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Americans are unlikely to lose their cherished rights because of a military coup or a foreign conquest, writes Michael Lind. The more plausible and frightening scenario is one in which foreign danger forces Americans themselves to jettison their way of life, sacrificing liberty to ensure security. To prevent this scenario from happening is the real purpose of American strategy.
In The American Way of Strategy, Lind argues that the goal of U.S. foreign policy has always been the preservation of the American way of life -- embodied in civilian government, checks and balances, a commercial economy, and individual freedom. Lind describes how successive American statesmen -- from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton to Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan -- have pursued an American way of strategy that minimizes the dangers of empire and anarchy by two means: liberal internationalism and realism.
At its best, the American way of strategy is a well-thought-out and practical guide designed to preserve a peaceful and demilitarized world by preventing an international system dominated by imperial and militarist states and its disruption by anarchy. When American leaders have followed this path, they have lead our nation from success to success, and when they have deviated from it, the results have been disastrous.
Framed in an engaging historical narrative, the book makes an important contribution to contemporary debates. The American Way of Strategy is certain to change the way that Americans understand U.S. foreign policy.
Selected reviews of The American Way of Strategy are available below. To see Lind's Oct. 16 CNN appearance discussing the book, please click here.
The Washington Post
Sunday, Nov. 12, 2006
Amid the chaos of Iraq, America is entering into a new period of intellectual ferment over its national security strategy. What are our goals and interests overseas? How should we pursue them? What sort of military do we need?
In a sense, we have come full circle: This country had a comparable debate three decades ago, spurred by Vietnam. One response, symbolized by Sen. George McGovern's famous 1972 slogan "Come Home America," was to try to reduce U.S. involvements and troop deployments overseas. An opposite school of thought, embraced by the rising young Ford administration officials Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, held that the United States should respond to Vietnam by rebuilding its military strength so that it could be used -- even for wars of choice -- to assert American preeminence in the world. Now that we have rediscovered the costs and limits of the use of force, it's again time to reevaluate how we deal with the world.
Michael Lind's The American Way of Strategy represents an early and thoughtful attempt to sketch a post-Iraq foreign policy. The virtue of Lind's book is its sweeping ambition. He writes in evident outrage over the policies of the Bush administration, but his book is not about the debacle in Iraq or how to respond to Islamist terrorism. It is not even about the renewed dispute between the great foreign policy traditions of realism (a la Henry Kissinger) and idealism (a la Woodrow Wilson). Instead, Lind, a fellow at the New America Foundation, scours history for tenets that have guided U.S. foreign policy in the past and that should be applied in the future. The result is uneven; Lind is sometimes brilliant and occasionally silly. But his ideas are insightful, and he provides a fresh perspective on a wide range of issues, from regime change to globalization.
Lind's central thesis is that the United States went astray after the end of the Cold War by seeking to dominate the world in a way that is both overly expensive and unnecessary. Historically, he asserts, the goal of U.S. strategy has been to preserve "the American way of life." This is a vague phrase, reminiscent of Fourth of July speeches; Lind turns out to mean not motherhood and apple pie but civil liberties, separation of powers and, more broadly, a free, educated citizenry and a prosperous middle class. He argues that our greatest security threat is not any particular country or foreign force but the prospect that, in overreacting to dangers such as al-Qaeda, we will destroy our way of life. He sketches several dour possibilities -- for example, a garrison state in which Americans hand over their freedoms in exchange for security, or a "castle society" in which the wealthy give up on government and instead buy private protection.
Lind argues that instead of trying to dominate the globe, the United States should wield its influence in a "concert of powers," including China, India, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The single biggest failing of the book is that it doesn't explore this model of cooperation further or acknowledge that, in practice, things are not so simple. After all, the Clinton administration initially attempted to let European governments take the lead in stopping ethnic cleansing in the Balkans and was virtually begged by the Europeans to stop being so modest; the second-term Bush administration has tried intermittently to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions through a concert of powers, but so far without much success.
