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America today faces a world more complicated than ever before, but both political parties have failed to envision a foreign policy that addresses our greatest threats. As a result, the United States risks lurching from crisis to crisis. The Bush administration's foreign policy strategy is bankrupt, but the Democrats are not providing any real alternatives.
Ethical Realism presents such an alternative, including both a new philosophical basis and a coherent set of detailed, practical and courageous policy recommendations. Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman, two distinguished policy experts from different political camps, have joined forces to write an impassioned manifesto that illuminates a new way forward.
Rather than blindly asserting a mixture of American power and the transformative effects of democracy, the authors call for a foreign policy that recognizes America’s real strengths and weaknesses, and those of other nations. They explain how the United States can successfully combine genuine morality with tough and practical common sense.
Lieven and Hulsman emphasize the core principles of the American tradition of ethical realism, as set out by Reinhold Niebuhr, Hans Morgenthau, and George Kennan: prudence, patriotism, responsibility, humility, and a deep understanding of other nations. They show how this spirit informed the strategies of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower in the early years of the Cold War and how these presidents were able to contain Soviet expansionism while rejecting the pressure for disastrous preventive wars a threat that has returned since 9/11.
Drawing on this philosophy and these historical lessons, Lieven and Hulsman provide a set of concrete proposals for tackling the problems we face today, including the terrorist threat, Iran, Russia, the Middle East, and China. Their arguments are intended to establish American global power on a more limited but much firmer basis, with greater international support.
Both morally stirring and deeply practical, Ethical Realism shows us how to strengthen our national security, pursue our national interests, and restore American leadership in the world. It provides a concrete and effective foreign policy platform for candidates for the presidency in 2008 -- from either party -- who are willing to challenge establishment orthodoxies and embrace radically new and effective strategies.
The New York Times
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Paul Wolfowitz, the former deputy secretary of defense, has a lot of explaining to do — and not just him but the whole circle of neoconservatives whose advocacy of democracy-promotion-through-blitzkrieg has enmeshed us in the poisonous hatreds of Iraq. They couldn’t have done a better job of discrediting the “forward leaning” foreign policy they preached if they had set out to sabotage it.
You can trace the fortunes of this visionary conception of America’s role in the world through recent books. President Bush’s muscular and militarized response to 9/11 was accompanied by its own 21-gun salute: Robert Kagan’s “Of Paradise and Power”; John Lewis Gaddis’s “Surprise, Security, and the American Experience”; and Walter Russell Mead’s “Power, Terror, Peace, and War,” a celebration of the convergence of Wilsonian idealism, “millennial capitalism” and scorn for multilateral institutions.
Bush’s second term in office has generated even more policy literature than his first. But now that it turns out we have leaned forward into a haymaker, the spirit of these new texts — “The Opportunity,” by Richard N. Haass; “America at the Crossroads,” by Francis Fukuyama; “The Good Fight,” by Peter Beinart; “The New American Militarism,” by Andrew J. Bacevich — has been rueful, weary and often bitter. Traditional conservatives, shocked out of their habitual caution by 9/11, have begun to recoil from the consequences of the campaign they consented to join. We have reached a “breaking ranks” moment; and it’s far from over.
“Ethical Realism” represents yet another turn of the doctrinal wheel. One of the authors, Anatol Lieven, is a brilliant, fiery pamphleteer of the left who has described the neoconservative enterprise as “world hegemony by means of absolute military superiority.” The other, John Hulsman, is a former fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who supported the war in Iraq and applauded Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s rhetorical partition of Europe into the anti-American, played-out “old” and the rising, pro-Washington “new.” The fact that these two thinkers have found enough common ground to write a book together is an astonishingly perverse achievement of neoconservative theory and practice. It has also become something of an inside-the-think-tanks cause célèbre, since Hulsman has said Heritage fired him soon after the book project was announced.
Like many in the new wave of Bush critics, Lieven and Hulsman look back longingly to the restraint, the quiet self-confidence and the commitment to multilateral solutions of Presidents Truman and Eisenhower in the midst of the cold war. The authors hope to rehabilitate not only the spirit but the intellectual premises of cold war realism, which proceeded from the assumption that all nations, the United States very much included, operate according to a calculus of self-interest. The arrogant refusal to accept the legitimate interests of others provokes, as the archrealist Hans Morgenthau said, “the distortion in judgment which, in the blindness of crusading frenzy, destroys nations and civilizations.”
