Luiza CH. Savage – macleans.ca October 31, 2007
As part of her job at an influential national security think tank, Julianne Smith brings politicians and senior policy-makers from all over Europe to Washington for candid closed-door meetings with the policy advisers to the candidates vying to replace President George W. Bush. The Europeans usually arrive eager to discuss the coming era that some are dubbing "AB" — "After Bush." That is the highly anticipated period beginning on Jan. 20, 2009, in which a newly sworn-in American president, chastened by the troubles in Iraq and by the scorn of allies who say the Bush White House flouted international law, will turn his or her back on the militaristic and unilateralist ways of the preceding seven years, contritely embrace multilateral institutions and international treaties, bring home U.S. troops, and perhaps even rename the "war on terror" as something other than a "war."
But by the time the meetings end — be they with advisers to Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards, or Republicans such as Rudolph Giuliani and Mitt Romney — the visitors usually have the same reaction, says Smith, the director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The response is usually a little bit of shock and awe and disappointment. They say, 'What do you mean? We thought this would be a new era!' "
Poll after poll shows that the vast majority of Americans are sick of the Iraq war, while many worry that through its counter-terrorism policies, the U.S. has squandered the goodwill it once enjoyed abroad. When the current presidential season began in earnest a year ago, it was widely expected that the aspirants to the White House would be campaigning against the swaggering foreign policy associated with Bush. But precisely the opposite has happened. To the great surprise of the Europeans, and to many Americans, the leading presidential candidates are talking just as tough as the current occupant of the White House — and some even tougher.
The candidates who have risen to the top in the presidential race happen to be the biggest hawks in each party. Both former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads the Republican field nationally, and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who dominates the Democratic primary contest, have a vision of muscular American diplomacy, are actively raising the stakes in the confrontation with Iran, surround themselves with advisers who believe that unilateral American military might can be right, and have no intention of allowing the United Nations or some judge sitting in The Hague to tell them otherwise.
"There is this expectation that the U.S. will retreat entirely from the posture that we've had for the last years," says Smith. "But we're not going to roll back the clock. I try to drill home the message that yes, things will change, but probably not the way you hope they will." Smith finds she can't deflate international expectations enough. "I had someone from the Netherlands say, 'I can't wait until 2009 when you join the International Criminal Court,' " she recalls. "I thought, are you on crack? There is no way that is going to be a top priority for anyone."
The most hawkish and heated candidate as far as foreign policy rhetoric goes is Giuliani, who sounds more and more like Bush the longer he campaigns. "We have learned that evil must be confronted — not appeased," he wrote last month in the journal Foreign Affairs. Like Bush, Giuliani envisions a long-term presence in Iraq. "The commitment is to Iraq and to the region and to policies and strategies that are very long-lasting and have a long-term horizon," his chief foreign policy adviser, Charlie Hill, told Maclean's. "Iraq has been portrayed in the media as a stand-alone question. But it has got to be seen as part of the larger war on terror, and is essential to the health of the international system overall."
Hill is a former diplomat and speech writer for Henry Kissinger who now teaches a cultish course at Yale on the finer points of wielding power, unapologetically entitled "Grand Strategy." In her biography of Hill, The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost, author Molly Worthen tracks his evolution, from a critic of the Vietnam War, to a hawk, to one of the most hardline pro-Israel officials in the State Department. He was against the Vietnam War until he was sent to Saigon in the early 1970s, where he concluded that the U.S. could have won if only Congress had had the stomach to stay and fight. Ditto Iraq. Asked if he is optimistic that the U.S. will win this conflict, Hill says simply, "Yes."
Giuliani has been the most bellicose candidate when it comes to the rising tensions with Iran, which he calls "a greater danger than Iraq." On Oct. 16, he offered voters a "guarantee" that Iran will not obtain nuclear arms on his watch. On Monday, he mocked Democrats who have talked about negotiating with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has also made it clear that he does not believe the president need consult Congress — not to mention foreign allies — if he decides to launch a military attack on Iran. When his chief rival, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, said in a debate on Oct. 9 that he would consult lawyers before deciding whether to seek congressional authorization for war with Iran, Giuliani later attacked him, saying he need only worry about consulting "the generals," and lectured Romney that he should "tell the American people, 'I made a mistake.' "
As well as Hill, Giuliani has assembled a hardline team of advisers that includes Norman Podhoretz, the writer and neo-conservative magazine editor who recently wrote an essay entitled, "The Case for Bombing Iran: I hope and pray that President Bush will do it." Podhoretz's new book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, is an impassioned defence of the "Bush Doctrine," including the use of unilateral and preemptive military force and the conceptualization of terrorism as a military problem rather than a law enforcement task. Giuliani's foreign policy team also includes Michael Rubin, a former adviser on Iran and Iraq to former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has argued against negotiating with Iran. Another adviser is former Bush speech writer David Frum, a Canadian who worked on the famous "axis of evil" speech.
