto to the Security Council in cases of national or collective defense, but whether it should do so when the use of force would otherwise be illegal. Such illegal uses of force are in fact unnecessary for U.S. security and actually imperil it. The Iraq war clearly illustrates both points: not only did containment and deterrence offer a perfectly workable method of dealing with Saddam's Iraq,..."

Huh?? containment was working?? Perfectly workable method?? The authors must not keep up on current events. Haven't they heard of the Oil-for-food scandal, the Dueffer Report and the fact the France had already pushed to end sanctions. What about the attacks on coalition airplanes patrolling the no-fly zones?? What about the Iraqi that Saddam was killing?? Deterrence?? Like France saying they would veto any use of force.

The authors' prefectly workable method was exactly what Saddam was counting on. A bunch of weak timid pols that could never make a hard decision. Saddam could delay, delay and delay until the UN tired and lifted sanctions. Saddam survives and then rebuilds his arsenal.

But to the authors, the UN is the answer. They would be better off learning that the UN is the problem. Couldn't approve action in the Balkans, corruption in the Oil-for-food program, inaction about Sudan, armed terrorist camps within the UN refugee camps in Palestine...

The authors lost all creditability at this point and I won't bother reading the rest.

Posted by: Doug at November 14, 2004 03:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I hardly know where to start commenting since there is scarcely a word in the Foreign Affairs piece that I agree with. The idea that we should seek the approval of "Allies" such as France and Germany [Allies is name only] and Russia [A "new" almost ally] and even China [an active opponent] to obtain "legitimacy' is ludicrous. I think that current events disposes of the use of "the ambit of law" as a decider on what we should do to protect our national security has been blown out of the water.

The Food For Oil scandal [arguably the largest single scandal in the history of the World] shows us what motivates the Allies which make up the World peacekeeping body known as the Security Council. I don't even mention the petty little dictators which make up the majority of the General Assembly. Having this group of outlaws as a legitimacy monitor of our actions cannot be said with a straight face.

The recent outpouring of pseudo grief from the French and others over the death of one of the greatest murderers in out time, Mr Arafat, tells us how much we can rely on the UN and Allies for legitimizing our actions.

The "slippery slope" to which our intrepid authors refer is not a result of ignoring the legitimizers but because they ARE out there and cannot be ignored. The Islamicists are out there and, if we appear weak to them, they will continue to strike. They have already won an election in Spain and the Netherlands are seeing how they operate when given free reign.

Legimacy conferred on us from the decadent capitals of Europe will only lead to worsening our strength in the World and strengthen the bad guys - a lot.

Posted by: Ramrod at November 14, 2004 01:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The authors here elevate "legitimacy" to a fetish. Alas, the rest of the world does not. The problem is that the players who apparently can confer legitimacy on any American initiative - mostly certain Europeans countries - have themselves abdicated their responsiblity to uphold international law or common security. It is they who are guilty of using or ignoring it according to their short term convenience. Having no stomach for a fight, they all too often see the UN as a tool for covering up and dissipating political failure.

If we follow their route, Iran will become a nuclear power in contravention of signed treaties and will gain much legitimacy as a consequence. Thatīs how it works in the real world.

Saddamīs containment, in accordance with international law, was for many years upheld ONLY by the US and the UK whose legitimacy was undermined by hand-wringing over sanctions, depleted uranium and dead baby parades.

The authors hide the fact that criticism of the US has little to do with principles and a lot with culture, political expediency and convenience. When the German chancellor shamelessly used the Iraq situation for electioneering purposes, was this responsible? No. Does it worry us (I say this as a German) that we did exactly nothing for the exercise of international law and common security principles against Saddam, or any other thug with a state? No.

As the authors say, legitimacy is rooted in opinion. Opinion as I have encountered it for three decades is less interested in solutions to international problems that in irrational and immature anti-Americanism. This was the case during the Reagan years and the "legal" first Gulf war, when our media and antiwar movement became almost as hysterical as they are today. Legitimacy in the past did not save the US from being portrayed as Rambos, as warmongering militarists, as vicious killers (Highway of Death!), as indiscriminate bombers of embassies in Belgrade and baby milk factories in Kabul. That perception is NOT new. Only two things have changed: the 68ers, the anti-war, anti-western, anti-capitalist generation is now the establishment, and people in Europe perceive no external threat. As a friend of mine keeps saying: "WE donīt have any enemies." We want our holiday from history and we want it now. I therefore think that Robert Kagan, who is quoted here saying that US legitimacy broke down with the Berlin wall, gets it right.

Posted by: werner at November 14, 2004 04:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Foreign Affairs article's pretence to balance is too thin to stand. The four pillars of legitimacy were not always and everywhere acknowledged, but challenged at every opportunity by those whose aims went against the Western industrialized democracies and their allies. During the Cold War the Soviet block specifically sought to de-legitimize the US and its allies, and to cast the cloak of legitimacy around itself, its policies and its deeds. Even before that struggle ended the situation was changing, not unexpectedly so. Every tin plated two bit tyrant sought cover in the cloak of legitimacy, and was increasingly given a respectful hearing in the international forums, the UN being the biggest and the best.

The result of this has been the creation of a double standard wherein the US is held to a nearly impossible standard of policy and conduct to which other states merely pay lip service, and to which no one expects them to adhere. The examples of this are too numerous and tragic to enumerate here, but be it noted that they are conveniently overlooked by the UN at large. As the universal whipping boy, the US serves to fund the UN and it's ostensible goals while taking the blame of the failure of those goals naturally resulting from many UN members who covertly undermine them.

Thus the notion that the US has become an international pariah on account of its unilateralism is false on two counts. First it the notion that the US is without friends and allies in the world, Kerry's bribed and coerced. The second is that the US has had the love, admiration and respect of the international community up till the neocons squandered it by their unilateral, militaristic cowboy policies. Much of US foreign policy has had as its aim the gaining of that love, admiration and respect, a strange weakness of ours, a policy which has proved to be not only fruitless but actually detrimental, and is irrelevant to our national interest.

In fact what is happening here is that the US is once again accepting its position of leadership in the world. Pandering to the world's petty tyrants is not in our national interest, leading the world is. It is only to be expected those moved by envy, avarice, pride and lust for power should resist this. After all, it is in their national interest to do so, and their is great advantage to be had from those who know how to exploit the chaos of a leaderless or weakly led world, as Saddam showed us so well.

In the end, a world in chaos is a world in midst of a power vacuum; power vacuums do not last long. Should the US fail to shoulder the leadership of the world community on its own terms, there are those who will.

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