The latest edition of Foreign Affairs has three particularly noteworthy articles.
None of these, it should be noted, is written by a presidential candidate. This edition is the third of a series in which candidates for the Democratic and Republican Presidential nominations have presented their views on foreign policy. Previous editions have featured Sen. Barack Obama (D - Illinois), former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and former Senator John Edwards. This time, it is the turn of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D - New York) and Sen. John McCain (R - Arizona).
Clinton and McCain present in extended form the points they make on the campaign trail. For Clinton, it is "elect me and I will earn back the respect of the world." For McCain, it is "elect me, and I will maintain America's position of power in the world." While there are no major gaffes here, there is also nothing of particular interest.
The three articles of note discussed the war on terror, the United States defense budget, and the Israel lobby.
Philip H. Gordon, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, asks the question "Can the War on Terror Be Won?" Gordon argues that the current debate on how to prosecute the "war on terror" fails to include any "concept of what 'victory' in the war on terror would look like."
In building a vision of what victory would look like, Gordon posits what defeat would entail -
A caliphate...established from Morocco to Central Asia, sharia rule will prevail, Israel will be destroyed, oil prices will skyrocket, and the United States will recoil in humiliation and possibly even collapse - just as the Soviet Union did after the mujahideen defeated it in Afghanistan.
Gordon believes that such defeat is unlikely - that Osama Bin Laden and his "violent ideology will end up on the ash heap of history." Gordon argues that Bin Laden's assessment of his chances for success are based on "an exaggeration of his role in bringing down the Soviet Union, a failure to appreciate the long-term strength and adaptability of U.S. society, and an underestimation of Muslim resistance to his extremist views."
What then would victory look like?
Smaller, uncoordinated organizations capable of carrying out limited attacks might still exist, but the global Al Qaeda organization that was able to inflict such destruction on September 11, 2001, will not. Its most important leaders will have been killed or captured, its sanctuaries destroyed, its financial resources blocked, its communications interrupted, and, most important, its supporters persuaded to find other ways to pursue their goals.
This world, in Gordon's view, "is a long way off...but...the paths that could lead to it can already be seen." The destruction of Al Qaeda, while not complete - and perhaps in some ways reversed - is under way. "Bin Laden and Zawahiri are now living like fugitives in caves rather than like presidents or military commanders in compounds in Afghanistan." Gordon also sees signs of a Muslim backlash against Al Qaeda - which he believes will be crucial in the ultimate defeat of that organization.
Gordon emphasizes that this will be a long struggle - not unlike the Cold War - "with plenty of setbacks, tragedies, mistakes, and risks still ahead." To put a time scale on it, Gordon writes that "on the calendar of the Cold War, which began in 1947, the sixth anniversary of 9/11 puts us in 1953 - decades before its denouement..." In the end, victory in this war will come - as it did in the Cold War - from forces on the other side - the "Lech Walesas, Vaclav Havels, and Andrei Sakharovs" of the Muslim world. Gordon concludes by saying "if the United States is strong, smart, and patient, they will come. And they, not the West, will transform their world - and ours."
Gordon's argument makes eminent sense to this observer. We need to prepare for the long-haul in the war on Islamic fundamentalism. We need not to be diverted into more adventures like Iraq that will drain our resources and create more terrorists. And we need to foster democratic and progressive forces in the Muslim world - to a large extent by getting out of the way.
A second noteworthy article in Foreign Affairs looks at how this country should balance its national security resources and strategies. Richard K. Betts, Director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, writes of "A Disciplined Defense."
Betts' major argument is that the current approach to defense budgeting does not fit either fiscal or strategic realities. This country spends far more than it needs for its basic security, but not enough to "run a benign American empire." Betts argues that the goal of defense budgeting should be to achieve "strategic solvency."
Betts cites a number of reasons why defense budgeting has proceeded in this way in recent years. One is a "visceral sense of threat spawned by the frightening intentions of the country's enemies rather than..a sober estimate of those enemies' capabilities." Another is the political structure of Washington in which defense contractors know how to work both Capitol Hill and the Pentagon to get what they want. A third is that "the last two U.S. presidents...have embraced ambitious goals of reshaping the world according to American values but without considering the full costs and consequences of their grandiose visions."
Betts reviews how previous Presidents - Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, in particular - approached defense spending. Truman and Eisenhower spent less on defense relative to the size of the economy, but also accepted greater strategic risks. Eisenhower, in particular, created the doctrine of "massive nuclear retaliation" for a potential Soviet invasion of western Europe. This approach to budgeting also pitted the different armed services - Army, Navy, Air Force - in competition with each other for resources. Subsequent presidents did away with this competition - and thus a method for controlling spending.
Betts argues for a change in how defense budgeting is done. He feels that "expensive programs must fulfill unmet needs for countering real enemy capabilities, not merely maintain traditional service priorities, pursue the technological frontier for its own sake, or consume resources that happen to be politically available." He does not feel that this will be easy - he does not even feel that a dramatic reduction in the defense budget is called for. For Betts, "a starting point might be the slogan 'Half a trillion dollars is more than enough.'"
Betts highlights a debate that has not happened in the current Presidential race - whether we want to try to maintain an American empire. Betts argues well that it is foolish in the long-term for this country to try to maintain primacy for an extended period of time - we just do not have the resources. These resources are, in fact, likely to get tighter as the century goes on. We need to think hard and wisely about our strategic and budgetary choices in the coming years.
The third noteworthy article is a review of Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby by Walter Russell Mead, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. This book has become notorious and controversial for its claims that the "Israel lobby" is an overly powerful group that is advocating a foreign policy agenda that is at odds with the interests of this country. Mead defends Mearsheimer and Walt against charges of anti-Semitism, but he does argue that the book will give "aid and comfort to anti-Semites wherever they are found." Mead goes on to argue that the book is insufficiently rigorous in its arguments and documentation.
They claim the the clarity and authority of rigorous logic, but their methods are loose and rhetorical. This singularly unhappy marriage - between the pretensions of serious political analysis and the standards of casual op-ed - both undercuts the case they wish to make and gives the book a disagreeably disingenuous tone.
Mead is a highly respected expert on foreign policy; his views on this book are likely to be influential.