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Bush's choice: messianism or pragmatism?

February 24, 2005

By Anatol Lieven

President Bush's rhetoric, particularly his support for "freedom",
taps into a messianic tradition that runs throughout U.S. history.
Anatol Lieven warns about the harmful effects that this "American
Creed" might have on U.S. and global security.

To read this article in its entirety, visit

Anatol Lieven is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign
Policy. His argument about how the different strands of American
national identity coexist and compete is developed in his book
America Right or Wrong: an anatomy of American nationalism
(Harper Collins, 2004).

Posted by coalition at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

In the National Interest

February 18, 2005

Stephen M. Walt convincingly argues that the United States needs a new grand strategy, one that capitalizes on America's strengths in ways that encourage other states to cooperate with us -- rather than compete against us.

The article was published in the February/March 2005 issue of the Boston Review and is available here.

Stephen M. Walt is the academic dean and the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. This article is adapted from his forthcoming book, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (W.W. Norton).

Posted by coalition at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

Ending Tyranny: Easier Said Than Done

February 11, 2005

By Christopher Preble

President Bush's inaugural address has aroused much discussion, both here in the United States and abroad. But while the language was occasionally inspiring, many listeners recognized the enormous gulf between rhetoric and reality. No one can quarrel with the goal of ending tyranny; many question how the United States can actually achieve such lofty ambitions.

The president exhibits not a hint of doubt, as though the events of the past two years had never happened. And yet, even though the word was never spoken, Iraq hung over the speech like a storm cloud. The burdensome military occupation of that country, and the continuing diplomatic fallout from the decision to invade, affects everything that the Bush administration will try to accomplish over the next four years.

The events in Iraq have proved that U.S. power, enormous though it may be, is incapable of forcing freedom to take root in even one country. It is certainly incapable of doing so in every country where tyrants rule. The president's rhetoric cannot conceal this fact.

But herein lies another danger. An unwillingness or inability to make good on the president's implicit promises could stir resentment abroad. From North Africa to South Asia, people living under the heel of autocratic regimes look to the United States for answers.

When the president says "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" people expect that the United States will take all necessary measures, including the use of military force, to eliminate the regimes that keep them in bondage.

When the United States follows through in some instances, as in Iraq or Afghanistan, but makes common cause with dictators in other places, in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, the soaring rhetoric proves worse than silence, because it contributes to the perception that the United States is populated by hypocrites.

The president's speech suggests that the United States is committed to paying any price, including waging war against any and all tyrants, even if those regimes do not directly threaten us. But the United States does not possess an infinite reservoir of power. The collective American desire to spread the blessings of liberty abroad is rarely matched by a willingness to pay the costs necessary to make this happen.

If Americans can be convinced, as they were, briefly, in late 2002 and early 2003, that a tyrant poses a threat both to his own people and the United States, then altruism combined with prudence can mobilize the political will necessary to launch a war. In most instances, however, the costs are higher, and the benefits less obvious.

Here is where leadership comes in. The essence of leadership is to inspire, to stir others to action. The greatest leaders can convince their followers that anything is possible, that the benefits outweigh the costs. When they are wrong, when they exaggerate their own capabilities, or underestimate those of the enemy, the result is disaster.

If the country charges into the next four years with unrealistic expectations about what we can and cannot do--if the president adheres to the letter and spirit of his inaugural speech--then his actions will bankrupt the nation, dimming the light that has been an inspiration for those who yearn for freedom.

Christopher Preble is a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and he chaired the task force that produced Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda.

Posted by coalition at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

Loaded With Dynamite

by Andrew Bacevich

Embedded in President Bush's second inaugural like an IED buried alongside an Iraqi highway, is the following assertion: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." At first glance, the sentiment could hardly appear more benign: protective of our own freedoms, we will support freedom for others. Who could find fault with that? Upon closer examination, however, the pernicious potential of this new Bush Doctrine becomes apparent.

If President Bush intended on January 20 merely to offer up frothy bromides suitable for a state occasion, we could disregard his conflation of American interests and values just as we ignore his claimed insights into the will of God. But those closest to the president caution against doing so. Mr. Bush, they emphasize, means what he says. His inaugural address is nothing less than a call to arms. In this context, the president's melding of American interests and values takes on alarming connotations. It is a prescription for permissiveness without responsibility.

