January 12, 2005

What Bismark Can Teach Bush

Below some highlights from an excellent John Lewis Gaddis piece in the current Foreign Affairs.

First, note that Gaddis appears, if with major caveats, to be pretty impressed with major components of Bush's prosecution of the war on terror to date:

Connecting causes with consequences is always difficult--all the more so when we know so little of Osama bin Laden's intentions or those of his followers. Perhaps al Qaeda planned no further attacks. Perhaps it anticipated that the United States would retaliate by invading Afghanistan and deposing the Taliban. Perhaps it foresaw U.S. military redeployments from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Iraq. Perhaps it expected a worldwide counterterrorist campaign to roll up substantial portions of its network. Perhaps it predicted that the Bush administration would abandon its aversion to nation building and set out to democratize the Middle East. Perhaps bin Laden's strategy allowed for all of this, but that seems unlikely. If it did not, then the first and most fundamental feature of the Bush strategy--taking the offensive against the terrorists and thereby surprising them--has so far accomplished its purposes.

And, while Gaddis is critical of much related to our Iraq involvement, unlike people like Brad De Long, say, he does agree with B.D. that we made a real, good faith effort to secure viable, multilateral involvement in Iraq (if occasionally ham-handed in execution):

However shocking the September 11 attacks may have been, the international community has not found it easy to endorse the Bush administration's plan for regaining security. Bush and his advisers anticipated this problem. After brushing aside offers of help in Afghanistan from NATO allies, the administration worked hard to win multilateral support for its first act of pre-emption for preventive purposes: the invasion of Iraq. It expected success. After all, who, apart from the United States, could organize the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a dictator who had abused his people, started wars, flouted UN resolutions, supported terrorists, and, in the view of intelligence agencies everywhere, probably possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD)? The use of U.S. power to depose such a monster, Bush's strategists assumed, would be welcomed, not feared. [emphasis added]

Gaddis, however, and rightly in my view, believes our sheer military power will ultimately prove ineffective without being joined to softer persuasive powers aimed at getting more nations to act with us on a consensual basis:

It is easy to say that this does not matter--that a nation as strong as the United States need not worry about what others think of it. But that simply is not true. To see why, compare the American and Soviet spheres of influence in Europe during the Cold War. The first operated with the consent of those within it. The second did not, and that made an enormous difference quite unrelated to the military strength each side could bring to bear in the region. The lesson here is clear: influence, to be sustained, requires not just power but also the absence of resistance, or, to use Clausewitz's term, "friction." Anyone who has ever operated a vehicle knows the need for lubrication, without which the vehicle will sooner or later grind to a halt. This is what was missing during the first Bush administration: a proper amount of attention to the equivalent of lubrication in strategy, which is persuasion.

The American claim of a broadly conceived right to pre-empt danger is not going to disappear, because no other nation or international organization will be prepared anytime soon to assume that responsibility. But the need to legitimize that strategy is not going to go away, either; otherwise, the friction it generates will ultimately defeat it, even if its enemies do not. What this means is that the second Bush administration will have to try again to gain multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power.

Doing so will not involve giving anyone else a veto over what the United States does to ensure its security and to advance its interests. It will, however, require persuading as large a group of states as possible that these actions will also enhance, or at least not degrade, their own interests. The United States did that regularly--and highly successfully--during World War II and the Cold War. It also obtained international consent for the use of predominantly American military force in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, and in Afghanistan in 2001. Iraq has been the exception, not the rule, and there are lessons to be learned from the anomaly. [emphasis added]

I firmly believe that Condi Rice and Bob Zoellick will make this aim of reinvigorating multilateral support for U.S. geopolitical objectives a major goal in Bush's second term. (See the FT article linked here for more on this). And yes, as Gaddis points out, this effort will require better "manners" and "language" (see his article for more at page three here). More important, however, is "vision". As Gaddis describes it:

The terrorists of September 11 exposed vulnerabilities in the defenses of all states. Unless these are repaired, and unless those who would exploit them are killed, captured, or dissuaded, the survival of the state system itself could be at stake. Here lies common ground, for unless that multinational interest is secured, few other national interests--convergent or divergent--can be. Securing the state will not be possible without the option of pre-emptive military action to prevent terrorism from taking root. It is a failure of both language and vision that the United States has yet to make its case for pre-emption in these terms. [emphasis added]