The realist leans backward rather than forward; his watchword is prudence. Lieven and Hulsman argue that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 forced on Bush a choice analogous to the cold war dichotomy of “containment” and “rollback” — and that, unlike Eisenhower and Truman, he rashly chose the latter. Hulsman has apparently had a severe case of second thoughts — though he doesn’t say so — since he and Lieven describe the decision to invade Iraq as an act of reckless militarism. They point out that while the president’s September 2002 National Security Strategy laid out the rationale for “pre-emptive” war, Iraq presented no immediate threat to our national security. The war was thus an act of prevention against a future threat rather than of pre-emption against an imminent one.
The doctrine of preventive war, which assumes the worst of our adversaries and offers advance justification for a military response to any serious threat, is the rollback of our day. Lieven and Hulsman warn sternly against extending the doctrine to Iran. While they agree that Iran must be prevented from actually developing nuclear weapons, they insist that the regime is containable, as Saddam Hussein was, and as Communist Russia and China were during the cold war. Of course, they may be wrong; states are scarcely always rational actors, and Islamic fundamentalism may be a more crusading faith than Communism ever was. Here one begins to wonder about the limits of the cold war analogy.
The fiasco in Iraq has, of course, made everyone wise about the perils of rash action. But Lieven and Hulsman take their skepticism a step further. They see neoconservatism as a particularly militaristic and noxious strain of a virus they call “Democratism” — a “messianic commitment” to spread democracy throughout the world, whether by precision-guided bombs or precision-guided words and dollars. This fighting faith has its roots in the hubristic self-confidence and sense of transcendent destiny that Morgenthau, Reinhold Niebuhr, George Kennan and other celebrated realists warned against. And since 9/11, Lieven and Hulsman insist, it has become America’s consensus foreign policy. They say that Democratic Party leaders are “simply promising to implement Bush policies more efficiently.”
It’s a provocative argument. But is it true? Perhaps the distinction between the parties seems overblown from the viewpoint of the anti-imperialist left or quasi-isolationist right. Or maybe anathematizing one party as much as the other was the precondition for this unlikely joint effort. But if the Democrats are Democratists, they’re very timid and hesitant ones. Indeed, Beinart wrote “The Good Fight” to exhort an increasingly isolationist party to a new muscularity. It may be closer to the truth to say that the toxic combination of neoconservative doctrine, the president’s evangelism, Vice President Dick Cheney’s darkness and Donald Rumsfeld’s campaign for military “transformation” was galvanized by the lightning bolt of 9/11 in a way that swept aside all restraints, including the mainstream realism represented by figures like Secretary of State Colin Powell and the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice.
Bush and his pals got us into this mess, but prudence and humility will not suffice to get us out, any more than neo-isolationism will. Cold war realism concerned itself with the behavior of states, but we are now menaced chiefly by groups within states, as well as by failing or dysfunctional states. If democracy promotion is vanity writ large, as Lieven and Hulsman insist, what are we to do? Here the authors leave realism behind — this is the “ethical” part — to propose an ambitious, but not overbearing, formula for changing the internal character of states.
Instead of pursuing a “Democratic Peace” that they predict will be neither democratic nor peaceful, Lieven and Hulsman propose a “Great Capitalist Peace,” predicated on the recognition that marketplace values are far more widely accepted than democratic ones — and that prosperity is a surer hedge against aggression than democracy is. They propose trade reform to help developing nations, a focus on good governance rather than on individual rights and a huge increase in foreign aid directed toward strategically important countries like Pakistan. (Africa loses out.) They also recommend a form of public diplomacy that has more to do with listening to the concerns of the Muslim world than with marketing the American way of life. But they add that the United States will gain little traction in the Middle East until it pushes Israel to create a viable nation for the Palestinians. Both the policy proposal and the caveat seem right, though readers may be less impressed with their formula for Middle East peace, which rests on a colossal aid program financed by Europe.
“Ethical Realism” is passionately argued and bristlingly accusatory (more Lieven than Hulsman, one suspects). It reminds us that we once knew how to confront an adversary without sacrificing something essential of ourselves. More than that, it reminds us how very different was the moral atmosphere of the cold war from that of our own time, as this telling aside from the notes of President Eisenhower (cited by Lieven and Hulsman) suggests: “Global war as a defense of freedom: Almost contradiction in terms.” -- James Traub
Book Launch Event: September 28
New America hosted a presentation and discussion of Ethical Realism on Thursday, September 28. For video of that event, please click here.