Dec 1, 2006
By John Ikenberry
Bush’s war in Iraq has been repudiated, the midterm elections did this. There is now wide open intellectual space to debate America’s next foreign policy. Jackson Diehl made this point in his commentary on the Princeton Project in Monday’s Washington Post.
The debate now is really over how deeply flawed Bush foreign policy is. Is Bush failure primarily about Iraq or is it rooted more deeply in philosophy and grand strategy? And if the failure is about philosophy and grand strategy, is this an indictment only of neo-conservative ideas or of liberal internationalism itself?
Two groups are narrowing the critique. First, neo-conservatives are arguing that Bush failure is, well, because of Bush – incompetence and the failure to fully push their ideas. The debacle of today’s foreign policy does not discredit neo-conservatism – the ideas were never fully implemented. This is Bill Kristol's view, expressed last May: “Much of the U.S. government no longer believes in, and is no longer acting to enforce, the Bush doctrine. . . the United States of America is in retreat.” Soon it will be the weak-kneed Democratic congress that will also be implicated in Bush failure. Second, some liberal hawks who supported the war are also making a very limited critique. To be sure, the war itself is now seen as a mistake – certainly its conduct – but the general Bush orientation toward terrorism and the use of force is taken as essentially valid. Indeed, these liberals would say that the primary challenge for Democrats is to convince voters that they can “do national security” like Republicans can. This political imperative makes a thorough-going critique of Bush failure difficult -- and unwise.
But the flaws run deep.
Now is the time for an honest post mortem of Bush foreign policy. Bush foreign policy has failed not just because of incompetence or bad luck in Iraq. The entire intellectual edifice of Bush foreign policy – such as it is – is deeply flawed. And let’s be clear. The Bush administration’s grand strategy is not simply a variation on earlier postwar liberal internationalist grand strategies – as some conservatives and liberals suggest. It was a radical departure from America’s postwar liberal hegemonic orientation – and the world has bitten back.
Martin Wolf makes this point in a column in Wednesday’s Financial Times, drawing on the arguments that Charles Kupchan and I made in a 2004 article in The National Interest.
“The signal feature of this administration has not been merely its incompetence, but its rejection of the principles on which U.S. foreign policy was built after the Second World War. The administration's strategy has been based, instead, upon four ideas: the primacy of force; the preservation of a unipolar order; the unbridled exercise of U.S. power; and the right to initiate preventive war in the absence of immediate threats.
"The response to the terrorist outrage of September 11, 2001, reinforced the hold of all these principles. The notion of an indefinite and unlimited ‘war on terror’ became the fulcrum of U.S. foreign policy. It led to the idea of an "axis of evil" connecting Saddam Hussein's Iraq to theocratic Iran and Kim Jong-il's North Korea. It brought about the justified invasion of Afghanistan, but also the diversion into Iraq. Not least, the idea of the war on terror led to the indefinite imprisonment of alleged enemy combatants without judicial oversight, toleration of torture, "extraordinary rendition" of suspects, the extra-territorial prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, by indirect means, the abuses at Abu Ghraib. All this has been bad enough.
"It is made worse by what John Ikenberry of Princeton University and Charles Kupchan of Georgetown aptly describe as the ‘sloppy intelligence, faulty judgment, and ideological zealotry’ that marked implementation, above all in Iraq. Yet the poor implementation is not an accident. A belief in the primacy of the military naturally led to the transfer of responsibility to the Department of Defense; a belief in the efficacy of force created the conviction that victory meant peace and a swift transition to democracy; and disdain for allies guaranteed the absence of co-operation in postwar occupation.
"The U.S. must now start again. It must design a foreign policy for the current age. In doing so, it should discard almost everything the Bush administration has proclaimed.“
So as we debate what will replace Bush foreign policy, we also need to ask the prior question: how deep is your critique?
G. John Ikenberry is the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of Order after Major War which won the 2002 Schroeder-Jervis Award for best book in international history and politics. He served on the State Department's Policy Planning staff in 1991-92, held positions at the Carnegie Endowment and Brookings Institutions, and was a member of the recent Council on Foreign Relations commission on the future of U.S.-European relations. A book of his essays -- Liberal Order and Imperial Ambition -- will be published next year by Polity Press. He is currently writing a book on the crisis of America's liberal international order.