That said, you won't hear Giuliani adopting Bush's high-minded rhetoric about delivering freedom to souls who yearn for it. Perhaps the biggest difference between his foreign policy and Bush's is that Giuliani is focused on the war on terrorism and is jettisoning all that flowery language about bringing democracy to the world. "It's a practical, pragmatic approach," Hill says. "You can say democracy is an ideal that is a God-given right, or you can say that you are not going to get good governance without some kind of democratization. The hoped-for outcome may be the same, but it's a different thing."
Giuliani also talks about the need for new diplomacy — but he wants ambassadors evaluated for how effectively they take on anti-Americanism around the globe. "Too many people denounce our country or our policies simply because they are confident that they will not hear any serious refutation from our representatives," he wrote. "The American ideals of freedom and democracy deserve stronger advocacy. And the era of cost-free anti-Americanism must end."
Giuliani calls himself a supporter of the "international system," and wants to strengthen it. But what he means by that is the traditional system of sovereign states, and not new supra-national institutions. He does support security institutions like NATO — he wants to expand it to include "any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location." And Giuliani wants to transform the regional defence alliance into what sounds like a global police force, which would take on "threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism."
But don't expect him to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol or the International Crimincal Court in the Hague. "In the 1990s," says Hill, "it was a fad among the intelligentsia of western Europe to say that the international system was outmoded and you wanted to invent more grandiose organizations and supra-national institutions that would leave the fundamentals of the international system in the dust. A lot of people wanted to run it off the rails." The Kyoto Protocol, one of the results of that trend, was "not sustainable," and another, the International Criminal Court, "was going too far," Hill says.
Giuliani also wants to maintain U.S. military supremacy, and has pledged to expand the U.S. Army by 10 new combat brigades (a brigade has 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers). He also wants to press ahead with the missile defence system. In total, his policy package has led liberal blogger Josh Marshall to declare that, "at least on foreign policy and presidential power — two pretty big issues at the moment — Rudy is Bush without the soft edges."
Meanwhile, other GOP candidates are trying to match Giuliani's tone. Romney famously declared in a May debate that "Some people have said we ought to close Guantánamo [the U.S. naval base in Cuba where terrorism suspects are being held]. My view is we ought to double Guantánamo." As Romney explained, when it comes to prisoners in the war on terror, "I want them on Guantánamo, where they don't get the access to lawyers that they get when they're on our soil." Romney has chosen Cofer Black, a former State Department official and the vice-chairman of Blackwater USA, the private security company that has come under investigation for killing civilians in Iraq, to advise him. While he was Massachusetts governor, Romney refused to provide any security for former Iranian president Mohammed Khatani when he came to the state to deliver a speech at Harvard University; more recently, he made a show of criticizing Columbia University for allowing Ahmadinejad to speak on its campus. And on Oct. 25, he listed "bombardment" among the military options he would consider to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. "I really can't lay out exactly how that would be done, but we have a number of options from blockade to bombardment of some kind," if Iran continues to pursue it's nuclear program, Romney said while campaigning in New Hampshire. "And that's something we very much have to keep on the table, and we will ready ourselves, because it's unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons."
Latecomer GOP contender, former senator and actor Fred Thompson, is also following the Bush-Cheney foreign policy lead, including hiring as one of his advisers the vice-president's daughter, Elizabeth, who until recently held a job at the State Department aimed at promoting democracy in Iran and Syria. At the Oct. 9 debate, he made it clear that even though he played a prosecutor on TV's Law and Order, the threat he sees cannot be met with a law enforcement operation. "It is a global war — Islamic fascism has declared it upon us," said Thompson. "They play by no rules and they are intent on bringing down Western civilization and the United States." And of the top GOP contenders, only John McCain has taken a clear position against harsh and coercive interrogation techniques.
