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Mission Improbable

March 30, 2006

The American Conservative's Scott McConnell explains that even the neoconservatives, who long for war with Iran, concede it isn't feasible.

The article appears in the March 27, 2006 issue of The American Conservative, and is available in its entirety here:

Scott McConnell is the editor and publisher of The American Conservative and a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 12:00 PM | Comments (0)

A Disoriented U.S. Can't Lead on Iran

Justin Logan of the Cato Institute explains that the United States must have a coherent policy on Iran if we expect to rally international support. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's current approach is confused and contradictory.

The article was published in the Baltimore Sun on Thursday, March 20, 2006 and is available in its entirety online:,0,5332744.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

Justin Logan is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute.

Posted by coalition at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

Weighing the Costs of Today's Defense Strategy

March 21, 2006

MIT's Cindy Williams discusses U.S. military spending in this article for the Boston Globe.

This article was published on March 21, 2006, and is available online here.

Cindy Williams is a principal research scientist in the security studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and editor of Filling the Ranks: Transforming the US Military Personnel System.

Posted by coalition at 04:45 PM | Comments (0)

Prospects for Democracy in the Middle East 03.29.06

Christopher Preble, a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, participated in a panel discussion hosted by The Johns Hopkins University Foreign Affairs Symposium.

Other speakers included:
Salameh Nematt, Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat News; and
Barry Rubin, author of The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East.

The forum was held on Wednesday, March 29, at 8 p.m., in Hodson Hall, Room 110, on the Homewood campus, 3400 N. Charles St.

To learn more visit:

Posted by coalition at 04:39 PM | Comments (0)

Time for Bush to Turn Realist

March 19, 2006

Steve Clemons, a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, urges President Bush to spend the third anniversary of the start of the Iraq War thinking about his foreign policy legacy.

The various denominations that have demarcated the U.S. foreign policy spectrum are in serious disarray and are rapidly evolving into substantially different movements.

During the first term of U.S. President George W. Bush's administration, there were three camps vying for control of the foreign policy helm. First were the neoconservatives under the lead of personalities like Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Vice President Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Lewis Libby, and Defense Undersecretary Douglas Feith. The second was a realist pocket of personalities led by the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The third was not a school of thought but rather an individual--the soldier-statesman and then Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Today, the situation is more complex. The DNA of these classic schools of foreign policy as practiced in this terrorist-focused era is under genetic modification. Cheney's team combines the muscular Wilsonian idealism espoused by leading neoconservative ideologues with a pugnacious U.S. nationalism bordering on isolationism that former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Jesse Helms typified.

Realism--the sort of serpentine interest-calculating realism that former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger personified--has been incrementally morphing into a "kinder, gentler" realism since the time of President George H.W. Bush's administration, when then national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a clear realist devotee, began to include in his calculations the global affinity for the "American brand"--how the United States looks to the rest of the world, what its essential ethical character and great purposes are perceived to be--and melded these concerns into national security prognostications.

However, Rice, a protege of Scowcroft's, is clearly taking realism in new directions, adopting more mechanistic approaches to "democracy transformation" globally--and advocating a global democratic values agenda that talks the talk of human rights, individual empowerment, and self-determination--but which still seems rooted largely in realist calculations.

Rice, now secretary of state, for instance, is launching a new and as yet largely unnoticed initiative to get the United States back into the game of discussing international law--everything from discussions about the rights of combat detainees and rendition practices to the international criminal court.

Rice apparently feels that even though there are serious divisions between the United States and many other global stakeholders on these topics, it has not served U.S. interests to be absent from these debates. Rice's plans to get the United States back into the discourse on international law can be seen both as a new strand of realism and liberal internationalism morphed together as well as an unambiguous challenge to Cheney's pugnacious anti-internationalists.

But where is George W. Bush?

Those who note the third anniversary of the United States' Iraq war--that began with a stealth bombing effort to decapitate Iraq's government on March 19, 2003 (U.S. time)--believe that the president fully subscribed to the neoconservative posture of hard-edged democratization and abandoned any pretense of realist cost-benefit analysis.

But given the clear quagmire the United States has fallen into in Iraq--and the puncturing of the mystique of U.S. power in the world in which enemies are now moving their agendas and allies are counting on the United States less--Bush's foreign policy soul may be out for bid again.

Competition for Bush's attention was also part of the character of this administration prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

On March 19, 2001--two years to the day before the start of the campaign against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein--Bush was getting a tutorial on contemporary foreign policy realism from journalist Robert Kaplan--author of "The Coming Anarchy," "Balkan Ghosts," "Warrior Politics," and most recently, "Imperial Grunts."