Lind interprets virtually everything the United States does overseas these days as an outgrowth of its eagerness to prevent the emergence of rival superpowers. In the most questionable section of the book, he views with utter cynicism America's attempt to stop North Korea's nuclear program. "U.S. fear of an independent Japan, more than the unlikely prospect that North Korean weapons would make their way into the hands of Muslim jihadist terrorists, was the major, if seldom acknowledged, reason for the repeated war scares in Washington over the prospect of North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons," he writes. War scares? In fact, the Bush administration has (fairly) been criticized for saying too little about North Korea's nuclear advances, in order to cover up for Washington's failure to stop them. Later on, when Lind describes what his concert of powers might do, one goal is preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So is it worthwhile to try to stop the North Korean nuclear program, or isn't it?
What makes Lind's views so unusual is that while denouncing the U.S. intervention in Iraq, he remains a defender of the Vietnam War. One of his previous books was entitled Vietnam: The Necessary War, and Lind here again defends the conflict, which cost some 58,000 American lives. "The stakes for the United States during the Cold War conflicts in Asia were far higher than the stakes in Kosovo or in Iraq," he explains. So Lind emerges as both a determined Cold War hawk and an equally passionate post-Cold War dove. It takes quite a bit of theorizing to explain how he arrived at these positions. His book is not always persuasive, but he deserves credit for some unconventional thinking. -- James Mann
The New York Times
Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006
Whatever the worth of Michael Lind's prescriptions for American foreign policy, his glance back at our performance over the last 15 years is helpfully damning. The essence of his complaint concerns our pursuit of hegemony, which he describes not only as a desire for international dominance but also as a lust for unchallengeable power that is bound to wreck the American economy and enfeeble our democracy.
The imperial impulse is an aberration in American history, Lind contends in "The American Way of Strategy," and is due primarily to the fact that our success in the cold war was achieved through our total domination of the anti-Soviet coalition. The resulting hubris produced not merely the current mess in Iraq and the resentment of much of the world, he warns, but a pattern of behavior that bodes ill for the American way of life -- our independence among nations and our domestic freedom from government regimentation.
Although Lind angrily traces our quixotic campaign to reorder the Middle East to the theologies of the neocon right, he blames the leaders of both political parties for the underlying failure, once the Soviet Union collapsed, to adopt "a more modest and solvent" foreign policy. "Instead of welcoming the emergence of a peaceful multipolar world, America's bipartisan foreign policy elite in the 1990's and 2000's sought to convert America's temporary cold war alliance hegemony into enduring American global hegemony."
Our misguided ambition, Lind observes, was to monopolize military strength, to discourage other great powers, like Japan, China, Russia and Germany, from arming for their own defense. We felt entitled, even obliged, to punish upstart "rogue" regimes that wanted weapons of mass destruction, with preventive war if necessary. Other signs of overreaching, he thinks, were the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe (to deny Germany and Russia a sphere of influence there) and the war against Serbia (to reassert America's dominance in Europe and to keep the Russians out of the Balkans). Washington's current agitation against North Korea's nukes and missiles, he suggests, bespeaks not a fear of attack but concern that Japan and South Korea would also soon want advanced weapons and thus upset the American protectorate.
Implying that even the easy defense of Kuwait should not have been an American obligation, Lind writes that the gulf war of 1991 fully committed the United States to a "grand strategy of global hegemony." He thinks it led directly to the disastrous attempt of the present Bush administration to turn Iraq into an American client state and military base so as "to intimidate Iran and Syria, and to create a safer environment for Israel." Moreover, with new bases also in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, America intended to command vital trade and oil routes and manage the "soft containment" of China and Russia.
In sum, the hegemonists were looking to transform overwhelming military superiority into diplomatic and economic pre-eminence, leaving other nations dependent or disadvantaged and America secure for the indefinite future.
What the pursuit of hegemony really guarantees, Lind argues most persuasively, is national bankruptcy, an imperial presidency, the erosion of our freedoms and diversion of precious resources. These are not just the temporary costs of the ill-fated Iraq venture, he contends, because hegemony requires commitment to three burdensome and permanent policies: (1) dissuasion -- forever spending much more for our military than all other nations to keep them safely inferior; (2) reassurance -- continually protecting other sizable powers and their interests, with military interventions as needed; and (3) coercive nonproliferation -- regularly threatening or punishing states that attempt to disrupt the decreed American order.
