TCS Daily


Is There a Doctrine in the Haass?

By Michael Young - November 11, 2005 12:00 AM

Every few years, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former official in the Bush Sr. and Jr. administrations, gets the itch to ask: What grand design should guide American foreign policy? He did it in a 1995 essay in Foreign Affairs titled "Paradigm Lost", at a time when the Clinton administration was still wondering about how to deal with a post-Cold War world where the strategy of containment no longer applied; and he did it again in a New York Times opinion piece on November 8, one with a no less catchy title: "Is there a Doctrine in the House?"

Unfortunately, Haass' latest doctrine is rather less convincing than his 1995 effort. He rightly argues that the so-called Bush doctrine, best embodied in the September 2002 National Security Strategy, is more a hodgepodge of tactics, including counter-terrorism, pre-emption, unilateralism and democracy promotion, than a coherent whole. Democracy promotion in particular, Haass argues, is a legitimate foreign policy goal, "but to make it a doctrine is neither desirable nor practical." The realist in him sees no advantages in pursuing a democratic agenda in China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Russia, while in Iraq "the costs have been too high and the results too uneven to furnish any kind of a model for future operations."

What does Haass propose? Something he calls "integration", which, broadly speaking, means cooperating with other world powers "to build effective international arrangements and to take collective actions." It also means offering "rogue states the advantages of integration into the global economy in exchange for fundamentally changing their ways." Why? Because, as Haass sees it, the greatest threat to the United States comes from "the dark dimension of globalization, which includes terrorism, nuclear proliferation, infectious disease, protectionism and global climate change."

If all this sounds familiar, Haass admits, it's because the Bush administration has started adopting such principles. Perhaps, but there are two problems with his analysis: the administration never really abandoned key aspects of Haass' integration strategy, particularly pursuing effective international arrangements and collective actions; the NSS may have highlighted pre-emption, but as a bureaucratic document it also reflected the conflicting interests of rival administration officials. That's why several of its passages echo the multilateral internationalism, but also the realism, of which Haass approves.

The second problem is specific to the Middle East: integration is useful (though Haass makes it sound so obvious that it hardly qualifies as fresh), but there is an underlying premise to his advice that echoes the statements on Middle Eastern democratization of his onetime boss, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. As Scowcroft recently told Jeffrey Goldberg of The New Yorker: "This notion that inside every human being is the burning desire for freedom and liberty, much less democracy, is probably not the case... Have you read Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom? I don't agree with him, but some people don't really want to be free."

Haass and Scowcroft worry that democratization leads to instability, and for realists that is far worse than leaving predictable despots in peace and in place. The Bush administration has done itself few favors by botching postwar stabilization in Iraq, and critics charge that democracy there has failed to reverse this. However, in harking back to a time when democracy was not an American priority in the Middle East, Haass and Scowcroft sound almost as outdated as if they had prescribed containment to cure the region's woes. The democratic genie is already out of the bottle, and any serious foreign policy strategy must take that into consideration.

Even Haass himself, in writing that integration must advance political freedoms and change the behavior of rogue states, concedes more of state sovereignty than realists like: the U.S. should push for change where it can, he insists, including democratization, but not if this dents national security interests. The question is how do you define such interests in the Middle East? For the Bush administration, democracy, by reducing Arab frustration and limiting America's truck with thugs, is vital because it helps erode the impetus for anti-American terrorism; for the realists, stability, access to oil, and reliable alliances are preferable, though democracy might lose out.

Yet thanks to the Bush administration, democracy is now a living, breathing part of the Middle East's dynamics; there is no going back to the region presided over by Scowcroft and President George H.W. Bush; a time when Saddam Hussein was allowed to survive politically after his forces were removed from Kuwait; when Shiites and Kurds were left to be slaughtered by the Baathist regime, for fear that Saddam's ouster might somehow generate instability; when Lebanon was offered to Syria in exchange for Hafiz al-Assad's agreement to participate in the Gulf war coalition.

Whatever the setbacks in Iraq, the U.S. has unleashed powerful forces there. The religious parties may hold sway in Shiite areas, but that doesn't diminish the fact that the country has been through both an election and a referendum in less than a year, and that in December Iraqis will be asked to elect a new parliament. It doesn't make it less credible that the new constitution reflects a Kurdish and Shiite desire for greater freedom from a central authority both communities associate with the stifling former Baathist state. Iraq cannot easily return to the sham elections of the past, nor will its new national compact fail to encourage other browbeaten minorities -- for example Shiites in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia or Kurds in Syria and Iran -- to demand fairer representation in their own countries.

The problem with the realist foreign policy critique is that, by tending to be mechanistic, it is often blind to the more intangible impulses the U.S. generates through its actions. Haass may be right in regarding the blanket implementation of democracy as an unneeded problem in relations with certain countries. But he is wrong in assuming that the U.S. is still at a stage, particularly in the Middle East, where it can forecast how the peoples of the region will address such issues as liberty and democracy. Neither the Iraqis, nor for that matter the Lebanese, embraced these values in the past year for the sake of the Bush administration; they did so because the U.S. offered them a chance to advance their own self-interest that was too good to miss.

That is why any future U.S. administration, in failing to make democracy a cornerstone of its doctrine, risks being left behind by a region far less timid than those like Haass perceive. In the end, though, no policy goal is absolute: American democratization efforts will, for a time, have to coexist with tolerance for dictatorial regimes. But the key difference is that that tolerance should be seen as temporary, so that Middle Eastern leaders accept that open societies are an American requirement. It's time to close the book on those days when democracy was so vague a demand that it, predictably, never materialized.

Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon and a contributing editor at Reason magazine in the United States.

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