Commenters are invited to think about how, specifically, Condi Rice and her team can best make this critical case to an international audience in the next four years. To get juices flowing, here are some initial ideas Gaddis offers up:

There are opportunities, then, for a renewed U.S. commitment to the task of keeping WMD out of the hands of tyrants and terrorists--by multilateral means. The prospects for such an effort, like those for the Iraqi occupation, are better than they might at first seem. UN sanctions do appear to have prevented the rebuilding of Saddam Hussein's WMD after the Gulf War. That organization has shown itself effective as well in publicizing, if not resolving, the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Cooperative initiatives elsewhere have also shown promise: examples include the Nunn-Lugar program to dismantle nuclear stockpiles, the Proliferation Security Initiative to intercept illegal weapons shipments, and the tacit agreement North Korea's neighbors have reached that none has an interest in seeing Pyongyang develop the capacity for mass destruction.

The Bush administration has been proceeding in this direction. Its multilateralism outside of Afghanistan and Iraq is insufficiently acknowledged--probably because it has been inadequately explained. What is needed now is a clear and comprehensive statement of which international organizations and initiatives the United States can cooperate with, which it cannot, and why. It is as bad to promise too much, as the Clinton administration did, as to propose too little, as happened during Bush's first term. But with tact, flexibility, and a willingness to listen--as well as the power to pre-empt if such strategies fail--Americans could by these means regain what they have recently lost: the ability to inspire others to want to follow them. [emphasis added]

Frankly, I think Gaddis makes way too much of the U.N.'s supposed success in Iraq and/or Iran. But he does have a point on Nunn-Lugar or the Proliferation Security Initiative. And it's not so much that we haven't necessarily been cooperating with such multilateral initiatives--indeed Bush has spearheaded the latter--it's that the world often doesn't hear it. Part of the reason why, of course, is that they don't want to hear it. The caricature of the U.S. as rank rogue and crude cowboy is too easy and tempting a target. But we have made the problem worse too through all the Rumsfeldian bluster, occasional high-handedness, gratuitous rubbing of noses in it. It's time to dampen such tendencies and get more sober, coherent and professional in the conduct of our diplomacy (reining in the Pentagon will go a long way towards achieving such goals). As Gaddis suggests, one place to start might well be a systematic enumeration of what multilateral security initiatives we want to be involved with, which not, and why. And not only security issues, by the way. Don't like Kyoto, say? Well, by all means, reject it. But suggest a viable alternative--especially if you said you were going to.

Finally, Gaddis suggests, remember your Bismark:

...one apparent assumption that runs through the Bush grand strategy deserves careful scrutiny. It has to do with what follows shock and awe. The president and his advisers seem to have concluded that the shock the United States suffered on September 11 required that shocks be administered in return, not just to the part of the world from which the attack came, but to the international system as a whole. Old ways of doing things no longer worked. The status quo everywhere needed shaking up. Once that had happened, the pieces would realign themselves in patterns favorable to U.S. interests.

It was free-market thinking applied to geopolitics: that just as the removal of economic constraints allows the pursuit of self-interest automatically to advance a collective interest, so the breaking up of an old international order would encourage a new one to emerge, more or less spontaneously, based on a universal desire for security, prosperity, and liberty. Shock therapy would produce a safer, saner world.

Some such therapy was probably necessary in the aftermath of September 11, but the assumption that things would fall neatly into place after the shock was administered was the single greatest misjudgment of the first Bush administration. It explains the failure to anticipate multilateral resistance to pre-emption. It accounts for the absence of planning for the occupation of Iraq. It has produced an overstretched military for which no "revolution in military affairs" can compensate. It has left official obligations dangerously unfunded. And it has allowed an inexcusable laxity about legal procedures--at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere--to squander the moral advantage the United States possessed after September 11 and should have retained.

The most skillful practitioner ever of shock and awe, Otto von Bismarck, shattered the post-1815 European settlement in order to unify Germany in 1871. Having done so, however, he did not assume that the pieces would simply fall into place as he wished them to: he made sure that they did through the careful, patient construction of a new European order that offered benefits to all who were included within it. Bismarck's system survived for almost half a century.

