August 31, 2008


Ending Tyranny: The Past and Future of an Idea (John Lewis Gaddis, American Interest)

So what might shift contemporary impressions of President Bush? I can only speak for myself here, but something I did not expect was the discovery that he reads more history and talks with more historians than any of his predecessors since at least John F. Kennedy. The President has surprised me more than once with comments on my own books soon after they’ve appeared, and I’m hardly the only historian who has had this experience. I’ve found myself improvising excuses to him, in Oval Office seminars, as to why I hadn’t read the latest book on Lincoln, or on—as Bush refers to him—the “first George W.” I’ve even assigned books to Yale students on his recommendation, with excellent results. [...]

So is there a Bush Doctrine, and if so will it meet this test of transferability? To answer this question, I’d look first for a statement delivered in a suitably august setting: Durable doctrines don’t appear as casual comments. Then I’d look for one that’s clearly labeled as a policy, not as a portrayal of adversaries or an explanation of methods for dealing with them: That’s why terms like “Axis of Evil” or “preemption” don’t constitute doctrines. Finally—especially in an historically conscious president—I would look for historical echoes.

The speech that best fits these criteria is the one President Bush delivered from the steps of the Capitol on January 20, 2005. As a student of Lincoln, he would have attached special meaning to the term “second Inaugural Address.” That was the moment to draw lessons from a past extending well beyond his own, to apply them to a current crisis, and to project them into an uncertain future. And indeed the President did announce—in a single memorable sentence—that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” [...]

If the Bush Doctrine was meant in that sense—if ending tyranny is now to be the objective of the United States in world affairs—then this would amount to a course correction away from the 20th-century idea of promoting democracy as a solution for all the world’s problems, and back toward an older concept of seeking to liberate people so they can solve their own problems. It could be a navigational beacon for the future that reflects more accurately where we started and who we’ve been.
Making Choices

It could be—but sometimes a speech is just a speech. If Bush meant to shift the direction of American foreign policy, he and his advisers have since been remarkably quiet about it.99. The most recent authoritative expression of Administration thinking, Condoleezza Rice, “Rethinking the National Interest: American Realism for a New World”, Foreign Affairs (July/August 2008), makes democracy promotion the top foreign policy objective, while assuming that the collapse of tyrannies will follow. The President did acknowledge, however, that ending tyranny would require “the concentrated work of generations”, and in doing so he implicitly recognized that it’s not just the presidents who give them who determine the significance of presidential pronouncements. How they are remembered is at least as important, and how they are later used is even more so: It’s worth recalling that the Monroe Doctrine was dormant for decades until subsequent Administrations saw fit to revive it.1010. The standard account is still Dexter Perkins’s three-volume The Monroe Doctrine, published between 1927 and 1937.

I think that future presidents should regard Bush’s second Inaugural as signaling a shift from promoting democracy to ending tyranny, as a call for an overdue correction of course. My reasons go back to another idea Berlin developed in his 1958 essay, which is that there is no such thing as a single good thing. There are multiple good things, and it isn’t always possible to have them all at the same time.

Democracy is clearly a good thing. But so, too, is freedom from anarchy, which is why states five centuries ago—none of them as yet democracies—first began organizing themselves. So, too, is personal security, which is why, even in democracies, we allow the state to use force when necessary to maintain order. So, too, is predictability in one’s dealings with others, which is why democracies have laws enforced by judges who act independently of popular sentiment. So, too, is economic sustainability: Democracy can hardly flourish when people are hungry.

The United States, as a mature democracy, has the luxury of enjoying all of these advantages simultaneously, but this was not always so. As Zakaria points out, democracy established itself in this country only after these other safeguards had been put in place, and it took even longer for this to happen in Great Britain, the country that invented representative government. Democracy did spread widely in the 20th century, but that was only because the British and later the Americans wielded their power in such a way as to secure its prerequisites, not least by fighting and winning three world wars, two hot and one cold.

Since the Cold War ended, the United States has neglected these prerequisites. There was no clearer demonstration of this than those three Iraqi elections of 2005, in which the citizens of that country risked their lives to go out and vote. That was, in one sense, moving and reassuring, a victory for democracy, you might say. But it was, in another sense, a defeat for democracy, because people should not have to risk their lives to go out and vote. The fact that they did so reflected a failure on the part of the United States, after invading Iraq, to lay the foundations necessary to ensure democracy’s survival there. It’s as if we’d tried to rebuild one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces without first securing its footings: The façade was impressive, but the cracks soon began to appear.

Nor has this error been confined to Iraq. We seem puzzled that democracy is not taking hold to the extent that we hoped it would elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as in Russia, China, Africa, and Latin America. The democratic tide that began rising with the end of the Cold War now appears to have crested and to be receding. But was it ever likely that democracy would root itself in those parts of the world where people fear anarchy more than they do authority? Where the struggle to survive is a more urgent priority than securing the right to vote? Where the immense power of the United States gives rise to greater uneasiness than it does reassurance?

