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August 21, 2007

Dissecting Greenwald
Posted by Michael Cohen

Glenn Greenwald has launched quite the missive about the Foreign Policy Community. My colleague, Shadi Hamid as well as Daniel Drezner have provided insightful critiques, but here are my two cents. Greenwald asserts:

The Foreign Policy Community -- a term which excludes those in primarily academic positions -- is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.

Even though I am supposedly a member of the Very Serious People (VSP) Foreign Policy Community (FPC) I feel obliged to say that I don't agree with any of these sentiments (well except for the part about America being "inherently good.") Nor I imagine would any of my colleagues here at Democracy Arsenal or any of my colleagues at the National Security Network. Indeed we are not alone.

According to a recent Foreign Policy/Center for American Progress survey:

Though a majority—83 percent—do not believe Tehran when it says its nuclear program is intended for peaceful, civilian purposes, just 8 percent favor military strikes in response. Eight in 10, on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Similarly, a majority of the experts favor some kind of engagement with groups that may be labeled terrorist organizations but have gained popular support at the ballot box, such as Hamas in the Palestinian Territories or Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Counter to Mr. Greenwald's assertion, the VSP FPC seems to hold a very different view about the use of force then the one he ascribes to it. Mr. Greenwald has a problem with some people in the Foreign Policy Community, but he has painted with a rather broad brush.

Indeed, Mr. Greenwald attaches an extraordinary level of militarism to the Foreign Policy Community. He argues that with some exceptions the FPC “actively excludes anyone who does not subscribe to the right and wisdom of the U.S. to rule the world by military force.” I don’t think that even members of the Bush Administration ascribe to this disturbing viewpoint. If this is true, I'm not really sure how I got my VSP FPC membership card!

But honestly, where is the evidence to back up this rather incendiary charge? Mr. Greenwald offers none. He is right that members of the FPC did not take seriously enough the arguments of some in the anti-war community. Indeed as an opponent of the war in Iraq I am quite sympathetic to this argument - but to extrapolate that this means the FPC subscribes to the notion that US has the right to rule the world by military force is simply absurd.

As Daniel Drezner points out "There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use." Yet, that distinction is lost on Mr. Greenwald.

We could certainly argue over Cold War history until the cows come home, but looking back at recent history, I may have missed it when President Clinton invaded and occupied a foreign country. Indeed, his Administration was largely characterized by a disinclination to use force and generally when it did -- it was done in a multilateral form (Bosnia and Kosovo come to mind) in support of UN resolutions or on behalf of regional security (Iraq) and against clear and obvious enemies (Afghanistan and to a less defensible extent Sudan).Yet, this was an Administration staffed by many, many members of the Very, Serious Foreign Policy Community.

Mr. Greenwald makes a well-founded point that we "define when our 'interests' are promoted by war far more broadly than any other nation." Fair enough - we certainly use force more than other countries. But Mr. Greenwald surely recognizes that as a superpower and as the best and strongest military in the world, the United States has a far greater set of responsibilities than that of other nations. When the European Community was unable to end the terrible bloodletting in the Balkans, they didn't pick up the phone and call Sweden.

I don't mean to pick on the Swedes - they are lovely people -- but as the world's only superpower the United States has certain global responsibilities that other nations simply don't have to consider. Frankly, in the Clinton years the most sustained use of American force came in situations where our direct national interests were not at stake, but where America's global leadership was most crucial. To argue that we should only use force when our nation is directly threatened smacks of a new isolationism and ironically would leave the world a far more dangerous place. For better or for worse there are times and place where the US military is needed - both as soldiers and peacekeepers.

Now Mr. Greenwald suggests that this approach is indicative of an "imperial nation" and he asks “What defining acts have past empires undertaken that we refuse to undertake? I don't see any.” Really? I find this breathtaking and I am incredulous that Mr. Greenwald actually feels this way.

If America is an empire, well then we're pretty damn benign empire. Compare us to the British Empire, the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union, hell even the Belgians put us to shame . . . frankly there is no comparison between the American Empire and those empires of the past. We're a heck of a lot better than those guys. Don't believe me, read here, here and here. I don't remember any of these nations sending their young men and women into harm's way to stop ethnic cleansing (Bosnia and Kosovo), end humanitarian suffering (Somalia) or serve as peacekeepers (Bosnia again).

In the Clinton Administration the "American Empire," was primarily maintained through economic, diplomatic and cultural means and as I pointed out above, largely eschewed the typical imperial impulse to invade, occupy, pillage and generally ravage other nations.

Mr. Greenwald has a genuine beef with the neo-conservatives. Join the club! Yet he has lumped these folks in with those in the larger Foreign Policy Community far less in thrall of the use of military force - frankly to the detriment of his own argument. An examination of the military interventions of the United States, particularly in the post-Cold War era, would demonstrate that the Iraq War is the exception not the rule in American foreign policy. Indeed, the members of the FPC responsible for this conflict are the outliers, not the norm as he suggests. Drumming them out of the Foreign Policy Community should be a priority for all of us - as opposed to simply attacking the FPC writ large with ad hominem attacks.