Kaplan had long aspired to be a modern-day Machiavelli, advising "the prince," or in this case the U.S. president, on how best to organize U.S. military and economic resources to unashamedly pursue fundamental national security priorities and interests.

Rice wanted to instill in Bush--using policy intellectuals like Kaplan--the importance of redesigning U.S. engagement in world affairs during a time of perceived U.S. ascendancy. Rice knew that an inertia rooted in Cold War realities rather than contemporary strategy still drove most military and foreign policy decisions, and she was trying to shake this up. Rice was also trying--though she failed at that time--to modernize the "realist church" of foreign policy and make Bush the first major patron of a "neorealist" movement that used realism as a vehicle for limited democratic transformation abroad.

Bush met Kaplan personally at the White House and then they enjoyed a 90-minute conversation that focused on the Caucasus and former Soviet states with Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card saying nary a word.

The bottom line to what Kaplan shared with the president was that the post-Cold War world was dangerous and messy and that great states were going to vie over increasingly limited sources of oil and natural gas supplies.

That meant that the United States needed comprehensive military and economic strategies in these countries to secure our interests lest China, Russia or other unforeseen future competitors tried to tilt these nations in directions counter to U.S. vital interests.

The bottom line conveyed to Bush was that while the president had to "talk the talk of democracy," he had to deal in the real world with thugs and dictators. Democratizing undemocratic parts of the world was a time-consuming and long-term process worthy of pursuit--but more important was that the fundamental U.S. security interests were managed and shored up as "transformative" efforts were pursued.

Kaplan's impact on Bush was evident in part when the president vetoed an effort led by Wolfowitz to use the Chinese EP-3 spy plane incident in April 2001 as a way to engineer a neoconservative takeover of the foreign policy helm. Wolfowitz wanted to feed the U.S.-China clash so as to secure the administration's commitment to a containment strategy on China. It did not hurt that the senior Bush's advice to his son ran parallel to the views of Kaplan.

But Sept. 11 broke the back of Rice's efforts, which were stymied as well in part because she did little to inculcate these neorealist views across the broad swath of foreign policy practitioners embedded across the executive branch.

An interesting contrast was former U.S. President Bill Clinton's famous "think-fests" with academics, in which Clinton would have wide-ranging discussions with policy intellectuals and invite many minds to senior level staff from the White House to sit in and actively participate--less for his people to learn from the academic but more for his staff to sense the president's views and direction. As mentioned, the Kaplan meeting with Bush in contrast involved only three people and not disclosed to the public by the president's staff.

Now, three years after the start of the war in Iraq, new battle lines between these factions are surfacing inside the Bush White House--and the emergence of a potential Iranian threat to the international order is raising the stakes.

The new breed of strident, hypernationalist neoconservativism is advocating an aggressive, military-dominated strategy in dealing with Iran.

In contrast, the Rice-led international realists, are promoting a package of diplomacy, democracy promotion, alliance-coordination, and a more complex program of costs and benefits to attempt to influence the direction of the Iranian regime--or at minimum to insert wedges between different factions in Iran's political order as a way to constrain populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The battle lines are evident in a plethora of issues--including how to deal with Iran, what the right course is in the Palestinian-Israeli standoff, how to approach China and Russia, or an ongoing struggle over the norms the United States exhibits when engaged in conflict--particularly with regard to detaining, rendering, or interrogating enemy combatants.

The fault lines between the factions have been clear inside the Bush administration from the outset, but now, neoconservatives and realists have tinkered with their ideology, toughened up, and prepared for a new collision.

But as March 19, 2006, approaches, Bush would be well advised to spend some time thinking about his foreign policy legacy.

Does he want to leave on the books the image of a United States disdainful of the rest of the world and one that requires either complete assimilation of foreign, particularly Arab, societies--or as a backup builds high walls and fortresses that the United States hides behind?

Conversely, is the United States going to marshal its considerable military and economic resources--and its impressive ecosystem of democratic empowerment and civil justice--and get back to a grand strategy that depends on enlightened--but not naive--U.S. global engagement?

In other words, as Bush thinks about the world's big problems in the two years and nine months left in his term, he has to choose whether he is going to be defined by the image and objectives of his vice president, or whether he is going to stand by the insurgent perspective that his secretary of state is now pushing.

Steven Clemons is a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation as well as publisher of the popular political blog, This article was originally published in the Daily Yomiuri, March 18, 2006, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Posted by coalition at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

There Is Menace in America's Policy of Prevention

March 18, 2006

Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation renders a perceptive critique of the Bush administration's National Security Strategy.

An old Soviet joke described the Kremlin's approach to policy under Leonid Brezhnev as "pull the curtains and pretend the train is moving". The US National Security Strategy just issued by the Bush administration expresses the same general philosophy.

