Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Hoagland's Heroes

Hat tip to Thomas Barnett for this one.

Brilliant op-ed by Jim Hoagland from WashingtonPost. Title has got it perfectly: Right Vision, Wrong Policy.

Right vision for Bush on ME, wrong policy. Says it all in a nutshell. Why the Democrats (minus Biden) offer nothing. They do not recognize the right vision only criticize the wrong policy. Republicans will now be the real bane for Bush as they want out before '08 election cycle. My worry is that the right vision will fall with Bush's inept policy and execution.

The piece involves a sharp and correct rebuke to the realist school of George HW Bush--Brent Scowcroft in particular, also Jim Baker III, and soon to be SecDef Robert Gates. What the realists did do well was the transition after the Soviet collapse--unification of Germany against Margaret Thatcher's early hesitation and the Madrid Conference which brought Jordan (and should have Syria) to recognize Israel. Both of those Baker initiatives.

On the negative side--they never handled the issue of our alliances with Sunni autocrats and gave us the isolation policy towards Iran (they move towards bomb) and the no fly/embargo on Iraq (killing children).

Key quote--my emphasis:

But even Baker will have to struggle to keep the faux realism of conventional thinking on the Middle East from making the study group's report instantly irrelevant. There was a time when let's-pretend policies -- championing regional or international peace conferences doomed to go nowhere, or naming special U.S. envoys to give Arab rulers a bone to toss to their publics -- usefully bought time, even though they were anything but realistic for the long term. For better and for worse, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, and the bloody breakdown of Israel's occupation of the Palestinians have accelerated a profound radicalization of the Middle East that had already been unleashed by the pressures of globalization. Trying to get back to the 1990s is another bridge to nowhere.

What I've always credited George W. Bush (43) with doing correctly was realizing that the old order in the ME was falling. Hoagland agrees but what according to him:

Bush's going on the defensive does not mean that the radical positive changes he had hoped for cannot come about on their own, even if on a different timetable and with much greater costs than he ever imagined. True realism lies in recognizing that his diagnosis of a crumbling order in the Middle East was sound, even if his prescriptions were not.

Whether or not the problem was the prescription (the war itself) is arguable, but what is not whether pro/anti invasion was the execution and total (and I'm mean TOTAL) mismanagement of the post Saddam fall occupation.

Bush has never gotten to realize that what is arising in the new Middle East is not secular democracy but the following:

--Iran and the Shia more generally. Even with rigged elections the Shia party gained 50% of the Parliamentary seats in Bahrain this week. Bahrain. Not Iran.
--Islamism. Not all Islamists are created equal. Some are amenable to economic openness and more or less regional stability.

Bush and particularly Condi Rice in her dual roles as previous NSA and now SecState have failed in not getting on with the business of deal-making with the new order that is arising and accelerated by the Saddam ouster.

The realists who are coming back will never get to be as completely amoral as they were at their worst from the 70s-90s. As Hoagland said, the real realism is visionary: to see the ME old order crumbling and get on with actually strategically placing ourselves to do this the best we can with the crazy transition that is only going to intensify in the coming years. Buckle up folks, gonna be a wild ride.


At 1:50 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

Some questionable assumptions here:

"Why the Democrats offer nothing".

Actually, in terms of policy visions, one - right now the Democrats are not in power, and as such, it would be foolish for them to offer some proposals that get twisted by this administration. Two, the main school of democratic foreign policy is liberal internationalist.

This policy could be labelled realist-optimistic-interventionist, as what happened in Kosovo - frames the discussion in terms of the correct policy for the last 50 years - the policy of building practical liberal alliances to protect both our own and others interests, and the worlds. This is the policy that started with Dean Acheson - see more here.

So the fact that liberals or democrats "offer nothing" - simply is factually incorrect.

Now, if you actually are arguing that THAT policy offers nothing, I would offer that you are incorrect, misinformed, and in over your head.

Now, again - I may be incorrect myself. But it doesn't bode well that your critique of the liberal internationalist position is (seemingly) so shallow and misinformed.

But again - I may have missed another location where you gave a very good critique of the liberal internationalist position, re: the Islamist threat.

Also, for what it's worth Hoagland is hardly an unbiased columnist - he carries water for the Bush administration, as often as not, and this produces strange columns at times.