The most important question George W. Bush will face in his second term is whether he can follow Bismarck's example. If he can shift from shock and awe to the reassurance--and the attention to detail--that is necessary to sustain any new system, then the prospects for his post-September 11 grand strategy could compare favorably to Bismarck's accomplishments, as well as to those of U.S. presidents from Roosevelt through Clinton. For their post-Pearl Harbor grand strategy, over more than half a century, persuaded the world that it was better off with the United States as its dominant power than with anyone else. Bush must now do the same.

Put differently, real 'shock and awe' involves much by way of bricks and mortars, generational attention, the fostering of consensually-based norms and behavior, the patience of Job. Is Bush up to it? Time will tell; but I remain hopeful that, after the understandable excesses of the immediate post 9/11 era, marred by horrifically poor post-war assumptions at the Pentagon, new found sobriety, renewed seriousness and discipline, more attention to our friends--all are in the offing.

Posted by Gregory at January 12, 2005 03:23 AM

I tend to agree with most of your analysis but I am much less hopeful that the second administration will see any resolution of the crisis for this reason: the people advising George Bush, who are responsible for this failure to plan "where the pieces will fall", are staying put. Bush won't replace these fools like Rumsfeld and Feith because to do so would cast political doubt on the entire mission. Bush will not succeed because George W. Bush as a political animal - one whose prime value is loyalty more than anything else - precludes any real holding of underlings to account. Whatever one thinks of the decisions of the first administration, the advisors in charge clearly are not the right people to manage the future task of gaining international support for US objectives or planning US strategic objectives with any sense of thoroughness. There must be new blood - at the Pentagon, at State, the NSA and at the CIA. Unfortunately there will be more of the same.

Posted by: Elrod at January 12, 2005 05:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Geez, it's too late for me to be perusing Gaddis' article, much less digest why you quote what you did (it's 12:39am here), but I do intend to, once I get my law school apps out of the way. Welcome back, by the way!

Posted by: Bruce at January 12, 2005 08:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg I think the article is flawed on two assumptions:

1. That the Cold War was won because of the absence of "friction"

2. That Iraq policy failed because of "rudeness" or petty cowboying.

The Cold War was won because the US was stronger economically AND militarily, thus it was in the interests of borderline nations to align themselves with the US; or at least not actively oppose America. This was particularly true in Europe, where most states were "free riders" on American defense while they piled up social welfare goodies that would have been unsustainable had they pulled their own weight in military spending.

The opposition to Iraq wasn't anything new. The French sent help when the Turks besieged Vienna in 1688. Only the help sent was to the Turks, enemies of the French. This despite the fact that the Hapsburgs were fellow Catholics; and the very real threat of the Sultan to all of Europe.

Opposition to Iraq was rooted in Saddam's sweetheart oil contracts, outright bribes, and an overt desire by the French in particular to pose as the American alternative. Something they've done since America unilaterally squashed their Suez adventure in 1956.

Moreover, Bismark constructed an essentially static, defensive alliance, and tried to prevent any serious combination of powers in Europe that would threaten Germany's power. What Bush seeks is nothing less than transformational, to aggressively seek out and remove threats to the US, and not rely on old alliances that have proved worthless. The old alliance system was seen to have masked a noxious and growing threat, while being unable to deal with it; so it was cast aside for something new.

That's a whole lot different than playing a bunch of folks off each other, and a lot harder. Bush is certainly playing big, and for big stakes.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 12, 2005 10:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It took more than three years for the US political system to converge on a strategy for the Cold War. It should come as no surprise that doing the same thing this time will require several years, or that mistakes will be made along the way.

The central concept that GWB learned at the Harvard Business School is that what matters most is identifying the right things to go after first. This is a great guide to action, in that it becomes more rather than less useful as the situation becomes more ambiguous.

Of course GWB will eventually assessed in terms of the basis he left for his successors to work with. So far he has done well. In particular it is not a problem that he has left us a lot of room to 'define victory down'. This is a crucial asset going forward. Like other politicians in history GWB is going to be described as not just 'misunderestimated' but also a master at using creative ambiguity to wrong-foot his opponents..