For all the O'Hanlons and Pollacks who have become strawmen and enablers of the neo-cons, let us not forget Rand Beers, Les Gelb, Larry Korb, Susan Rice, Gayle Smith, Brian Katulis, Shadi Hamid, Ilan Goldenberg, Brent Scowcroft, Flynt Levrett, Jon Alterman, Steve Clemons, Rosa Brooks (and I could go on) who decisively and unambiguously reject this militant view of American foreign policy.

Now that's one community, I'd like to be a member of.

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Comments

So you "don’t think that even members of the Bush Administration" subscribe to "the right and wisdom of the U.S. to rule the world by military force"?

I'm still trying to get my head around this remarkable admission, but let's move on to Greenwald's larger point, which is that there may be a debate about whether any particular use of military force by the U.S. is "prudent", or whether the potential gains will outweigh the potential losses, but all "serious" foreign-policy discussion proceeds from an assumption that the U.S. has the right to use force when and where it sees fit. Because, as you say, the U.S. is "inherently good". And, as you admit, the use of force must always be "an option" to be placed "on the table."

Just look at the poll results you cite:

"Eight in 10 [of the Foreign Policy Community], on the other hand, say the United States should use either sanctions or diplomatic talks to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

First of all, note that no distinction is made here between peaceful "nuclear amibtions" such as the pursuit of nuclear power and military "nuclear ambitions" like the development of nuclear weapons - any unspecified "nuclear ambitions" are enough to trigger the use of sanctions.

And, if those nonviolent means don't get us what we want, what then? Won't the calculations of the FPC change, with a larger percentage favoring military force? Is anyone interviewed for the poll you cite questioning the right of the U.S. to use force against Iran, if we conclude it is in our "national interest" to do so? Do you? Or is it just that you and those polled don't see military force against Iran as the best choice at this point in time?

"As Daniel Drezner points out "There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use.""

No, there's not. Both consider force an "option". That's the problem. You seem to be talking past Greenwald. Do you really not understand what he's saying or is this some kind of framing thing?

And by the way, you're kind of a smartass, aren't you? Are you supposed to be funny?

David, I understand Glenn's point - to a degree. He seems to think force should never be an option unless America faces imminent danger or must act in self-defense. As I tried to say, I think this would place great constraints on the conduct of US foreign policy.

However, my argument is with his critique of the FPC and the notion that merely putting force, as an option, on the table puts them in league with the neo-cons. He claims the most members of the FPC believe in the right and wisdom of the US to "rule the world with military force." To be honest, I'm not even exactly sure what this means, but as fatr as I can tell it bears no relation to the history of American foreign policy and I believe I made that point.

Indeed, the members of the FPC responsible for this conflict are the outliers, not the norm as he suggests. Drumming them out of the Foreign Policy Community should be a priority for all of us

Is that supposed to mean that you believe that support for Iraq War, at least those who continue to support it if any early support is insufficient, is beyond the pail? Are you saying that if Greenwald's essay was targeted more directly at the Iraq War supporters than at the broader FPC, that he would have been justified in writing that they are "defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any 'good result,' and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force?" Would you say that the belief that America is inherently good and therefore does not need to police itself is a characteristic of any ideology supporting the Iraq War?

I would respectfully disagree with your belief that either we should not have started the Iraq War or that we should end it. However, there are legitimate reasons, such as democracy promotion, for continuing our efforts. You can disagree with them, find the goals unachievable or think that the counter-reasons outweigh them. But, if you believe in excluding from the FPC anyone who believes in those reasons and therefore we should continue our efforts in Iraq, you are no better than Greenwald.

Thanks for posting this. This debate has been raging the past few days (among foreign policy blogs, anyway) and this is the first post I've seen that discusses at-length the inherent responsibility the United States has as the world's sole superpower to engage in military action where other small, militarily weaker countries would not. Like you say, nothing against the Swedes but militarily they just aren't up to the task.

My understanding of Greenwald's complaint was that individuals who speak openly about bombing Iran are considered legitimate, but those who would advocate taking force off the table for anything except "direct aggression" are not. Then there was a lot of confusion, and some acrimony, and lots of talk about everything under the sun except what constituted "direct aggression" (though notably it did include our invasion into Afghanistan).

So it goes.

Scott S thanks for a great comment. I think you misunderstand me (but that is likely more my fault than yours). When I was referring to those "responsible" I was referring to the neo-con architects of this war, the Feiths, the Perles, the Kristols, the Ledeens, etc. I think their way of thinking about American foreign policy and the use of force as a means of scaring our enemies and building US credibility is bunk and has been exposed as much.

