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July 05, 2005

The Opportunity, a word we've almost forgotten
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Last week I belatedly discovered Richard Haass's new book, The Opportunity.  Richard comes with an A+ GOP/foreign policy establishment pedigree --  Council on Foreign Relations President and Colin Powell's head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, Brookings, Carnegie, previous administrations, etc.  The book is the kind of measured, rational critique of Bush Admin policies that earns adjectives like "revolutionary" (I'm not kidding, check the Amazon reviews) in these crazy times. 

By pure coincidence, John Ikenberry over at America Abroad seems to have discovered it at about the same time.  He is struck by how  Haass' doctrine of "integration" is like what he calls liberal grand strategy and welcomes Rockefeller Republicans "into the progressive fold."  I don't mean to sound churlish, as I've enjoyed what I've read of Richard's book, but he's been pretty consistent since his last stint of book-writing ten years ago, so I'm not sure it's he who's doing the moving.  (I pulled his 1994 Intervention down from my shelf to compare.)

Now, you can go read Ikenberry for yourself -- and then read the book.  I was struck by something different:  the overall note of optimism Richard sounds, and how absent that is from both progressive and conservative discourse these days. 

This could turn out to be an era of prolonged peace and prosperity, made possible by American primacy successfully translated into influence and effective international arrangements.

When's the last time you heard anybody, right left or center, dare to argue that good times just might be ours for the taking?  (Before September 11, methinks.)  When's the last time you heard someone argue in eloquent detail that we should look on the wider world as a venue full of opportunities, not just threats, for America?  (I would nominate William Jefferson Clinton on that, but I'm biased.) 

I say progressives should take an optimism transplant from this Rockefeller Republican.
No, not false "the Iraqi insurgency is on its last legs" optimism but a confidence that we can go out and engage our problems, not just hunker down before them (President Bush on global warming, for example).


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I agree -- it's a very good book. I think it's useful to point out, though, where Haass disagrees with the "muscular idealist" / Truman Project camp -- he doesn't see democracy promotion or the democratic peace theory as a panacea. From H.D.S. Greenway's review in the Boston Globe:

"Promoting democracy is not a panacea. "It is neither desirable nor practical to make democracy promotion a foreign policy doctrine," Haass says. "Too many pressing threats," Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, as well as transnational issues, must take precedence over concerns about how people "choose to govern themselves." Democracy means "power distributed," and elections alone will not guarantee that. "As a rule, 'electocracy' should not be confused with democracy," according to Haass."

I might not completely agree with that view, but I think it's a useful balance to people like Anne-Marie Slaughter who still think what we're doing in iraq somehow will contibute to "spread[ing] liberal democracy around the world."

Maybe we can send trade the less-realistic "muscular idealists" to the Republicans, and get levelheaded, realistic, rational people like Richard Haass in return?

I'm kidding, of course, but it has a certain logic to it...

Greg Priddy

"When's the last time you heard someone argue in eloquent detail that we should look on the wider world as a venue full of opportunities, not just threats, for America?"

When 9/11 happened, it was my greatest hope that we would do exactly that, turn to the world at large with compassion and understanding to try to see how we could win over those who would do such a terrible thing. Instead, Bush reacted in the worst possible way, emphasizing every conceivable hidden or not-so-hidden evil in the American psyche.

This will bring further intensification of fascist corporatism at home and abroad, followed by the destruction of our economy -- or vice-versa. Not very optimistic, is it? But I see no way out of this unless the entire Congress is replaced and the Bush administration is impeached. There are no Gandhis, no Martin Luther Kings, no Robert Kennedys anywhere on the horizon.

The main problem I see with optimism such as you describe is that we are largely undeserving of anything less than the Mother of All Smitings. Restoring balance to the universe requires that someone pay the price. Do I see any volunteers?

I agree there's a great deal of optimisim for the world, particularly with the growing power and influence of China and, even more importantly, India.

Their rise gives me optimism, especially since my country Australia can be expected to continue building our excellent relationship with India, and our economies are complementary.

But optimism for America? Maybe. I hope for America's case that the author is correct. I just wouldn't make the mistake of assuming confidence in America's future and confidence in the world's future are the same thing any more.

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