The Real Foreign-Policy Debate
It's not just Democrats vs. Republicans.
It's Locke vs. Hobbes.
by John Judis
The American Prospect, May 6, 2002
The Bush administration is on the verge of making momentous
decisions in foreign policy that will shape the country's role
in the world for the next quarter-century. Nonetheless, there
is an astonishing lack of public discussion of these decisions,
particularly among Democrats. Most Democratic senators and House
members, intimidated by Bush's popularity, are afraid to discuss,
let alone criticize, administration foreign policy. Even Democratic
organizations are silent on many issues. Try to find out whether
the United States should invade Iraq from the Web sites sponsored
by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the Campaign for America's
Future, or the Progressive Caucus.
The Democratic presidential candidates are no help either.
Former Vice President Al Gore's address in February to the Council
on Foreign Relations was a model of equivocation. And Massachusetts
Senator John Kerry is desperately trying to position himself to
Bush's right without committing himself to any substantive proposal.
In a recent interview, Kerry descended into parody by admonishing
Bush for allowing General Tommy Franks to conduct the war in Afghanistan
from Tampa, Florida. "I think that's only one issue of a
whole number that have made the next steps much more complicated
than they necessarily have to be," Kerry said.
The person who has most tried to articulate a distinctly Democratic
foreign policy is Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, the chairman
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Some smart-ass Washington
journalists dismiss Biden as a lightweight and a blowhard, but
he is an earnest man who has been more willing than any other
elected Democrat to engage the Bush administration in debate.
He has been joined periodically by Majority Leader Tom Daschle,
former President Bill Clinton, and some former Clinton administration
officials. Their statements have not produced a clear and unambiguous
doctrine. But underlying what seem like purely tactical disagreements
with specific Bush policies is a dramatically different way of
understanding foreign policy.
ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS.
Bush's policy toward Israel has been a welter of confusion-on
one hand, declaring support for a Palestinian state; on the other,
giving assent to the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank
and destruction of the Palestinian Authority, which would govern
a new state. A few Democrats, such as New York Senator Charles
Schumer and California Senator Dianne Feinstein, want the United
States to treat Yasir Arafat as a terrorist and throw its entire
weight behind Ariel Sharon's attempt to undermine his authority.
But most Democrats, including Biden and former Clinton officials,
argue that the United States should resume the mediating role
it played during the Clinton years. They say it should intervene
forcefully on behalf of a plan that combines a cease-fire with
concrete steps toward a Palestinian state. And, they contend,
it should do so with the active participation of Arab and European
What has bothered all of these Democrats has been Bush's refusal
to throw America's weight behind a solution. Before September
1l, Bush appeared to regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as
a morass from which the United States should keep its distance.
Since then, he has subordinated its resolution to the war against
terrorism and the mobilization against Iraq-and only sent Secretary
of State Colin Powell to the region when the conflict threatened
to plunge the Arab world into turmoil. Democrats have always believed
this conflict's resolution was vital to the United States. A cynic
might attribute this belief to the power that Jews wield within
the Democratic Party; but it has much more to do with how Democrats
envisage America's responsibility in the world than it does with
narrow political concerns.
A few Democrats, including Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman,
have advocated ousting Saddam Hussein as part of the "first
phase" of the war against terrorism. Correspondingly, a few
Democrats have cast doubt on whether the United States should
even worry about Iraq. But most leading Democrats, including Biden
and Gore's national security adviser, Leon Fuerth, have taken
a much more ambiguous position. They have not criticized Bush
for advocating Saddam's ouster but for moving too precipitously
and unilaterally toward that end.
At a speech in Washington, Biden laid out a three-step strategy:
First, wage a public campaign to inform our potential allies about
Saddam's capabilities; second, assure the Russians that we will
not use Saddam's ouster to replace Russian oil companies with
American ones; third, seek to win Saddam's acceptance of UN arms
inspectors. But "if you do not have any response from Saddam,"
Biden said, "then be very straightforward about it, like
[former Ohio State football coach] Woody Hayes. Here we come and
what are you going to do about it? Literally begin to amass force."
Biden and other Democrats want Bush to build a coalition against
Saddam. They believe that without international support, especially
among Arab countries, the United States will have difficulty mounting
a military operation. And, they say, if it attempts to do so anyway,
it could sow instability in the countries neighboring Iraq. They
also want the United States to attempt to restore UN sanctions,
even if they believe-as Biden and Fuerth do- that Saddam will
resist admitting inspectors and continue to seek weapons of mass
destruction. They worry that Bush is determined to go after Saddam
even without the support of other countries.