That is why I think a return to our roots is called for. Promoting democracy without its prerequisites can only breed disappointment abroad and disillusionment at home. It suggests that we think we know better than other people do what is best for them—and it too often confirms that we do not. It leaches legitimacy from our priorities.

But only tyrants are apt to defend tyranny. A focus on ending it could move us beyond distracting debates over where democracy can be transplanted and how long this might take, allowing concentration instead upon the single greatest prerequisite for democracy, which, as Franklin D. Roosevelt once reminded us, is freedom from fear. It is from this that all the other freedoms flow.

Since World War II, international law has moved toward recognizing this principle. From the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, through the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, through the emergence over the past decade of a widely acknowledged “Responsibility to Protect”, the old assumption that sovereignty shields tyranny has been discredited—whatever the practices of a few regimes like those in Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe. The fact that there are so few suggests the progress already made: A global commitment to remove remaining tyrants could complete a process Americans began 232 years ago.

This, then, should be our standard: to respect the ways in which people elsewhere define their fears, not to impose our own fears upon them. That may mean working with authoritarian regimes when there is more to fear than their authoritarianism—when the trajectory is toward making democracy possible, even if it’s still a long way off. But it also requires resisting regimes—and terrorist movements—whose course lies in the opposite direction: toward making themselves the source of all fears, rather than the safeguard against them. Tyranny is being enslaved to fear, and it will be quite enough, for the next few decades at least, to secure emancipation. is vital to keep in mind that Ronald Reagan would be considered a failure if the Soviet Union still existed or had expanded. Of course, Reagan's point was it wouldn't and couldn't. What he grasped but none of the Realists did was that Communism happens not to work. In order to believe that Reagan could have failed you have to be, to some extent, a Marxist.

Similarly, W will be remembered as a success so long as the Islamic world continues its perfectly predictable evolution towards liberal democratic protestant capitalism--an evolution that was artificially arrested by post-WWI colonialism and the post WWII decision to prop up dictatorships, both of which denied people self-determination--and doesn't become Islamicist. Of course, to believe that Mr. Bush could fail you have to be, to some extent, a believer in the efficacy of Islamicism.

The truth of the matter is that British generals and American Presidents get credit for winning the various battles of the Long War even though none of them were losable: the trick is just to be there at the right time and to declare that you intend to win. History takes care of the rest.

The Final Days (PETER BAKER, 8/31/08, NY Times Magazine)

George Bush does not want anyone feeling bad for him. Hates the idea, in fact. Why should anyone feel bad for him? He knew what he was getting into, and he is doing what he thinks is right. But as he enters the twilight of his presidency, he finds it both a liberating and a deeply frustrating time.

With the war in Iraq finally going better, the dark cloud that dominated the White House for the past few years has lifted. The overnight reports Bush finds on his Oval Office desk each morning now list fewer casualties in Iraq, easing a burden friends say has weighed on him. It now looks as if the surge, one of the riskiest presidential decisions in a generation, has been vindicated. And Bush seems to be making progress getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons while winning a string of Congressional battles that would under other circumstances be seen as legacy victories — a bipartisan deal on wiretapping, war financing without strings, expansion of his global AIDS program.

As a result, friends say that Bush, who just turned 62, has been looser lately, more relaxed, more willing to joke around and even do a little dance for the cameras from time to time. He sees the end and has been thinking about life after the White House back down at the ranch and a in new home in Dallas. “You can hear his Texas accent creeping back into his voice, rather than the I’m-the-president, no-accent kind of voice,” observed an old friend from Texas.

Yet there are no valedictory days for Bush. For years, he got no credit for a long-running economic recovery, in part because of popular anger over Iraq. Now, it seems, he gets no credit for the improvements in Iraq because of deep discontent over the tattered economy. Housing and energy crises have only deepened public disaffection. While Iraq stabilizes, Afghanistan seems to be unraveling. Russia has been rampaging through its neighbor Georgia, undeterred by Bush’s consternation. As John Weaver told me, “They look better on Iraq, but they look worse on everything else.” So many onetime loyalists have turned on the president that when the former White House press secretary Scott McClellan came out with his break-with-the-boss book in May, Bush sighed and told an aide to find a way to forgive him or risk being consumed with anger.

The General’s Dilemma: David Petraeus, the pressures of politics, and the road out of Iraq. (Steve Coll September 8, 2008 , The New Yorker)
General Petraeus commands the war from a lakeside palace built by Saddam Hussein in 1992. Modular office cubicles now fill its five dozen marble-floored bedrooms. The General occupies a high-ceilinged room furnished with a mahogany desk and conference table, video screens, flags, and wall-mounted maps. (He also maintains a smaller office at the U.S. Embassy in the International Zone, formerly known as the Green Zone, in central Baghdad.) When I visited him in late July, Petraeus seemed reflective, open, and at times even wistful about the approaching end of his third Iraq tour.

