Monday, January 26, 2009

Embracing Networked Managerialism in the Service of a Global (American) Power

The American periodical Foreign Affairs recently congratulated itself for its role in serving as midwife to what appears to be the political line to be taken by the incoming Secretary of State, Mrs. H.R. Clinton. The Origins of Clinton's Soft Power, Foreign Affairs Newsletter, Jan. 21, 2009 ("In a Senate confirmation hearing last week, Hillary Clinton used the term "smart power" more than ten times to argue that in the Obama administration, diplomacy would be at the "vanguard" of how the United States engages allies and adversaries alike. The phrase was first coined in a 2004 essay in Foreign Affairs by Suzanne Nossel, now the Chief Operating Officer for Human Rights Watch."). It seems that "liberal internationalism" (id.) is very much in the air in Washington--"as Senator Jim Webb remarked at the end of last week's hearing, 'I guess the phrase of the week is 'smart power.''" (Id.). Foreign Affairs has a point. And it is worth taking a moment to remind ourselves what this might mean for American outlooks in the coming months. For that purpose I will take a brief look at both the original article in which the notion of "smart power" was birthed and its appropriate by Mrs. Clinton years later.

Suzanne Nossel, smarting from an overabundance of ire at the foreign policy ways of the apparatchniks of the last Bush administration, penned an elegy to her recollection of a different way of approaching issues of America's role in the world. Suzanne Nossel, Smart Power, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2004. She argues that "Progressives now have a historic opportunity to reorient U.S. foreign policy around an ambitious agenda of their own. The unparalleled strength of the United States, the absence of great-power conflict, the fears aroused by September 11, and growing public skepticism of the Bush administration's militarism have created a political opening for a cogent, visionary alternative to the president's foreign policy." Nossel, supra. For that purpose, Nossel draws on what she calls liberal internationalism:
which posits that a global system of stable liberal democracies would be less prone to war. Washington, the theory goes, should thus offer assertive leadership -- diplomatic, economic, and not least, military -- to advance a broad array of goals: self-determination, human rights, free trade, the rule of law, economic development, and the quarantine and elimination of dictators and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Unlike conservatives, who rely on military power as the main tool of statecraft, liberal internationalists see trade, diplomacy, foreign aid, and the spread of American values as equally important.
Nossel, supra. Liberal internationalism posits a set of goals roughly similar to those of its conservative colleagues, but to be obtained partially, slowly and through the use of a very different set of tools. But that is bad news--the corruption of a set of tools for bad ends. "Conservative appropriation of liberal internationalist tenets might sound like good news for progressives. It is not. By invoking the rhetoric of human rights and democracy to further the aggressive projection of unilateral military power, conservatives have tainted liberal internationalist ideals and the United States' role in promoting them." Nossel, supra. And, indeed, the rhetoric of corruption is not far beneath the analysis of liberal internationalism, as self-affirming critique: "There is a second problem with conservatives' brand of democratization. Having initially rejected nation-building on principle and then ignored the advice of planners and experts on what to expect in postwar Iraq, the Bush administration has proven woefully ill equipped to implement in practice the ideals it purports to champion. The result has been a chaotic and deadly occupation that has deepened doubts about U.S. motives abroad." Id.

In effect, Nossel posits that the ultimate assumptions of conservatives are flawed--there is no possibility of total victory (the underlying assumption of military action), there is only the possibility of managing problems--and outliving them. For that purpose, containment and the tools of soft warfare are most suited. And the ideal of complete victory secondary, at best to the true objects of internationalism--containment, management, and eventually outliving either the conflict or the enemy. See, e.g., Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part IV, Managing Popular Expression and Democratic Impulse in Sudan, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 25, 2007; Larry Catá Backer, ETA and the Management of Revolution in a Bureaucratic World, Law at the End of the Day, May 14, 2008; Larry Catá Backer, The Devil’s Advocate: The West, the Invincible Guerrilla, the Value of Violence and the Rise of a Management Model of War, Law at the End of the Day, August 7, 2006. In Nossel's words: "focusing on the smart use of power to promote U.S. interests through a stable grid of allies, institutions, and norms. They must define an agenda that marshals all available sources of power and then apply it in bold yet practical ways to counter threats and capture opportunities." Nossel, supra.