Unlike some of my critics, I don't hold the liberal hawks "responsible" for this war. As Greenwald himself concedes, no matter what they said about the war, George Bush was going to invade Iraq. Moreover, as I mentioned in an earlier post, many supported the war with pure intentions or with a hope that the war would be conducted in a competent and professional manner. Obviously they were wrong. They merit criticism for their position, but I would not say they should be drummed out of the FPC - just held to a much higher sense of scrutiny.

I hope that clarifies.

Michael, I thought this piece started off with some very sensible and appropriate criticisms of Greenwald, who had overstated his case, but it then goes quite off the rails with its Pollyanna accounts of the practice of US power, and kneejerk defenses of US "responsibilities".

There are so many things I want to say here that I'm afraid my comments are quite scattered, but here goes. You say,

As Daniel Drezner points out "There is a big difference between not taking force off the table as a policy option and vigorously advocating its use." Yet, that distinction is lost on Mr. Greenwald.

But the question is, for what purposes is it legitimate to leave force on the table, or actually to use it? I continually encounter in the writing of FPE professionals, from both parties, talk of military force as a "tool" in the national "tool kit". In the lead-up to Iraq, it was common to hear references to the need for the US to exert pressure on the domestic politics of foreign countries through occasional military "nudges". This euphemistic language has all the moral precision of the medieval inquisitor's description of thumb screws and racks as one of the "tools" of investigation. What often seems to be missing in these accounts is a lively sense that the application of military force consists in the enterprise of killing people.

A lot of us were raised to believe that the only legitimate reason to take the life of another human being is to defend one's own life, or the life of another, against that human being. Militarily "nudging" those human beings into practicing ones's preferred forms of government, applying or threatening to apply military "tools" as an aspect of coercive diplomacy for the purpose of advancing various "national interests" was not typically offered y our teachers as a justification for man-killing.

FPE folks always seem to think they deserve big bonus points for recognizing the importance of diplomacy and soft power, and other less brutal means of compulsion. But these are merely pragmatic judgments about efficacy: about means and ends. What you can't seem to get many FPE practitioners to defend is moral principles relating to the impermissibility of violence and killing for purposes other than defense against violence and killing.

On this issue of those vaunted US global "great power responsibilities", we've been hearing these Spider-Man defenses of US interventions for some time now. They're tired. For the FPE, it often just seems to be some sort of cosmic accident that the US has all of this amazing power, and thus that the correspondingly amazing responsibilities have just been thrust upon us by fate. But the US has, with deliberation and foresight, developed far-flung financial and military interests around the globe. These interests are mutually self-supporting and show a historic tendency toward expansion in unison.

And the military, bureaucratic and intellectual institutions that have grown up around the project of sustaining and expanding these interests are never short of justifications for further expansion, which will then of course create new "responsibilities", which will then be appealed to as justification for further expansion of interests. It's a neat little self-justifying circle. Because of our past interventions and aggrandizing behavior, we have grown powerful; and because of our power, we now have the "responsibility" to engage in more interventions.

Consider a nice example: Half a decade ago, there were no US bases in Iraq. Now, because we have invaded Iraq, we have new "responsibilities" toward Iraq, and "responsibilities" to protect the bases and embassy we have built there. And given the proximity of these newly inserted American forces to other important countries, one can bet with the same certainty that night turns into day that we will soon be hearing calls from the FPE for the US to step in to address its "responsibilities" in other nearby countries - which will then generate new interests, new bases, new America-stimulated blowback, new responsibilities, etc. etc.

And Michael, I can't accept your insouciant claims about the non-existence, or benignity, of the US empire. The US has a long record of aggressive, violent interventions in the affairs of others, for clearly imperial purposes. The entire westward expansion across the North American continent was an imperial expansion: conquering, settling, acquiring and annexing new territories, dramatically multiplying the territorial size of the country, and exterminating, relocating or repelling various human beings standing in its path.

Since that time the US has continued to practice imperialism across the oceans, though in a modified form. Notably, when the US leadership made the transition at the end of the 19th century from the closing of the frontier to expansion overseas, they were not so shy about calling it what it was: imperialism. An Anti-imperialist League arose to counter the new imperial doctrine that was being frankly advocated. Since then, FPE practitioners have learned a whole language of new euphemisms to clothe imperialism in various verbal disguises.

The US imperial style does not involve straightforwardly annexing territories and directly appointing their governors, the typical pattern of empires in the past. Nevertheless, it does involve a continual expansion of the US imperial orbit: establishing financial dependencies and commercial interests in other countries, positioning troops in and around those countries to defend those interests and compel local submission to US economic and strategic direction, and then using all of the "tools" at our government's disposal to change local regimes, and produce governments that are amenable to our wishes and run by committed clients. There is no need to appoint an imperial viceroy if the same purposes can be accomplished through other means, and one can use direct force, paid proxy force or covert activity to install a local client who speaks the local language and whose skin color is right for the part. Of course, Michael, since you work for corporations, helping them to promulgate their messages, cultivate local supporters and advance their interests abroad, it is not so surprising that you see nothing untoward in the broader enterprise of which this activity is a part.