The challenges of civil-military relations that he must manage these days are considerably less intense than they were a year ago, principally owing to the decline of violence in Iraq under his command. Iraq today is a far from stable or normal country: about two million refugees remain outside its borders; nearly three million remain displaced within the country; and car bombs periodically kill and maim civilians. Yet it is a much more peaceful place than it was last summer. The number of daily attacks recorded by the U.S. military has fallen from a peak of about a hundred and eighty in June, 2007, to about twenty in early August of this year. Violent deaths of Iraqi civilians, while difficult to measure, have also dropped steeply, although the figure remains high: about five hundred per month, at a conservative estimate. Fatalities among U.S. military personnel have declined from a hundred and twenty-six in May, 2007, to just thirteen this past July, the lowest total of any month since the war began, in March, 2003.

The surge was designed to change Iraqi politics by providing the security needed to induce a national reconciliation; this has not occurred, although there has been progress of a tentative nature. In the United States, however, the surge has had more obvious political effects. The Iraq war is no longer the most important issue on the minds of voters (the economy is), and election-year debate about the war, formerly an argument about strategic failure, now must also account for provisional successes.

Indeed, because of the reductions in Iraq’s violence, General Petraeus has been cast in the Presidential campaign’s emerging narrative as a sort of Mesopotamian oracle, one that must be consulted or honored by the two remaining candidates. In July, Senator Barack Obama went to Iraq and saw the General; he was rewarded, courtesy of Petraeus’s energetic press aides, with an iconic photograph, printed in many dozens of newspapers, which showed the Senator aboard a command helicopter, smiling confidently at the General’s side. A few weeks later, Senator John McCain, while speaking at a nationally televised forum hosted by the evangelist Rick Warren, invoked Petraeus as one of the three wisest people he knew; McCain called the General “one of the great military leaders in American history.” Afterward, on the campaign trail, the Republican Senator attacked Obama for not being as staunch an acolyte of Petraeus as McCain has been.

Within the Army itself, as the field commander who has presided over the only sustained drop in Iraq’s death toll since the war began, Petraeus has become the most influential general of his era. Recently, the Army Secretary asked him to chair a panel to select about two per cent of the Army’s full colonels for promotion to brigadier or one-star general; through this assignment, Petraeus helped to identify the men and women who will lead the institution for the next decade or more. The National Defense Strategy paper issued by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates this summer bears the imprint of Petraeus’s ideas about military doctrine, particularly his belief that the Army must organize itself to be as competent at stabilizing impoverished countries as it is at high-intensity combat. Beginning in mid-September, as the leader of CENTCOM—Central Command—the General will oversee all U.S. military forces between Pakistan and Egypt and attempt to apply lessons from his Iraq campaign to the intensifying war in Afghanistan.

Petraeus’s influence has spread within the Pentagon even as some military officers continue to debate exactly why violence in Iraq has declined, how the role of the surge should be interpreted, and how its strategic costs should be assessed. This internal discourse is not widely publicized; it takes place in privately circulated white papers and in specialty periodicals such as Small Wars Journal. One of its provocateurs is Colonel Gian Gentile, a historian at West Point, who has served two tours in Iraq, most recently in 2006, as a cavalry squadron commander in Baghdad; he argues that Petraeus’s command has had only a marginal effect on events, and that the recent fall-off in violence has been due mostly to local causes, such as a decision by Sunni tribes to turn against Al Qaeda, which began before the added deployments. “If we convince ourselves that it was the surge that was the primary cause for the lowering of violence, that may convince us that we can tackle another problem like Iraq in the future and have the same results,” Gentile told me. “It pushes us into a sort of dogmatic view of ourselves.”

Gentile’s view represents a minority dissent within the Army, but it reflects the persistence of debate about the war’s implications among the military professionals who have borne its burdens. The surge is a particularly complex subject; the term is not easy to define, because the scope of Petraeus’s command has encompassed much more than the deployment of additional American combat troops, as ordered by Bush. These days, when “the surge” is employed as a shorthand label, it is usually intended to refer also to the application of new battlefield tactics by Petraeus and his commanders, and to the political work carried out by the General and Ambassador Ryan Crocker during 2007 and 2008. (Crocker arrived in Iraq shortly after Petraeus, in early 2007, and they have worked together closely.) By that broader definition, many independent analysts and, by now, many Democrats, including Obama, credit Petraeus and the surge for the relative quiet in Iraq. The General’s command has certainly benefitted from unplanned events—the turn by Sunni tribes, above all. And yet “it was Petraeus who had the wit to seize on that and exploit it,” Toby Dodge, a British political scientist who has occasionally advised the General, said.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2008 9:49 AM
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