What's at Stake

What's at Stake

Colby political anaylysts provide perspective on the 2004 presidential election, ranging from foreign policy to the economy to the environment


 
The Direction of Foreign Policy
Kenneth Rodman
William R. Cotter Distinguished Teaching Professor of Government

"One of the things that is striking about the Bush approach to using force is that we are not just using force to restrain threats but to spread certain values abroad that we see as central, not only to our world view, but to creating a more stable Middle East, a more stable world. I think that the Kerry approach will be more circumspect, so I wouldn't expect the same kinds of regime-change interventions that are designed to overthrow rogue regimes and replace them with democratic institutions.

#analysts#right#200#I think that there would be more of a focus on traditional diplomacy and attempting to deal with threats multilaterally, similar to the Clinton approach in dealing with North Korea. The Bush administration is adopting more of a diplomatic approach there but there are clearly elements in the Bush administration that look at 'rogue' regimes and argue that our policy should not be to negotiate diplomatic deals with them but rather to maximize pressures on them until they change or disintegrate. . . .

Some interpret the lessons of Vietnam as an example of the dangers of hubris in America's belief that we can make the world over; recreate the world in our image. After all, that is much of what the U.S. was trying to do in Vietnam. And many of the people who attempted to do this were liberals.

Liberalism had this faith in the ability of the U.S. to transform these non-liberal structures. And look at how successful we were in Germany and in Japan, countries with militaristic traditions, which were in many ways transformed by America. And I think the impact of Vietnam was for many liberals to call into question the degree to which you can do this. Kerry is part of that tradition.
imageA good illustration of that impact was the thinking of J. William Fulbright, the senator from Arkansas, long-time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He wrote the book The Arrogance of Power, where he looked at this view that we can intervene and transform other countries in our image as a kind of dangerous hubris.

He analogizes American foreign policy to the story of three Boy Scouts who come back to their scoutmaster and the scoutmaster says, 'What did you do for your good deed?' And they say, 'Well, we helped an old lady across the street.' And he says, 'Oh, that's very good. But why did it take all three of you?' And they say, 'Well, she didn't want to go.'

And for Fulbright, the lessons of Vietnam were the dangers of American hubris, this sort of conceit that we can make the world over in our image. And the neo-cons, I think, argue that this kind of ideologically driven foreign policy is necessary in dealing with the kinds of threats that we are likely to face. That is part of the rationale behind engaging in this kind of ambitious experiment in Iraq.

And what's really remarkable is that you have the Bush administration, whose initial instinct was skeptical about this kind of muscular nation building. Here we are engaging in the most ambitious nation-building strategy maybe in the history of American foreign policy.

I think Kerry's tradition coming from the experiences of Vietnam, and the way liberalism evolved in response to the experiences of Vietnam, would lead him to be much more skeptical of that kind of intervention, and much more skeptical of the sort of more muscular approach of the neo-conservatives.

[Kerry] would have no choice but to follow it through. And he has really said so. I mean all of the responsible Democratic candidates, even those most critical of the war, recognized that the U.S. is committed even if you disagree with the war in the first place. If you pull out there is a risk the country would fall to civil war. This would not only be a moral failure, but it would be a strategic failure,instability right in the heart of one of the most strategically important parts of the world. And that would also allow Iraq to become a magnet for the kinds of terrorists that Afghanistan attracted in the 1990s.

There really is no choice and if you don't try to create a stable constitution for the government, what are you going to do? Create a military regime, a stable military regime. Well, I'm not sure that is a feasible solution either."
 
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