It would seem, to judge by this document, that the train of US official thinking has not moved for four years. For this NSS basically restates, in somewhat milder language, the notorious National Security Strategy of 2002. This is in spite of the fact that the analysis and strategy set out then have -- to put it mildly -- not been borne out by subsequent events.

This NSS is the product of long and heated debates within the Bush administration, especially over the wording of the passages directed at Russia and China. It therefore represents a kind of lowest common denominator of the thinking of the administration.

What is even more worrying, however, is that in most respects this document also represents the thinking of most of the leadership of the Democratic party. Some Democrats will no doubt attack the NSS for its evasion of any serious discussion of intelligence failures with regard to Iraq, and of any discussion at all of the institutional failures reflected in US errors there. And, of course, they will be quite right.

However, on most key issues of future policy, and going by recent speeches from the presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Evan Bayh, these mainstream Democrats would not differ significantly from the administration. These areas of broad de facto consensus include approaches to the Iran nuclear question, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, relations with Russia and China and the spreading of US-defined "democracy". Indeed, as with the recent controversy over Dubai gaining "control" of US ports, so with regard to Russia and even Iran, there has been a certain strategy on the part of the Democrats of trying to outflank the administration by being even more hardline.

On preventive war, the language of this NSS has been softened somewhat compared with 2002. However, as then, the document continues deliberately and perniciously to use the language of "pre-emption" when it clearly means "prevention". This is especially menacing in connection with the hysterical language used towards Iran.

The rhetoric is similar to that used about Iraq in the run-up to war there -- but with far less excuse. Iran's nuclear programme -- although entirely legal -- is certainly problematic and should be strictly controlled. But unlike Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran has never in modern times launched an aggressive war against a neighbour and for a decade now has not been credibly accused of sponsoring a terrorist attack. As to the NSS criticisms of Iranian "tyranny", this exemplifies the hypocrisy that undermines US claims to be spreading "democracy" in the Middle East -- for along with its elements of theocratic authoritarianism, Iran also has more elements of representative democracy than any of America's key Muslim allies in the region.

Preventive war against Iran would therefore be a monstrous act by any standard. The right to pre-emptive war against visibly imminent attack has always been asserted by the US and every other state. Preventive war against possible future dangers represents a deeply menacing revolution in international affairs. It is also ridiculous to suggest, as this NSS does, that the US should claim this right, without other states following suit.

In rejecting proposals for preventive nuclear war against the Soviet Union and China in the early 1950s, President Harry Truman put it well: "The only thing you prevent by war is peace." President Dwight Eisenhower followed his lead. Instead, during the cold war the US successfully relied on its nuclear power to deter any Soviet attack. As the NSS makes clear, deterrence remains a central part of US strategy, which explains why there is not even a formal bow towards a future reduction in the number of US nuclear weapons. Equally important, a US belief in Israel's need to deter its neighbours has made successive US administrations turn a blind eye towards Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.

But now Washington and Tel Aviv want it both ways. They want simultaneously to possess nuclear deterrents and to prevent other states from developing the nuclear forces they are supposed to deter. It is impossible to base any legal, consensual or stable international order on such an intellectually and morally incoherent foundation.

Anatol Lieven is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. His latest book is America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. This article originally appeared in the Financial Times, March 19, 2006, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Posted by coalition at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)

How China Can Reassure Neighbors, U.S.

March 17, 2006

China's military buildup is causing concern. Cato's Ted Galen Carpenter offers Beijing some suggestions for reassuring both the United States and the PRC's neighbors in East Asia.

The story appears at,2933,188283,00.html

Ted Galen Carpenter, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, is the author of seven books on international affairs, including America's Coming War with China: A Collision Course over Taiwan (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2006). He is also a founding member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

What's Going on in Moldova?

March 08, 2006

Wayne Merry explores a nine-year old arms deal with modern-day implications.

The article can be read in its entirety here:

Wayne Merry is a senior associate at the American Foreign Policy Council and a board member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

Christopher Preble on Democracy Promotion 03.06.06

March 02, 2006

Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, and a founding member and director of the Coalition for Realistic Foreign Policy Studies, spoke at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine on Monday, March 6th.

The discussion also featured Joshua Muravchik, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Posted by coalition at 07:39 AM | Comments (0)

The Wrong Way to Fix Iran

March 01, 2006

Charles A. Kupchan, a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, and Ray Takeyh explain why the Bush administration's plan for regime change in Iraq is likely to fail.

The article was published by the Los Angeles Times on February 26, 2006, and is available online here:,0,7464585.story?coll+la-sunday-commentary

Charles A. Kupchan is a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. He is a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Posted by coalition at 03:57 PM | Comments (0)