Thursday, October 30, 2003
By way of Professor Drezner, I found out today that Matthew Yglesias from The American Prospect is in quite an argument with Rich Lowry of National Review. The focus of the argument is Lowry's new book, which blames Clinton for neglecting the threat from al-Qaeda and thereby permitting 9/11 to occur.

I have no intention of getting in the middle of this debate; Mssrs. Yglesias and Lowry are more than capable of sorting this out on their own. My own take on the situation was in the comments to Dr. Drezner's post, and I'll reproduce a portion here:

(And, of course, in all likelihood, no one saw the attack coming. If we had, we might have prevented it by catching the terrorists on U.S. soil, though they'd be hard to charge. And the charges of anti-Arab bias based on made-up threats out of Tom Clancy novels would be deafening. Best case, we put these guys in jail, and bin Laden sends a dozen more. As a nation, we simply were not equipped to deal with this threat -- militarily or politically. Any attempt to change this would have been labeled scare-mongering or simply anti-Arab bigotry.)

. . .So frankly, I'm not sure that the 9/11 attacks were preventable: as a country, we were simply too complacent, beguiled by silly notions of UN-guaranteed "world peace" and "the end of history." (I don't exclude myself from this criticism.) It's unfortunate that lessons to the contrary had to be so painful.
(If this sounds familiar, it's essentially what I said in one of my more infamous posts at LGF.)

In my post on Dr. Drezner's site, I go pretty far out of my way to avoid laying full culpability for the 9/11 attacks on Clinton. On the other hand, Dr. Drezner also links to Paul Mason's would-be defense of Clinton's foreign policy, which I think deserves a response.

According to right-wing American commentators, Clinton's foreign policy was weak. He was a loser. He cut defence spending, reduced the number of soldiers in the army and was reluctant to use US power abroad. Clinton pursued "social work" abroad, he was "short-termist", "ineffectual", "sycophantic" and "without a clue".
I guess I'm not sufficiently right-wing, so I won't go that far. Defense spending cuts started under Bush Sr., and at any rate, Clinton simply went along with the prevailing wisdom of the time, which was that with the Cold War over, the U.S. simply no longer needed the military it had and should prepare for a more cooperative, more peaceful world. Clinton may have lacked the foresight to challenge conventional wisdom in this regard, but he was certainly no Carter, working for "peace" against all odds and common sense. Not exactly a high standard to use, but Clinton does exceed it.
Throughout his presidency, members of Clinton's administration endeavoured to make sure that alternative models of capitalism gave way to US standards. Their biggest success was probably the destruction of the Asian economic model. In the immediate aftermath of the South-East Asian crisis of 1997-1998, senior US officials at the IMF, Wall Street banks, the US Treasury and the Federal Reserve rewrote the region's constitutions, smearing the Asian model as "crony capitalism".
While members of Clinton's foreign policy team doubtless deserve much credit for making Asian economies more open, I believe this credits them a bit too much. Simply put, the Asian model wasn't "smeared," as Mason puts it -- it was crony capitalism, without the dynamism and truly open markets necessary for the system to benefit people other than the well-connected. And getting someone to radically alter their practices after a crisis, is not exactly a Herculean feat.

Furthermore, Clinton's team was working from an advantage of being in charge of the largest and most productive economy on the planet, shortly after its main political rival had fallen apart. The U.S. had nearly awe-inspiring credibility on that front -- and still does -- and very little of it properly belongs to the Clinton team, which inherited all the benefits of winning the Cold War. Certainly diplomacy and nuance helped their goals in Asia, but mostly they could come in with a demonstrably superior economic model, which essentially sold itself.