And ask the people of Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East just how "benign" the US empire has been.

Returning to the question of responsibilities, global policing responsibility should be a collective affair. If the world is now dependent on a single nation performing policing functions, while that nation is at the same time committed to advancing its more selfish interests in the regions it is supposed to be policing, then we should all see that as a big problem. I would have a little more confidence in the FPE if I heard more of them from time to time acknowledge that this is a problem, and advocate ways of fixing it. But they never do.

The really sad thing is that I often sense that, at heart, many FPE practitioners share the moral compunctions and revulsion I have expressed. But they are so locked into their careers and dependent on the dubious esteem of their colleagues, that they fail to object or resist. They all seem positively terrified of the consequences of being seen defending policies that are not sufficiently "muscular." So then some Iraqi parent has to see their kid's guts blown all over the front yard in front of them, because it is so, so, so, so important for the American colossus to continue to shows its muscular muscles to the world.

Perhaps it is time for the American people to have an earnest national debate about precisely what kind of country they wish to have, rather than perpetually deferring these questions to Washington. The system we have now is a scam. Imperial apparatchiks spend their days expanding US economic and military interests into every bloody orifice of the globe, whether by getting tough or making nice, and then when some regional blowback shit hits a national interest fan, they run to the American people with duplicitous, ingenuous and disinformation-riddled accounts of what is actually going on out there in the world, what caused the blowback, and why Americans must now live up their "responsibilities" and "defend" themselves and the nation against these unmotivated attacks by hate-filled, inscrutable and irrational foreigners. It's a racket.

I continue to be amazed by the ease with which foreign policy practitioners raise the specter of "isolationism" in the face of any suggestions that the US should reorganize, retract or shift its global responsibilities. It's really stunning how little space they seem to see between running the world and being isolated from it.

He seems to think force should never be an option unless America faces imminent danger or must act in self-defense. As I tried to say, I think this would place great constraints on the conduct of US foreign policy.

Indeed. Some would call these "moral constraints". Similarly, my forbearing from breaking my business competitors' thumbs places great constraints on the conduct of my personal policy and the defense of my personal interests. Are all right-thinking Americans now opposed to the existence of constraints?

I guess you guys just don't get it, do you? Last things first -- I started with the list of "luminaries" in your last paragraph, and tried to research their positions, as regards war with Iraq, BEFORE the 2003 invasion, and here's just one from the first 2 names of folks on your list (I didn't bother after that):

Les Gelb -- http://www.cfr.org/publication/5326/us_public_is_unconvinced_on_need_to_wage_war_against_iraq_says_council_on_foreign_relations_president_les_gelb.html

(Read the former President of the CFR's answer to the first interview question in the link).

Bringing up Bill Clinton's relatively "non-invasive" tenure at the White House, recent surveys on the FPC community which show their disdain for direct action on Iran RIGHT NOW and dancing around the definition of imperialism isn't taking away from the point that this disease of the FPC to be pliable to whoever needs it or feeds it or even misleads it is all pervasive and most of their positions err on the side of military adventurism, which in turn help the military-industrial complex.

When I was referring to those "responsible" I was referring to the neo-con architects of this war, the Feiths, the Perles, the Kristols, the Ledeens, etc. I think their way of thinking about American foreign policy and the use of force as a means of scaring our enemies and building US credibility is bunk and has been exposed as much.

Unlike some of my critics, I don't hold the liberal hawks "responsible" for this war. As Greenwald himself concedes, no matter what they said about the war, George Bush was going to invade Iraq. Moreover, as I mentioned in an earlier post, many supported the war with pure intentions or with a hope that the war would be conducted in a competent and professional manner. Obviously they were wrong. They merit criticism for their position, but I would not say they should be drummed out of the FPC - just held to a much higher sense of scrutiny.

This is a somewhat astonishing account of the division of responsibilities. I guess the defenders of the war are to be divided into mutually exclusive camps of "architects" and ... what? - "people who vigorously supported the war but were not architects?" Couldn't we just as easily say that George Bush would have invaded Iraq no matter what Michael Ledeen said, so he is not responsible either?

And I continue to be puzzled by the "pure intentions" defense. What does the purity of intentions have to do with it? Many people throughout history have acted with great and morally culpable recklessness, intemperance and even criminality, though motivated by the purest of intentions. There has never been a shortage of murdering revolutionaries driven by the fervent desire to actualize some brilliant and harmonious utopian future.

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