HOBBES VERSUS LOCKE.
These seemingly tactical reservations are underscored by a deeper
division between the Democrats and the Bush administration. As
had become apparent before 9-11, Bush has abandoned the internationalist
perspective that shaped foreign policy in the first Bush and the
Clinton administrations. Instead, Bush, influenced by his Pentagon
rather than by his more internationalist State Department, has
adopted a foreign policy based on a cramped view of American interests
and a deeply pessimistic outlook on international relations.
Bush officials such as Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz envisage an America surrounded by
adversaries and potential adversaries who must be deterred by
superior U.S. military power. (In 199z, Wolfowitz authored a Pentagon
strategy that included Germany and Japan as potential enemies.)
Bush officials do not reject coalitions per se, but they do reject
any idea of collective security. They have opposed both arms control
and environmental agreements. They favor overseas intervention,
but only when it is tied to a narrow definition of U.S. national
interest. They don't like committing America to "nation-building,"
whether in the Balkans, Afghanistan, or the West Bank. For them,
the September 1l attacks confirmed their views that a Hobbesian
state of nature stirs beneath the post-Cold War I calm. They see
the war on terrorism not as a collective effort to rid the world
of al-Qaeda but as an American effort, aided by other countries,
to destroy worldwide enemies.
Most Democrats, whatever their stand on Israel or Iraq, disagree
with this approach. Democrats have not merely favored coalitions,
they have seen alliances and international treaties as an essential
aspect of U.S. foreign policy. Democrats seek collective security
in order to create the economic and political stability in which
America, as well as other nations, can prosper. They do not see
a U.S. military monopoly as a prerequisite for security but rather
as a waste of precious resources- and an invitation to future
conflict. They believe that September 1l demonstrated that such
security cannot be achieved unilaterally. But they also see the
outbreak of Islamic terrorism as an eruption that-like that of
Nazism-can be overcome. Theirs is a Lockean view of international
relations-of a world that eventually can be governed by social
contracts rather than by the threat of force. In a speech at Harvard
last November, Clinton argued that, in the face of 9-11, that
the world is becoming more rather than less pacific. "I for
one do not believe that the twenty-first century will claim anywhere
near as many innocent lives as the twentieth century did,"
Democrats base the necessity for collective security on the
global interdependence created by the spread of market institutions
and the Internet. The United States, Daschle argued last August,
is "a nation as susceptible to an explosives-laden skiff
as it is to nuclear weapons; a nation that can be attacked by
a single terrorist or the rising tide of global warming, a computer
virus or a biological one; a nation unrivaled in its economic
strength, but whose strength is increasingly tied to the economic
and political stability of the rest of the world." Globalization
creates new dangers that only collective action can address. But
it also threatens autocracies like the former Soviet Union and
creates the opportunity for new kinds of cooperation and common
aspiration-if (and this was the heart of Clinton's argument) it
is supplemented by measures to encourage political democracy
and greater economic equality. 'Democracies don't go to war against
each other, and by and large they don't sponsor terrorism,"
Clinton declared at Harvard.
Not every Democrat has endorsed this halcyon view of globalization.
Some labor Democrats, for instance, remain committed to economic
protectionism; others to a more regionalized and fragmented international
economy. But many new and old Democrats have adopted versions
of this global outlook. The DLC has always championed free trade
but is now also promoting a new global Marshall Plan to mitigate
the inequality that globalization has sometimes fostered between
rich and poor nations. And the AFL-CIO leadership, while favoring
some interim trade protections, is now committed to the promulgation
of international rules that would protect all workers.
This view, which dates back to Woodrow Wilson in 1917, underpins
the Democrats' support for active intervention in Sarajevo and
Ramallah, even where U.S. interests are not directly in peril.
It lies at the bottom of Democrats' support for NATO and the U.N.
Conversely, the Bush administration's Hobbesian view has contributed
to its inaction in Israel, its enthusiasm for national missile
defense, and its blind determination to go after Iraq. It's not
likely that the discussion between the Democrats and the Bush
administration will plumb these philosophical abstractions-Hobbes
and Locke aren't commonly discussed on Face the Nation. If some
Democrats besides Biden finally begin criticizing the administration's
foreign policy, they are likely to focus on the specifics of administration
policy. But what will underlie and reinforce those disagreements
is a larger disagreement about where the world is going, and how
Americans should try to shape it.
JOHN B. JUDIS is a senior editor at The New Republic