These same officials brought China into the World Trade Organisation, thus killing off any chance that China would return to communism. . .
This statement is absurd. China is still very much a communist nation, albeit with pockets of capitalism in places. Furthermore, should China decide to close off its borders, throw out foreigners, and keep their goodies, the WTO is not exactly in a position to stop it. They will probably never return to pure communism -- but that's because they see a mixed economy as benefiting their nation (and them personally), not because of some piece of paper they signed when they joined the WTO. Joining did give China some benefits and raised its credibility slightly, but it has put zero constraints on China's behavior. It's hard to constrain a nation with its own nuclear arsenal -- a point that seems germane given the whole premise of Mason's essay.
. . .and made sure that global accounting and banking standards were written according to US standards. By the end of the 1990s, Clinton's team had effectively created a first draft of a global economic constitution, one that was a mirror image of America's own.
Again, while much credit does go to the Clinton team, it did represent the world's most vibrant and fastest-growing economy. It's hard to argue with success, and Asia didn't.
With this kind of record, it seems absurd to argue that Clinton's foreign policy was weak.
This is a total red herring. Conservatives never accused Clinton of carrying out a weak economic policy with basically-friendly nations. When using words like "weak" and "feckless," conservatives refer specifically to Clinton's dealings with overtly hostile nations and outfits. It's not his dealings with the Asian meltdown (or the Mexican financial crisis) that are at issue -- it's his response (or rather lack thereof) to repeated attacks on U.S. interests by Islamic terrorists. There's also his performance in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, but we'll save that for another day.
But George W Bush has no time for any of this. His administration's understanding of power is far more traditional, with an emphasis on military force and narrow economic advantage.
Whenever I see someone pretending to know what's on Bush's mind -- what his "understanding" of something is -- my bullshit detector starts twitching.
As a consequence, military spending, even before 9/11, rose sharply and continues to increase. . .
That's because Bush felt that the military had been trimmed too far during the Clinton years. (You might remember this issue discussed by the Bush and Gore campaigns.) Which, as it turned out, was true.
. . .the number of countries with an American military presence has shot up. . .
Whoa, there! Hold up a bit! When did this number "shoot up"? That wasn't until after 9/11, when the Bushies went after al-Qaeda hard-core. That required deploying to Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and if memory serves, Kyrgyztan. There was also a small deployment to Djibouti. The invasion of Iraq required basing in Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan, but has now been offset by withdrawal from Saudi Arabia. Bush's shifting of the troops was necessitated by world events and politics on the ground (especially vis-a-vis the Saudis), not by some traditional understanding of power. Quite to the contrary, prior to 9/11, Bush talked a lot about avoiding nation-building, and being a "humble country."

It's worth noting that all of these countries acquiesced to the U.S. basing troops on their soil -- even though for them, the U.S. presense carried with it high domestic political costs (unlike, say, China's WTO admission). Seems like when it comes to "soft power," the Bush administration is at least as good as its predecessor.

