Thursday, July 19, 2007

An American Grand Strategy for 2009?

Charles Kupchan and Peter Trubowitz have a great article in the current Foreign Affairs analyzing today's partisan divisions in Washington, and their implications for American grand strategy:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the collapse of bipartisanship and liberal internationalism did not start with George W. Bush. Bipartisanship dropped sharply following the end of the Cold War, reaching a post-World War II low after the Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994. Repeated clashes over foreign policy between the Clinton administration and Congress marked the hollowing out of the bipartisan center that had been liberal internationalism's political base. The Bush administration then dismantled what remained of the moderate center, ensuring that today's partisan divide is every bit as wide as the interwar schism that haunted [Walter] Lippmann [who is cited in the article's opening paragraph]. Democratic and Republican lawmakers now hold very different views on foreign policy. On the most basic questions of U.S. grand strategy -- the sources and purposes of U.S. power, the use of force, the role of international institutions -- representatives of the two parties are on different planets.

Most Republicans in Congress contend that U.S. power depends mainly on the possession and use of military might, and they view institutionalized cooperation primarily as an impediment. They staunchly back the Bush administration's ongoing effort to pacify Iraq. When the new Congress took its first votes on the Iraq war in the beginning of this year, only 17 of the 201 Republicans in the House crossed party lines to oppose the recent surge in U.S. troops. In the Senate, only two Republicans joined the Democrats to approve a resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal. In contrast, most Democrats maintain that U.S. power depends more on persuasion than coercion and needs to be exercised multilaterally. They want out of Iraq: 95 percent of House and Senate Democrats have voted to withdraw U.S. troops in 2008. With the Republicans opting for the use of force and the Democrats for international cooperation, the bipartisan compact between power and partnership -- the formula that brought liberal internationalism to life -- has come undone.

To be sure, the Republican Party is still home to a few committed multilateralists, such as Senators Richard Lugar (of Indiana) and Chuck Hagel (of Nebraska). But they are isolated within their own ranks. And some Democrats, especially those eyeing the presidency, are keen to demonstrate their resolve on matters of national defense. But the party leaders are being pushed to the left by increasingly powerful party activists. The ideological overlap between the two parties is thus minimal, and the areas of concord are superficial at best. Most Republicans and Democrats still believe that the United States has global responsibilities, but there is little agreement on how to match means and ends. And on the central question of power versus partnership, the two parties are moving in opposite directions -- with the growing gap evident among the public as well as political elites.
With polls showing Americans favorable to the Democrats heading into 2008, the pull of the Democratic Party's activist wing threatens the foundations of American internationalism and military readiness. Thus, with the prospects of a Democratic presidential win next year, the Kupchan and Trubowitz article provides a useful template for a centrist American grand strategy, providing a step back from the utopianism of the Bush foreign policy, but retaining a sense of realism in America's indispensibility to world prosperity and security.

Read the whole thing. Kupchan and Trubowitz offer a six-point plan for restoring political equilibrium to American grand strategy amid current poliltical polarization.

The authors propose the move toward greater burden-sharing with America's allies; the renunciation of regime change in favor of a policy of targeting discrete terror cells and networks; rebuilding American hard military power; greater diplomatic engagement with the international system's great powers; greater energy independence; and the increased reliance on informal, task-specific working groups of international conflict management, rather that continued emphasis on traditional formalized international institutions of the Cold War era.

The Kupchan/Trubrowitz grand strategy is attractive in its pragmatism. It promotes continued internationalism, but doesn't discount the reality and necessity of power in international life.

If I had any disappointments with the framework I'd say that the neglect of democracy promotion would be too large a step back from the Bush revolution in foreign affairs. Promotion of democracy -- using the means laid forth within the Kupchan/Trubowitz template -- is entirely reasonable and promising. Military democracy promotion is out for the short-term, but
America's insistence on democratic norms and systems as the basic principles of international cooperation and political development should not be discounted.

I think Democrats and Republicans can unite around such an agenda, and visionary leadership can give the approach a guiding hand.

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