Daniel W. Drezner

Brad DeLong, cartoonist extraordinaire

Brad DeLong, cartoonist extraordinaire

Brad DeLong has some quibbles with my previous post:

Drezner approves of an attempt to analyze Bush’s “grand strategy” by John Lewis Gaddis. According to Gaddis, the Bush “grand strategy” has five components [Preemption, unilateralism, hegemony, democratization, demonstration]…. Now Daniel Drezner (and John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps) may think that having this “clearly articulated grand strategy” is a worthwhile and positive thing, but I do not. It’s an incoherent mess. It makes about as much sense as relying on the giant alien space bats from beyond to guard our national security. Even had it been “well-implemented,” it would be highly likely to have been a disaster. To “demonstrate” that you can “preempt” threats that are not there is a strategy for national insecurity. To throw away your alliances is to make hegemony impossible: the U.S. cannot exercise durable hegemony over even Iraq without reliable allies to provide 200,000 Arabic-speaking military police; where are they? And “democratization” is not a magic bullet: our last attempt to “democratize” a Middle Eastern country–to rely on representative institutions to curb religious fanaticism–in the late 1970s in Iran did not turn out well.

I must say I admire DeLong’s Bush-like, straight-shooting rejoinder — except for the fact that the entire post is so cartoonish in its treatment of Bush’s grand strategy that it undercuts his point. So let’s inject a little Kerryesque nuance into the discussion. First of all, I’m puzzled that DeLong believes Gaddis is praising unilateralsm — because that’s nowhere in his Foreign Policy essay. Indeed, one of his points — which DeLong quotes — is that “even in these first few lines, then, the Bush NSS comes across as more forceful, more carefully crafted, and—unexpectedly—more multilateral than its immediate predecessor.” One could argue that Gaddis must have it wrong, and that the administration has, in practice, been astonishingly unilateral. I penned a counterargument to this back in February 2003 and I’ll stand by it. The key point: “At worst, the administration can be accused of threatening to act [and eventually acting] in a unilateral manner if it doesn’t get most of what it wants through multilateral institutions. Which is pretty much how all great powers have acted since the invention of multilateral institutions.” Yes, the Bush administration has acted more unilaterally than the previous administration, but the extent of its unilateralism is a question of degree rather than some revolutionary paradigm shift. Which is the point of distinguished diplomatic historian Melvyn Leffler in International Affairs. Leffler is hardly a full-blooded fan of the Bush NSS, but the main point of his essay is that the key components of the Bush grand strategy — hegemony, preemption, democratization — have appeared and reappeared throughout recent American history. To claim that Bush and/or the neoconservatives sudddenly invented what’s in the National Security Strategy is to look at the history of American foreign policy wearing a really powerful set of blinders. Leffler also underscores a point I made in March of 2003 about why democratization was not an unrealistic goal in Iraq. Read the whole Leffler essay — it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the NSS, but it makes DeLong’s critique look as crudely drawn as Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim — though not nearly as funny. Brad is enough of a historian to know better than this post. Once he reenters the land of the three-dimensional, the blogosphere will be a better place.