. . .and his presidency's key financial priority has been on energy security – ensuring the US has access to oil supplies.
OK, now I'm just wondering what Mason is talking about. It sounds like he's just re-hashing the "war-for-oil" rhetoric, which is not a credit to his essay. I fail to see how Bush's foreign policy has been any more about energy security than Clinton's -- except for the fact that Iraq is involved. But if all Bush wanted was Iraqi oil, there were far easier ways to get it -- and Franco-Russian gratitude would come as a bonus.
Global financial standards and institutions, even though they are of incredible benefit to the US, are now regularly sidelined and, in some cases, in danger of becoming obsolete.
Again, I'm at a loss as to what global financial standards and institutions Mason refers to. It's not like the U.S. is trying to scuttle the World Bank here.
And the funny thing is, everyone else has accepted Bush's take on power.
Perhaps because it's not all that controversial.
In the wake of the war in Iraq, those who discuss foreign policy rarely mention financial power, or even globalisation.
That's because globalisation only works as a policy when your rivals let it. We used financial and trade barriers against Iraq with some moderate success, but they were ultimately cruel and unsustainable. Against the 10th-century reactionaries of Islamic fascism, it's useless. (Never mind that the Arab countries that are rich in oil are essentially immune from such pressures.)
But Bush and Clinton are more similar than anyone seems to accept; they both tried to use American power to remake the world. While Bush's military approach is obvious, Clinton's was more subtle and, possibly, more effective. How many cruise missiles would it take to get the Chinese to abandon communism?
Here the essay shifts from merely non-sequiturial to simply nonsensical. The Chinese haven't abandoned communism, and whatever strides towards capitalism they did make (starting in the Nixon years) were not because of Clinton's successful "soft" foreign policy. Quite simply put, they realized that they had way more people than they could hope to feed, and acted with wisdom almost uncharacteristic of Communists. Again, it's hard to argue with success. To credit Clinton with the opening of China is the height of sycophantic absurdity. And furthermore, neither Clinton nor Bush set out with the goal of "remaking the world" -- Bush specifically rejected this goal prior to 9/11, and as for Clinton, he seemed to barely have any foreign policy goals at all. Both men simply dealt with what they perceived to be the most serious issues of their time -- that would be the transition to a post-Cold-War environment and dealing with emerging Asian economies for Clinton, and Arab/Islamic terrorism for Bush. Given the vastly different problems, it seems reasonable to expect dissimilar solutions -- which is what we got. Frankly, given Clinton's dubious record on battling terrorism, it's hard to see why Bush should use his methods.
A consequence of Bush's 'one level' understanding of power has been a massive increase in the power of the US government in military terms, while simultaneously, suffering a huge loss of financial power.
The increase of U.S. military power has come as a consequence of a mass murder committed on U.S. soil on September 11th, 2001. It's that simple. Nothing in Clinton's foreign policy prevented this, and it's unlikely that he would have simply continued with business-as-usual had the attacks happened on his watch. Economic power is not particularly useful against guys hiding out in caves.
On top of the rise in military spending, and the new bases – most notably in Central Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan – the war in Iraq was an incredibly forceful demonstration of US military force. However, during this time, and not helped by profligate military spending, US government debt has risen enormously.
It's called wartime, and I take exception to description of the military spending as "profligate." Mason keeps giving the impression that Bush just randomly decided to invade a country or two.

It's also worth pointing out that part of the problem is the popping of the high-tech bubble of the 1990s, which produced a sharp slowdown in the economy (complete with a single recessionary quarter), even though spending levels had risen during the boom.

Then there's Congress, which in the wake of September 11th, actually exceeded the Administration's appropriation requests by billions of dollars.

As a result, the US government is now heavily reliant on Japanese, Chinese and other investors in other south-east Asian countries to keep on buying its debt (in the form of Treasury Bills). Without this financial support, US interest rates would rise sharply, devastating the country's economy.
True, though I'm not sure what the point is. Clearly, those countries except the economy to improve, since they are not generally in the foreign-aid business.
However, there is little reason why anyone outside the US should follow Bush in his obsession with military dominance.
Perhaps, but it's worth noting that without matching military dominance, most countries of the world no longer have a real say in its affairs. That the U.S. can dismissively refer to Germany and France -- combined! -- as "Old Europe" and tell them to get stuffed, is no small matter. That North Korea can do the same, is even more significant. That Israel disregard the EU is nearly mind-boggling. The events of the last couple of years clearly demonstrate that "hard power," so easily dismissed by Mason, is what's really behind the "soft power" of trade and financial policies -- which is why the EU, for all its wealth, is utterly impotent in the face of American military action. (They are nowhere near as helpless on the political or financial fronts, of course. Hence their frustration that Bush went with the military route. But even the Europeans' financial strength is ultimately guaranteed by American good will and military protection.)
As Nye says, military power is only one form of power
This is simply false. Military power is the ultimate source of any other power. Just ask Commodore Perry.
By meekly accepting Bush's definition of power, many countries, particularly in the EU, allow their own priorities, such as the environment, restructuring the international financial architecture and addressing poverty, to be sidelined.
I will leave alone the sycophantic sop to the EU's oh-so-precious concerns about the environment and "addressing poverty." Instead, I will point out that the one time the Clinton team did make a significant change on the ground somewhere, it was in the Balkans -- where all the EU "soft power" couldn't make an iota of difference, in spite of the fact that they were next door, and the countries involved were completely dependent on them for trade. Clinton used "hard power" to effect a change, and it worked. In North Korea, Clinton tried to use "soft power" -- in the form of the aforementioned Jimmy Carter -- to get the Kim government to stop its nuclear program. That worked really well, eh?


Post a Comment



Blog Archive