At 1:51 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

see more here.

At 4:30 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

Also - one thing to keep in mind in these type of discussions that is ignored entirely in these abstract foreign policy analysis, is a lot of the economic fundamentals - some of the its quadrant - while focusing attention on "social philosophizing" - are the bucks:

Again, here is link to show what I mean.

I'm not sure you disagree actually. But focusing - abstracting really - too much on the "vision" leaves out some of the nuts and bolts on the its side of the equation.

At 8:44 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


thanks for the comment.

yeah I meant not literally there were no ideas but the ideas put forth are to me non-starters (mostly).

and I did say Dems right? I was thinking particularly of the Democratic party. In terms of liberal thinkers someone like Robert Wright I see as a guiding light (pragmatic idealism).

Iraq as far as that goes is the Republican's baby and I'm not for the blame of what will transpire in the coming fallout laid on them.

But most of the Dems are just hiding behind the cloak of James Baker for now as far as I can tell. Or Jack Murtha who just wants completely out which is no good. Or Reed/Levin calling on Bush to put pressure on Maliki and set a timeline for withdrawal, which whatever your opinion on timetable/no timetable (and I really have no opinion on the matter), it is still a policy of getting out of Iraq.

My question is what beyond Iraq. Hoagland's point was that Bush saw the old order in the ME falling. I agree. I don't see Democrats admitting this and thinking deeply about what it means for future foreign policy initiative.

If Acheson is the model, then the fundamental issue as I see it is that Western Europe is not really on board any longer. I think England under Gordon Brown (next year) will move away from these interventions, France and Germany are out. That is why, with Barnett I've said the security umbrellas have to be with China, India, even Iran & Pakistan.

Otherwise the Dems could slide back into a Powell Realist Doctrine and find ourselves back re-entrenching the autocrats.

At its best, which is the main point of Hoagland, a new realism would have to cut deals with rising Islamists. If Dems-liberals head in that direction then I think there is a way for them to bring a sanity to foreign policy missing under Bush-Cheney.

Right now I don't see it though. But the next two years will perhaps force someone like an Obama that way. We'll see.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous ebuddha said...

Thanks for the response - I will focus on the "differences" as you say, but I am heartened by you viewing the Acheson tradition as the standard for foreign policy.

I still think that you are operating from a flawed assumption in thinking the Democrats "should" have, at this time, an operable strategy, for Iraq, in particular. One, there is no easy way to "fix" a shit sandwich. If someone hands that sandwich to you, to give you to "fix it", well, there is no blame in saying "its your problem". Especially given the case that Bush and co. keep saying "Stay the course and keep eating the sandwich!" Now, that analogy can be taken too far - clearly, something must be done - but for democrats to "take ownership" of the sandwich, must be avoided at all costs - not only because then the policy is associated with democrats, but because this administration's version of foreign policy MUST be discredited for all time - or as long as possible. And that can only happen if Bush is isolated.

And, I'm not sure you understand (again if I understand correctly!), what a departure from the Acheson liberal internationalism tradition the Bush policy has been.

Here is a Ikenberry article on the same.

Also - you say - "Hoagland's point was that Bush saw the old order in the ME falling".

but WHAT action, besides Iraq - did Bush do to change the order in the ME? We are still good friends with the Saudis - we aren't pressuring Mubarak in Egypt. If Iraq is the exemplar of this policy of Bush's - which it seems to be - it isn't accurate to say that Bush saw much of anything. Actions speak louder than words, after all.

One point I would like you to expand upon -you say "If Acheson is the model, then the fundamental issue as I see it is that Western Europe is not really on board any longer."

Could you explain why you think this? I really don't. I think the intervention in Afghanistan - where we secured a broad coalition to go in, even if that coalition's effectiveness was diluted by the Iraqi misadventure.

Also, there are more UN interventions happening now, than there have ever been. Look at this mission in the Congo All of that is an expression of Acheson liberal internationalism. And this is current.

At 11:55 PM, Blogger CJ Smith said...


good discussion.

i agree with you politically that the Democrats for themselves can't be identified with the war. I'm not a Democrat but if I would do the same.

I've been making this distinction about the element of neocon thought that was correct versus how Bush flubbed everything else up.