You don't have to subscribe to every element of Lind's critique to judge it a shrewd and plausible indictment of the drift of policy since the cold war. And you can surely dismiss the first half of his book, which argues that before the cold war, all our wars, foreign policies and territorial expansions were inspired by maneuvers to produce or restore global balances of power. This glib history is mere prelude to the power-balancing that Lind finally presents as the essential antidote for hegemony. His way, in other words, has long been a proven "American way of strategy" -- a clumsy phrase by which he stakes a claim to naming rights, a leg up, perhaps, in the rhetorical competitions of the think-tank punditry.
(Lind is a sometime journalist, public official and polemicist currently serving as the Whitehead senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has been a protégé of leading conservatives as well as a renegade; has written for The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine and The New York Times; and has used his frequent books to challenge prevailing opinion in diverse fields.)
"The American Way of Strategy" challenges not only the neoconservatives now dominant in Washington but also centrists like Michael Mandelbaum, who some months ago presented a rival treatise entitled "The Case for Goliath." It defended American dominance as essential, even if unappreciated, because it provides a virtual global government, offering other nations necessary regulation, stability and security.
Lind's case against Goliath is forceful but repetitive, and it culminates in only a vague and facile formula for a less taxing American posture. The United States should lead "a concert of power," he says, defining it as "a kind of hegemony shared among a number of great powers." Uncle Sam, as concert master, would rule alone over North and Central America but combine with different nations to manage different regions -- with China, Japan and Russia in Northeast Asia; with China, Japan and India in Southeast Asia; with China, India, Russia and maybe Iran and Turkey in Central Asia; and so on.
If all these proud lions actually worked in concert, Lind would ask them to enforce peace and order, "not to produce liberty, democracy and the rule of law in every country." But he expects them also somehow to eliminate terrorism, prevent the spread of major weapons, rescue disintegrating states, end ethnic cleansing, manage energy supplies and protect the environment.
To stimulate such sweeping cooperation, Lind urges that we stop isolating Russia in Europe and threatening to fight China over Taiwan. He does not say what will happen if his regional teams fall out of balance and into conflict. And he concedes that no foreseeable concert can work in the Middle East, where the "least bad" option now, after retreat from Iraq, is for the United States to act as an "offshore balancer," arming others to preserve an equilibrium. That hardly addresses our problems if Egypt or Saudi Arabia succumbs to radicals or Iran eludes balancing.
Still, Lind's main theme survives his porous prescriptions. The United States alone cannot afford to police the world, never mind democratizing it. And even if prudently conserved, our relative power among nations is destined to decline. So long as jealously sovereign nations refuse to submit to a higher level of law and order, we had better learn to share the travails of living in a condition of global anarchy. For indeed, there's no point in saving America at the cost of the American way of life.
Additional Praise for The American Way of Strategy
"Lind deftly explores the intimate connection between America's political culture and its foreign policy, mapping out the consequences at home and abroad. This book offers a unique perspective on America's engagement with the world -- and then goes on not only to diagnose why America has of late gone off course, but also to prescribe an intelligent and considered remedy."
Charles A. Kupchan, author of The End of the American Era
"In this important defense of liberal internationalism, Michael Lind reminds us that the greatest threat to the American way of life is that Americans jettison their democratic republican government and society in search of security in a garrison state. He wisely argues that democracy is best promoted by example, not by force, and that a world safe for democracy need not be a democratic world."
Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University and author of Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics
"It is an intriguing thesis: American strategy is, and always has been, to prevent the rise of a hegemon sufficiently powerful to require us to sacrifice our liberty to preserve our country. Thus, Michael Lind could not be more timely in his caution against those today who would casually suspend our Constitutional liberties, our 'American way of life,' in the name of a war on terrorism."
Gary Hart, United States Senator (Retired)
"In the 21st century, the United States must strive to make its position of primacy acceptable to the rest of the world, while preserving the domestic freedoms and economic vitality that are central to the American way of life.To do that, it must avoid the twin temptations of either global empire or isolationist withdrawal, while keeping our commitments and our resources in balance. In this incisive new book, Michael Lind shows why America's traditional strategy of 'liberal realism' is still the best blueprint for preserving both our national security and our essential liberties. It is a book whose message could not be more timely."
Stephen Walt, author of Taming American Power