On the other side of the aisle, the biggest hawk is also leading the field. Hillary Clinton voted in favour of the congressional resolution that authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein, and unlike her rival John Edwards, refused to apologize for her vote. Like other Democratic contenders, Clinton has not ruled out military strikes against Tehran. But Clinton is the only one who on Sept. 26 voted in favour of a Senate resolution that labels the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Her vote is being portrayed as helping to pave the way for a military attack by the Bush administration.
It has made her something of a target among her rivals. Barack Obama, who was not in town to vote against the resolution, argues that it is at best redundant because the U.S. has long classified Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. In a mailing to voters in the early primary state of Iowa, Obama wrote, "Why is this amendment so dangerous? Because George Bush and Dick Cheney could use this language to justify keeping our troops in Iraq as long as they can point to a threat from Iran, and because they could use this language to justify an attack on Iran as part of the ongoing war in Iraq." One of Obama's foreign policy advisers, Ivo Daalder, told Maclean's: "Those who voted for it are either being duped because they don't understand what is going on here, or are willing to move in that direction with regard to Iran. Obama has made it clear he would keep every option on the table; he is at this point not prepared to contemplate military action because there is no need for it."
Former North Carolina senator Edwards also criticized Clinton's vote as a failure of judgment. "I learned a clear lesson from the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2002: if you give this president an inch, he will take a mile and launch a war," Edwards said. "Senator Clinton apparently learned a different lesson." Another rival, Chris Dodd, called the move "a dangerous step toward armed confrontation with Iran." Clinton responded with a letter to her supporters in Iowa claiming that her vote is just a toughening of diplomacy. "It was clearly a vote for stepped-up diplomacy, not military action," she wrote. She noted that she has co-sponsored a bill that would require Bush to consult Congress before attacking Iran.
But the fact is, Clinton is working hard not to look like a foreign policy wimp. "For many years the Democrats have been perceived as weak on national security, and they are determined not to be perceived that way again," says Richard Betts, a professor of political science and director of the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. "With Clinton, she has the added problem of suspicions that a woman may be less tough, and she may be compensating for that. She seems to have decided that at least in an election her main vulnerability will be on the national security side, and any softness would be something the Republicans could exploit." Or as Eli Lake, a columnist in the conservative New York Sun, predicts, "Mrs. Clinton will sprout wings and talons and screech for the blood of every Iranian terrorist as soon as she receives her party's nomination."
But Clinton's Iraq war vote and her posturing on Iran can't be easily dismissed as ploys. In July 2006, a former envoy of her husband's administration, Richard Holbrooke, now described as a close adviser to Clinton, talked about her foreign policy views to New York magazine: "She is probably more assertive and willing to use force than her husband. Hillary Clinton is a classic national security Democrat. She is better at framing national security issues for the current era than her husband was at a common point in his career."
In one 2000 speech, Clinton made clear that she supported military interventions, even if they were messy: "There is a refrain that we should intervene with force only when we face splendid little wars that we surely can win, preferably by overwhelming force in a relatively short period of time. To those who believe we should become involved only if it is easy to do, I think we have to say that America has never and should not shy away from the hard task if it is the right one."
"From the Middle East to the Arab-Israeli conflict to Afghanistan, Iran, and China — on virtually every major challenge facing the U.S. — she has a fairly aggressive posture," says Julianne Smith. "She has surrounded herself with some of the most hawkish members of the Democratic foreign policy community."
One of Clinton's closest foreign policy advisers, former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, has long been hawkish on the use of force. In his memoirs, former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Colin Powell recounted that Albright nearly gave him "an aneurysm" during the Bill Clinton administration with her constant requests to sprinkle U.S. forces for missions around the world. (Hillary Clinton lobbied her husband to promote Albright from UN ambassador to secretary of state. They were also the first two people in the administration to speak out against the Taliban.)
Holbrooke also supported the Iraq invasion — although he wanted to see a bigger coalition. In a 2002 speech he argued that leaving Hussein in power after the Gulf War was the U.S.'s biggest mistake since the Vietnam War, and he criticized the Bush administration for seeking an explicit mandate from the UN for invading Iraq — which was bound to be rejected. He argued that "would leave the clear impression than any military action that follows is in violation of the Security Council's will, rather than being derived logically from the long trail of Iraqi defiance." And, he added, "The U.S. cannot and will not accept the UN as the sole legitimizer of force."
