Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 14, 2004
WAR: The Missing M.O.
As David Adesnik notes, the Reagan foreign policy legacy of using democracy promotion as a strategy and not just an aspiration is alive and well in the Bush Administration's Iraq policy.
But there is one significant area in which Bush has thus far not made use of the Reagan era precedents. There were, to simplify a bit, three major foreign policy approaches during the Cold War. One, identified primarily with the Nixon and Ford years, was Detente: treating the Soviet Union as if it was any other nation and making deals that presupposed that we could peacefully co-exist with a massive tyranny. One, identified mostly with Truman and JFK, was Containment: the idea that if we refused to do anything to assist the Soviets and opposed their expansion at every turn, the combination of the Communist centrally planned economic system and the Soviet empire's ethnic tensions (George Kennan particularly stressed the latter) would sooner or later cause the whole system to collapse under its own weight. The third, coined during the Eisenhower years, was Rollback - the idea that rather than wait passively for trouble, the United States should work to undermine Communist control of captive nations.
It's clear that no administration relied exclusively on one of these strategies; most tended to pursue a mixture of all three, but there was a distinct shift in emphasis from one administration to the next, and the Reagan years involved particularly agressive efforts not only to peel back recent Communist gains but to undermine the basis of Communist tyranny in the heartland of the Warsaw Pact nations.
Of course, a similar debate over the overall strategy is alive today, as President Bush pushes for rolling back the terror-sponsoring tyrannies of the Arab world, while critics argue for a more reactive "containment" strategy. What's particularly worth remembering from the Reagan years, however, is that there were multiple ways to skin the cat of Soviet oppression, and the Bush team doesn't seem to be doing much to project two of America's most potent weapons: material support for domestic insurgencies fighting within tyrranies, and ensuring that our message gets heard within those nations.
On the latter there have been some efforts to revive the "Radio Free Europe" concept for the Arab world. On the former, though, we seem to have no strategy. Granted, supporting revolts within Iraq failed miserably in the 1990s. But in some of the other Arab or Muslim states in the region, the ground may be more fertile, notably in Iran, where popular discontent with the mullahrchy appears to be widespread. We don't want or need to wait to go to open war with Iran to put our efforts into weakening or removing its oppressive government.