Posted by: ZF at January 12, 2005 03:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Rockford:

Gaddis's view on how the Cold War was won isn't an assumption, it's the fruit of a lifetime of study.

Gregory Djerejian: As a citizen of one of the 190 countries that aren't the U.S. of A., I thank you for this sober and moderate demonstration that the only world order the USA is interested in is "Do as I say not as I do" and "My way or the highway", and the reminder that its attitude toward our freedom and independence is not indifference but hostility.

Posted by: Robert McDougall at January 12, 2005 06:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

initial reactions:

hope is not a plan

hope for a fresh approach and new thinking from bush is even less of a plan

I respect gaddis enough to rethink bush's legacy

Bismarck's european order didn't end terribly well (WWI) -- does he deserve some of the blame?

Posted by: billd at January 12, 2005 07:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim Rockford:
The imbalance in NATO contributions to European theatre defence during the Cold War were not as dramatic as you might think.
To take on partial example: in 1976 US forces in Central Theatre were 89,000 troops 2,500 tanks 260 aircraft.
By comparison Germany: 345,000 troops 2,400 tanks 160 aircraft.

Certainly Continental European spending as %GDP was lower: they spent far less on military R&D (but
in consequence providing a market for US military sales), relied on conscription and did not
need the sealift, airlift and strategic forces needed by the US
a) because the Red Army was on the European back porch and
b) because only the US aspired to global power.

And if you want to worry about unsustainable welfare state goodies, take a look at the US Social Security/Medicare liabilities.

You are corect, IMHO, that US diplomacy did not fail because of "rudeness". The opposition of France was primarily, I think, intended to exploit the political situation in Germany to drive a wedge between it and the US. By comparison to this stake, French economic interests in Iraq were trivial.
And yes, that does relate to Suez, because the French concluded then that the US could not be trusted as an ally to respect France's assessment of its vital national interests, and that France could act to counter this. (A major error of both perception and policy, IMHO)

In the UNSC votes on Iraq, if France is excluded the US had more suport from Europe than any other continent.
That is why Rumsfeldian cracks about "old Europe" were an error - the Franco/German alignment was NOT dominant there, and it allowed France to assume the mantle of 'champion of Europe'. Even within Germany there remain strong forces against an exclusive alignment with France, which the US could cultivate.

This is also why calls for "US out of NATO" are misjudged: it plays straight into the hands of Paris (and Moscow).
Gaddis is right: Bush needed to reshape US policy, BUT (and I say this as a Bush supporter, on balance) you don't just kick in the old order and hope for the best. You shape the future by your actions, plans and skill.

Robert McDougall:
I cannot see where you see Greg as expressing hostility toward the "freedom and indepence" of other states.
Unless this is inherent in the US pursuing its national interests.

If so, this is quite simply what all states do, and which Great Powers have more power to do.
The questions are what those interests are, and are perceived to be, how far they are enlightened rather than mean-minded, how they interact with the interests of others, etc.
On those ground the US appears to be a force for good in the world, as well as for itself.

Posted by: John Farren at January 12, 2005 09:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Jim Rockford. So much of the analysis of the breach between the US and "Old Europe" (and the rest of the world's intelligencia) follows what Jeane Kirkpatrick termed the "blame America first" model. Readers of my past comments know I've been critical of Bush's ham-fisted diplomacy, but St, Francis of Assisi could not have pursuaded the French to pass on a chance to hamstring the US. Look at how they engineered getting the US kicked off the UN Human Rights commission, before Bush even appointed a UN ambassador. Face facts, France looks on the US the way Ahab regarded the great white whale; we could craw on our stomachs across broken glass and burning coals to consult with them and they would whine the they were being ignored.

In law school I was taught a maxim: try to simplify things as much as possible, but not more so. Again, readers of my past comments know I am a supporter of the WOT and consider Iraq an essencial theater of that war. I never signed on to any theoretical Doctrine of Preemption, however. I believe every contingency has to be addressed according to it's unique characteristics, e.g., look at the abuse Bush and co take over refusing to address N. Korea outside the multilateral context.