Clinton herself has said as much. Last spring, Michael Crowley of the New Republic asked her about the influence of her husband's Balkan military interventions on her Iraq vote (the U.S. and its NATO allies bombed ethnic Serb positions during the Bosnian War in an effort to end that conflict, and in 1999, without UN approval, NATO bombed Serbia to stop Serb aggression in Kosovo). "It certainly did influence my thinking," Clinton replied. "What many of us thought was, the use of diplomacy backed up by the threat of force — that is a credible position for America to take in the world." But, she added, "there were those in the Congress who thought that the United States should never even threaten force — or certainly take force — in the absence of UN Security Council approval. Well, I had seen during the Clinton administration that sometimes that's not even possible. Sometimes, it's not even possible for the president to get congressional approval to pursue vital national security interests."
In her 2002 floor speech before the vote on authorizing military force against Iraq, Clinton said, "Perhaps my decision is influenced by my eight years of experience on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House, watching my husband deal with serious challenges to our nation. I want this president, or any future president, to be in the strongest possible position to lead our country in the United Nations or in war."
In this regard, Clinton's position is not that different from Giuliani's. "Democrats at least rhetorically put more emphasis on multilateralism," says Betts, "but there is a fair amount of similarity about what the U.S. should be doing on leadership in the world and shaping the world on democratic values. Nobody wants to tell the American voters that we'll wait for a permission slip."
When Clinton does criticize the Iraq war and calls for a gradual reduction in troops, she is careful to lay much of the blame on the Iraqi government for failing to resolve its sectarian differences. "American credibility is held hostage by an Iraqi government that will not fulfill its pledge to seek a political resolution of the rights and role of the Sunni minority and to determine how oil revenue is allocated," she said in a speech in October 2006. Reducing troop levels, she said, would send a message to the Iraqi government that "makes it clear that American forces will not be there to prop up their denials and refusal to deal with the problems at hand."
Clinton's tough talk poses both a risk and an opportunity for her main rival, Obama. It gives him an opening to appeal to the anti-war wing of the Democratic party — but requires him to show that he too can protect Americans from foreign threats. Obama raised eyebrows in August by vowing to send troops into Pakistan if he had intelligence about terrorists hiding there. His top foreign policy adviser is Tony Lake, another veteran of the Clinton-Gore adventures in the Balkans, who has been called Wilsonian for his activist view of foreign policy. He agitated within the Clinton administration to bomb Serb positions in Bosnia, despite the objection of some European allies on the ground and officials at the Pentagon who were reluctant to put U.S. troops in harm's way. And Lake was eager for the Clinton administration to send troops into Haiti to reverse a coup against democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a move that was averted by an 11th-hour negotiated agreement.
Not everyone who served in the Bill Clinton White House learned the same lessons. Obama adviser Daalder, who sat on Clinton's National Security Council, says the Balkan wars left him more skeptical about military intervention. "I'm more sober about the use of force than I was then," he says. "The ability to influence societies from outside is more limited than even people thought in the 1990s. The experiences in Kosovo and Bosnia are pretty sobering." And, Daalder adds, "I think the larger reality about Bosnia and Kosovo is that it's easier to fight splendid little wars we can win in the first instance than to build an enduring peace."
Clinton's other chief rival, Edwards, has taken the softest tone, talking about the U.S. "reclaiming the moral high ground," dropping the "war on terror nomenclature," and turning enemies into "friends." But even he won't rule out military strikes against Iran, and has called for sending UN forces into Sudan.
Of course, campaigns are all about getting elected. How any individual will ultimately govern is not easy to predict. "Unfortunately, political campaigns are not the right vehicle to develop foreign policy positions," says P.J. Crowley, director of homeland security at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington. In the 1992 presidential campaign, Crowley notes, Bill Clinton "was very critical of president [George H..] Bush on his China policy." But when it came to warming relations with China in the face of human rights concerns, Clinton, after winning office, "went further than any of his predecessors since Nixon." The current occupant of the White House is also a case in point. He campaigned on a humble foreign policy and said he had no interest in "nation-building." "I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military," Bush said in an October 2000 debate. "It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious." Or maybe not.
Last updated 17/11/2007