Sunday, November 18, 2007

Debating Grand Strategy After the Bush Presidency

Barry Posen has an interesting piece over at the new American Interest, "The Case for Restraint," an argument for strategic pullback in American grand strategy after the Bush presidency.

Posen's a top scholar. I especially liked his piece from 2003 on "
The Military Foundations of U.S. Hegemony." I don't think this new American Interest article is all that well conceived, however. I'm not favorable to neo-islolationism, which is basically what Posen proposes; and I'm especially against his suggestion that the U.S. end its military support of Israel:

U.S. military assistance to Israel makes the occupation of the [Palestinian] territories relatively inexpensive for Israeli political leaders, and implicates the United States in the deed. This may not be “central” to U.S. problems in the Arab world, as so many insist, but it certainly does not help. The United States should therefore develop a ten-year plan to reduce U.S. government direct financial assistance to Israel to zero. Israel is now a prosperous country that happens to be surrounded by military powers lacking any capacity to conquer it.
Read the whole thing.

The editors have assembed a set of responses to Posen's arguments, including: Francis Fukuyama, Josef Joffe, Walter Russell Mead, Niall Ferguson, Owen Harries, G. John Ikenberry, Lilia Shevtsova, Stephen D. Krasner, Wang Jisi, James Q. Wilson, Bronislaw Geremek, C. Raja Mohan, Ruth Wedgwood and Itamar Rabinovich.

Wilson's rebuttal:

Barry Posen believes that the United States should follow a policy of restraint instead of activism. By “restraint” he means a defensive rather than offensive strategy in which the United States would avoid playing a leadership role, rely on intelligence operations rather than military force, withdraw troops from many overseas bases and count on deterrence for protection.

I believe that Posen’s argument is either unclear or wrong. It is vague to say that restraint should have been our policy since the beginning of the Cold War because he fails to discuss American military activities since that time, leaving us uncertain as to what he means. Which of the following should we not have done: Fight in Korea and Vietnam? Use a naval blockade to induce the withdrawal of Soviet missiles from Cuba? Force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait? Send troops to Haiti in an effort to block a dictatorial regime? Overthrow a Marxist regime in Guatemala? Seize Manuel Noriega in Panama?

It is wrong to assert that our general policy should lead us to defer to others, supply logistical aid rather than use military force, avoid preemptive strikes in areas that tolerate Islamic radicals, not supply guarantees and assistance to allies, and counter al-Qaeda with intelligence operations rather than invasions. Doing these things would leave the world unprotected and confirm Osama bin Laden and others in their view that the United States, though still the Great Satan, is an impotent and helpless devil, no better than the Soviet Union that the mujaheddin threw out of Afghanistan.

Indeed, when we look at the last forty years, America has relentlessly, until the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan, followed a policy of restraint. The Shah was overthrown in Iran, 241 Marines were killed in Lebanon, a CIA station chief was tortured and murdered there, the ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and an American was killed, Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up over Scotland, a bomb was detonated under the World Trade Center, two of our Embassies were destroyed in Africa, the USS Cole was attacked in Yemen, and American soldiers were murdered in Somalia. When these and other attacks, all carried out by Islamic radicals, occurred, the United States did nothing except occasionally to lob a few cruise missiles into some empty buildings. By 1998, bin Laden had drawn the right conclusion. In an interview, he described the American military as a “paper tiger” who “after a few blows ran in defeat.”

The notion that these attacks could be handled by intelligence officers is laughable. I commend to Posen the new book by Tim Wiener, Legacy of Ashes (2007), about the failure of most covert operations undertaken by the CIA.

At the end of his proposal, Posen suggests that we eliminate all aid to Israel because it is surrounded by “military powers lacking any capacity to conquer it.” Lacking any capacity? Is he counting Iran after it acquires a nuclear weapon? Or even without that, he says little about the roughly $1.8 billion in aid we give Egypt every year—aid that, if continued, will make Egypt stronger by the time power there is seized by the Muslim Brotherhood.

When President George W. Bush clarified our commitment to preventive attacks—a policy that had in fact been in effect long before he took office—he said that “the war on terror will not be won on the defensive” because “time is not on our side.” This does not mean that we should intervene everywhere, but only where an intervention will make a decisive difference. Afghanistan was one such case, Iraq is another.

The struggle in Iraq has been costly, and it will not stop soon. But we have gained a great deal: We ended a regime that had in the past built and used—and if left alone would again have built and used—weapons of mass destruction; that invaded two neighboring countries; that murdered its own people with chemical weapons and summary executions; that provided aid to the families of terrorists; and that, if left alone, would have brought Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to heel. This was only possible because we exercised leadership and did not wait, with restraint, for others to pass yet another meaningless Security Council resolution.
I'd also suggest Niall Ferguson's response, where he notes that some of Posen's suggestions "would impress even Noam Chomsky, to say nothing of Osama bin Laden."