The new Bush Doctrine builds on and broadens the already existing Bush Doctrine of preventive war. In the realm of policy, it asserts unconditional freedom of action justified by the ostensible demands of freedom. When the United States punishes, occupies, or destroys, it does so for reasons far removed from the sordid, self-interested purposes animating other nations. Since by definition, according to President Bush, America acts on behalf of liberty, such actions are necessarily above suspicion or reproach. Those entertaining a contrary view, questioning whether American motives really differ all that much from those of great powers in ages past, are either cynics or soreheads. As a consequence, U. S. officials can rightly disregard their criticism.

Take Iraq as an example. Charges that oil or hegemony figured in the administration's decision to invade are beneath notice: from the outset, under the terms of the new Bush Doctrine, the aim was liberation, neither more nor less. Evidence of colossal incompetence or misjudgment -- for example, the non-existence of the fearsome arsenal that had ostensibly made Saddam Hussein such a dire threat -- gets shrugged off: of what significance are a few honest errors given the overall grandeur of the enterprise? As to egregious misconduct such as occurred at Abu Ghraib, the new Bush Doctrine insists upon seeing such regrettable lapses in context: the actions of a few in no way sully the high-minded efforts of the many. In this way, Bush's insistence on explaining America's purpose as "ending tyranny in our world" frees himself from accountability and confers on future U. S. policymakers limitless prerogatives reinforced by unassailable moral authority.

On the other hand, even as the new Bush Doctrine empowers, it imposes no specific obligations, at least none that are evident in the text of the president's speech. The melding of interests and beliefs permits action, but does not impel it. President Bush and his successors will respond to the plight of the oppressed selectively. Indeed, they may choose not to respond at all. This is the new doctrine's unstated corollary: in its capacity as agent of liberation, the United States picks and chooses.

Again, the Bush administration's own policies show how this corollary plays out in practice. The administration that describes Saddam's removal as a moral imperative demonstrates considerably less urgency in dealing with the dictators making life miserable in Zimbabwe or Burma. Whereas alleviating the suffering of the Iraqi people demanded direct military action, when it comes to the suffering of the Sudanese people, patient diplomacy suffices. That American values should compel the United States to forego the benefits of trading with authoritarian China or of snuggling up to Pakistan's military dictator is, of course, out of the question.

In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson included in his famous Fourteen Points the principle of "self-determination," inviting ethnic groups to demand the reconfiguration of the international order to accommodate their unrequited aspirations. At the time, Wilson's secretary of state Robert Lansing described the principle as "simply loaded with dynamite" and certain to promote not freedom but chaos. "What a calamity that the phrase was ever uttered!" Lansing wrote with considerable prescience. "What misery it will cause!"

Lansing's premonition bears recalling today. If Americans heedlessly endorse George Bush's radical proposal, the United States may once again inflict upon itself and others great misery. Justifying anything while requiring nothing, removing constraints without imposing responsibilities, the new Bush Doctrine promises not the triumph of liberty around the world. It will instead cement America's growing image as a rogue superpower.

Andrew J. Bacevich teaches international relations at Boston University and is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is the author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (2005).

Posted by coalition at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

Defense Spending, National Security, and the War on Terrorism 2.10.05

February 02, 2005

On Thursday, February 10th, the Cato Institute will host a policy forum featuring Charles V. Pena of the Cato Institute and the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy; Stanley Weiss, Business Executives for National Security; Winslow Wheeler, Author, Wastrels of Defense; and moderated by Christopher Preble, of the Cato Institute and the Coalition.

The fiscal year 2005 defense budget is more than $400 billion, a seven percent increase over the FY04 defense budget. The administration argues that the increased military spending is necessary for the war on terrorism. The Defense Department projects its budget to grow to more than $487 billion in FY09. Is that sum necessary for U.S. national security and to fight the war on terrorism? How much of the defense budget is wasted on nonessential projects? How can defense spending be better allocated? With the defense budget comprising nearly half of all government discretionary spending, and with U.S. defense spending projected to eclipse what the other nations of the world combined spend on defense before the end of this decade, can the United States sustain such high levels of defense expenditures? These and other questions will be the subject for a lively panel discussion, followed by audience Q&A.

The event begins at 11:00 AM on Thursday, February 10, and is being held at the Cato Institute, 1000 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC.

For more information, or to register, visit:

Posted by coalition at 09:35 AM