That element was that we could no longer just prop up Sunni autarks. I think that was the dark side of the internationalism as it played out with later realists and Powell Doctrine. It worked perhaps in a cold war world, but now in a globalized frame, where the prime issue is not state to state warfare but breakdown of state authority, this frame needs some massive re-thinking.

Now there were arguments about whether the invasion of Iraq was the best way to go about this process. I happened to think no and I wanted Bush to focus not on invasion and democracy but rather institution building. But it might have been true to say that none of the change we have seen and there has been plenty would have happened without a massive event.

Either way that debate is academic. The Big Bang, as Thomas Barnett calls it, happened. What Bush has failed is in working with its effects. Hence he has, as you are right, not changed policy with Egypt, Saudis. The Saudis are reforming, not necessarily in a pro-democracy way, quietly but effectively. That is why I think their regime will be in a stronger position, minus the Iraq War spilling over into their borders, going forward. I think the Saudis know that we'll have to re-think the entire monarchical structure after this first generation of sons is all dead. Abdullah may be the last of the sons of the Abdul Aziz.

Egypt not, which is why I think they are vulnerable.

But out of the Iraq situation, came the Cedar Revolution and now the Hezbollah Revolution, the rise of Iran, as well as Hamas. Not to mention the rise of the Shia in Iraq and the basic independence of the Kurds, plus the radicalization of the Iraqi Sunnis. Hell even the recent paraliamentary elections in Bahrain.

Of course there are still major forces of inertia, but the momentum is clear. The Demographics are clear. The old tribal patronage system will not be hold to hold forever.

Bush I think sought to accelerate that process.

Plus unintetionally for sure the last 2 years are moving the US and Israel from the myth of dominance in the ME. Those two trends together mean a window is opening for a new regional balance there. So I think yeah the old order is under massive upheaveal.

Right now because the focus is too narrowly defined as Iraq, which is part of the larger ME crisis not War on Terror I would say, we need to be asking how to engage in teh post Iraq ME? That, not what they can do to stop violence, is the reason we need to be talking with Iran and Syria.

Give Syria the Golan Heights, make a final settlement on Israel-Palestine, Iran gets the nuke and the responsiblity for the region, the Kurds maintain their quasi-official independence mass foreign aid/investment to them, maybe give the opposition in Lebanon more equal representation (veto power), and then get the hell out of there, so we can focus on Africa.

Watch the Ayatollahs and the Assad regime within 10 years fall or massively reformed in the face of globalized economy. What happens with Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia is anybody's guess.

vision, that is what is needed here more than anything. and I just don't see either side yet with that kind of courage.

--in terms of the European issue, I think that Afghanistan might be the last NATO intervention for a long time to come. I think it quietly is questioning the viability of the organization for the future.

two--the demographics. interventions are going to require boots on the ground. the euros don't have the numbers and the anger is really growing here in Canada--lot of people want a pullout. the British leave Iraq next year as does Blair. Plus in W. Europe they have rising problems
at home--Eurabia?--over the issue of immigration and assimilation.

i just don't see them having either the will or the capacity to be prime players.

That is why I said that the US really has to look more to Asia as future New Powers for what youa are referring to as Acheson internationalism.

The prime area of focus going forward, once we extricate from Iraq is sub-Saharan Africa. That is what the Sudan episode (as well as Ethiopia/Somalia) is showing. Which is why however limited, the UN role/African Union Troops are not stopping the bloodshed.

Salafi jihadism is quickly penetrating ssAfrica and globalization is right on its heels. And the Chinese are ahead of the Americans on the economic front so it is going to be there responsiblity in many regards to stabillize the region for markets.

The UN is not built for these operations any longer, if it is ever was.

There is no institution to handle the fallout and the rebuilding of states. that is where the europeans/canadians have great resources, but it will be hard to get them on board in the future I think. The Chinese and the Indians will be real powerbrokers anywhere now in terms of logistics and supply chaining. Maybe this would help move China away from an amoral foreign policy.

I'm more interested in that priority than in either party and their own politics. I'll vote for whoever funds this operation and has the vision.

I just don't want to see either party head towards a neo-isolationist or pure realist position again after the Iraq debacle.

Fortunately or unfortunately in a globalized world, everybody else's problems are your problems.

but you are right the unilateral strain Bush-Cheney brought has to be gotten rid of.


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