By Timothy Garton Ash (THE GUARDIAN, 09/11/06):
Tuesday November 7 2006 marks the beginning of an end and the end of a beginning. A Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and a Senate too close to call, means the beginning of the end of the Bush administration and its unilateral, polarising style in foreign policy – exemplified by the now departing Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. More importantly, it marks the end of the beginning of a long struggle for which we do not yet have a generally accepted name. From now on, given the result of these mid-term elections, the mess that the United States faces in the Middle East, the scale of global challenges such as climate change and the rise of other great powers, American foreign policy will have to be more bipartisan at home and more multilateral abroad.
Five years after 1945, following a period of trial and error, the government of the United States produced a seminal national security memorandum, NSC-68, which set the course for a generally bipartisan American strategy in what we came to call the cold war. Five years after September 11 2001, the US does not yet have such a consensus – but its possible outlines may be found in the final paper of a programmatically bipartisan project on US national security based at the Woodrow Wilson school at Princeton University.
With an idealism of which Wilson would have approved, the paper is entitled “Forging a World of Liberty under Law” – and its emphasis on the importance of law, both inside states and between them, presents a sharp contrast to the Bush administration’s war on terror à la Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. The international liberal order that this bipartisan group advocates would be founded on what the second president of the United States, John Adams, memorably called the “government of laws not of men”. Attempting to combine Wilsonian idealism with Kissingerite realism, it takes on board many of the criticisms that have been made by lower-case democrats outside the United States and upper-case Democrats inside the US over the past five years.
Yet it is distinctly harder-edged than the position of many leftwing Democrats and democrats. The results of these elections suggest that is where many American voters want their government to be. The Democrats only did so well by fielding many centrist candidates talking tough on national security. Their outspokenly anti-war Senate candidate for Connecticut, Ned Lamont, was defeated by Joe Lieberman, who notoriously got kissed by President Bush for supporting the Iraq war.
The Princeton paper describes itself as an attempt to do collectively what George Kennan did individually in his famous “Mr X” article, prefiguring American cold war strategy. It argues that the three strategic priorities of American policy should be a secure homeland, a healthy global economy, and “a benign international environment, grounded in security cooperation among nations and the spread of liberal democracy”. Liberty and law both need to be backed up ultimately by the use of force, so it suggests a “global counterinsurgency” strategy against global terror networks and tough measures against nuclear proliferation. It argues, however, that rather than overrelying on the single instrument of military force – perhaps the biggest error of the last five years – American policy should be multidimensional, “operating like a Swiss army knife, able to deploy different tools for different situations on a moment’s notice”.
The new strategy should fuse hard power and soft power, be grounded in hope rather than fear, focused as much on what happens inside countries as between them, and adapted to the information age of 24/7 instant communication. Its three central goals should be pursued through what it calls a Concert of Democracies, for which the authors even draft a possible charter. Major democratic powers such as India, Japan, Brazil, Germany and two unspecified African states should become permanent members of the UN security council, though without a veto. “As demonstrated by both reason and social science,” it adds, “a world of liberal democracies would be a safer and better world for Americans and all people to live in.” (I like the implicit distinction between reason and social science.)
It would be naive to suppose that this paper is going to become the basis of a new consensual strategy, any more than Kennan’s article translated directly into NSC-68. There will be plenty more American politics around foreign policy between now and then. While George Bush and Dick Cheney are still in the White House, the rhetoric and the policy will change only so much – even with Rumsfeld’s long overdue departure. A preemptive bombing campaign against Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities remains a possibility. Moreover, Democrats in power could lurch towards political isolationism and, more particularly, economic protectionism. But the Princeton paper indicates the areas in which a bipartisan strategic consensus might be found, while these mid-term elections suggest that many Americans would welcome it. The United States may still be “two nations” on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but red and blue are mixing on foreign policy.
What is more, this is an approach to which many fierce critics of the Bush administration in other democracies around the world could subscribe. Take a look at wws.princeton.edu/ppns/report/FinalReport.pdf and see what you think. Apart from the fact that it inexplicably omits climate change from its conspectus of “major threats and challenges”, I think it’s a very impressive attempt. But there remains a big question about how this strategy for a “benign international environment” and a Concert of Democracies is to be arrived at. Somewhere underneath the Princeton paper there is a sense that the United States should lay out a strategy for what used to be called the free world, as it did in the early years of the cold war. Where it leads, others will follow.
Yet the Princeton project’s own analysis shows just how much more complex and multipolar the world of 2006 is than that of 1950, and how much more limited is the United States’ ability to set the agenda on its own. If that is true, it follows that other democracies (and democrats in less free countries) should be involved in designing the strategy, not mere recipients of it. The report concludes with an insistence that the US should do more and better “gardening” among its allies – a favoured metaphor of the project’s honorary co-chair, George Shultz – but it may be worth recalling that the rest of us are not plants.
As it happens, the two years of divided government in Washington, leading up to the next presidential election, will also be years of leadership change in other major democracies, with notable leaders such Manmohan Singh of India and Angela Merkel of Germany still relatively fresh in office, Gordon Brown about to move from No 11 to No 10 Downing Street, and a new French president due next May. To secure liberty under law, the United States needs to change not just its own strategy but the way it arrives at that strategy. The world’s second largest democracy has spoken, but a Concert of Democracies can only be made by a concert of democracies.