Posted by: wayne at January 12, 2005 09:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John F --

I agree that as late as the Seventies the NATO forces and American military capability in Europe were fairly well balanced; but by the Eighties things became far less balanced, and by the late Eighties early Nineties NATO became essentially a hollow force, incapable of doing much of anything.

Case in point, Serbia and the massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo. By that time (mid Nineties) NATO consisted of the United States, a few UK units, and a bunch of folks more suited for rescuing flood victims within their borders than anything else. NATO without the US was helpless against mighty Serbia and Ratko Miladic's militias.

Suez is a good point to discuss because it shows how things worked in a bipolar world; neither superpower would let it's clients upset things too much; hence Ike stopping that adventure before it provoked the Nuclear Armed Soviets into aiding their client Nasser directly ala WWI. It also channeled IMHO French energies into "soft" power where the US could not hold a veto and the risk of losing was low.

That bipolar world doesn't exist anymore; and the US bears the brunt of the risks (more attacks by Salafists and the like) while France and other European nations can bask in isolationism, free from any meaningful threat (or so it would seem on the surface anyway). Even if NATO wanted, actively, to assist the US in Iraq or anywhere else it could not do so. NATO and EU countries cannot even assist in meaningful ways in Tsunami relief.

NATO is really totally irrelevant; within Europe it's helpless unless the US acts to prop it up; without Europe it's unable to send more than token forces (of often poor quality).

Collective security when it's actually collective tends to work well by spreading both risk and cost around; provided the collective is strong enough the combined force can work to deter potential enemies. That is sadly not the case with the current system, which has only the US possessing any signficant military forces.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at January 13, 2005 03:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John Farren:

I cannot see where you see Greg as expressing hostility toward the "freedom and indepence" of other states.

Broadly, I take for granted that Greg buys into (to the point of taking for granted) the whole "hypernationalism for me, post-Westphalianism for thee" thing.

Specifically, he endorses Gaddis's call for "multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power". Point 1: "Pre-emptive" here is a euphemism for "preventative"; genuinely pre-emptive use of power isn't controversial. Point 2: It's only for the United States that preventative action is to be endorsed; neither the United States nor anyone else is interested in legitimising preventative action all round. Point 3: There's little prospect of or interest in fitting this asymmetrical interventionism into any old or new framework of international law.

The objective Gaddis and Derejian propose is that Western Europe and Japan should endorse the flouting by the United States of other states' rights and sovereignty, in return for a promise to consult on how and when they're flouted.

Unless this is inherent in the US pursuing its national interests. Unless this is inherent in the US pursuing its national interests. If so, this is quite simply what all states do, and which Great Powers have more power to do.

Terminally simplistic. Obviously every state pursues its interests; the question is whether it does so within the rules, or against them. Contrary to the naive cynicism of your remarks above, to a great extent they do so within the rules. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, it wasn't shrugged off with "Hey, that's what states do", it was regarded, rightly, as an exceptional event. The current U.S. insistence on its own transcendence of international law is also exceptional not normal.

[You might also urge and I might agree that the U.S. stance is a normal reaction to its own exceptional power. Power corrupts; the U.S. is still adjusting to its own great power; the adjustment consists largely of being corrupted. Gaddis's and Derejian's remarks (precisely because of their personal moderation and sobriety) help show how far the process has gone.]

. . . the US appears to be a force for good in the world, as well as for itself.

Still true, but not as true as it used to be.

Posted by: Robert McDougall at January 13, 2005 08:41 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The Bush administration sees foreign policy basically as a an extraneous distraction. Hence even the war in Iraq is basically little more than something of nuisance value The heart and soul of the administration is focussed on matters of tax, income and federal expenditure.

Posted by: Dick Mulliken at January 17, 2005 10:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Reviews of Belgravia Dispatch
--New York Times
"Must-read list"
--Washington Times
"Pompous Ass"
--an anonymous blogospheric commenter
Recent Entries
English Language Media
Foreign Affairs Commentariat
Non-English Language Press
U.S. Blogs
Think Tanks
Law & Finance
The City
Western Europe
United Kingdom
Central and Eastern Europe
East Asia
South Korea
Middle East
B.D. In the Press
Syndicate this site:


Powered by