The great model model of liberal internationalism, perversely enough, is that course of conduct that ultimately resulted in the exhaustion and disappearance of the Soviet Union and its empire--a course of conduct best known by its most skillful devotee, Ronald Reagan. "As fascism and communism once did, terrorism and nuclear proliferation today make the liberal internationalist agenda as urgent as ever. Liberal societies are not only less prone to war but also less likely to breed or knowingly harbor terrorists. It is no coincidence that many countries on the Justice Department's terrorist watch list also appear in the Freedom House inventory of the world's most repressive regimes. Progressives, therefore, must refrain U.S. foreign policy according to their abiding belief that an ambitious agenda to advance freedom, trade, and human rights is the best long-term guarantee of the United States' security against terrorism and other threats." Nossel, supra. Though Ronald Reagan lurks in the background of smart power, it is to John Kennedy, that other proxy figure of American values, whom Nossel invokes: "A smart definition of U.S. interest would recast the fight against terror and nuclear proliferation just as Kennedy recast containment, transforming it from a dark, draining struggle into a hopeful, progressive cause aimed at securing an international system of liberal societies and defeating challenges to it." Id.

Networks, institutions and rules now serve as a means of management, and through management the protection of the privileged place of the United States. . . or its survival. "The global order created by Roosevelt and Harry Truman was like an electrical grid that maintains equilibrium across different power sources and users. The nature of today's threats -- rogues and terrorists, not other great powers -- attests to the enduring success of this strategy. The international system they built became so broad and cohesive that outliers became few in number and easily recognized." Id. The bureaucratization and juridification of political intercourse is an essential element of this framework for action. Americans can have it all through a liberal agenda--dominance, power, privilege, and the embrace of its values as a universal grounding for global governance. Thus,
liberal internationalism enfolds the fight against terrorism and rogues into an ideology and set of interests that many U.S. allies already share. By linking today's struggles to long-standing European visions of collective security, liberal internationalism can take advantage of Europe's commitment to humanitarian aid, postconflict resolution, policing, and development. Similarly, by incorporating into the agenda a genuine commitment to free trade and economic development, liberal internationalism can impress Latin American, Asian, and African countries that otherwise view the U.S. antiterrorist agenda as neglectful of their priorities. Moreover, building a broad-based liberal internationalist movement will not force the United States to give up the driver's seat. On the contrary, liberal internationalism has flourished during periods of U.S. preeminence. The key is that other nations must welcome rather than resent U.S. leadership. A new liberal internationalist approach would persuade much of the world once again to contribute its resources and energy to U.S. causes.
Nossel, supra. The object, then, is to revitalize the grid of network and ideological power in the service of American interests as a more effective way to domination than the more crude and ultimately offensive direct approach. But all in the service of the good--that is, the good for everybody.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has morphed Nossel's notions into a platform in a more recent essay, penned during the course of her campaign against President Obama. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Security and Opportunity for the Twenty first Century, Foreign Affairs, Nov./Dec. 2007. Clinton echoes Nossel's points--American militarism has served American interests badly. If the object is the maintenance of domination and the superiority of those values that serve the United States, then methods other than direct military intervention might serve Americans better.
The tragedy of the last six years is that the Bush administration has squandered the respect, trust, and confidence of even our closest allies and friends. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the United States enjoyed a unique position. Our world leadership was widely accepted and respected, as we strengthened old alliances and built new ones, worked for peace across the globe, advanced nonproliferation, and modernized our military. After 9/11, the world rallied behind the United States as never before, supporting our efforts to remove the Taliban in Afghanistan and go after the al Qaeda leadership. We had a historic opportunity to build a broad global coalition to combat terror, increase the impact of our diplomacy, and create a world with more partners and fewer adversaries.
Clinton, supra. She would invoke that "tradition of global leadership rooted in a preference for cooperating over acting unilaterally, for exhausting diplomacy before making war, and for converting old adversaries into allies rather than making new enemies." Id. She too, would invoke smart power. "To reclaim our proper place in the world, the United States must be stronger, and our policies must be smarter. " Id.

For that purpose, Mrs. Clinton would avoid the crudity of bald militarism. Militarism, as a foreign policy force, has been largely ineffective and anathema since the great victories over militarism in the middle of the last century and the success of the largely American efforts to reduce its conceptual value in foreign policy. Smart power means reducing the militarist option, though by no means avoiding it altogether. "Use our military not as the solution to every problem but as one element in a comprehensive strategy." Id. Like Ms. Nossel, Mrs. Clinton understands the value of networks and institutions as mechanisms through which problems can be managed and issues diffused--long enough to overcome them by inertia if necessary. Mrs. Clinton declares:
Make international institutions work, and work through them when possible. Contrary to what many in the current administration appear to believe, international institutions are tools rather than traps. The United States must be prepared to act on its own to defend its vital interests, but effective international institutions make it much less likely that we will have to do so.
Id. And most important of all, Mrs. Clinton, like Ms. Nossel, understands the value of ideas and their utility in foreign policy. She says: "Stand for and live up to our values. The values that our founders embraced as universal have shaped the aspirations of millions of people around the world and are the deepest source of our strength -- but only as long as we live up to them ourselves. As we seek to promote the rule of law in other nations, we must accept it ourselves. As we counsel liberty and justice for all, we cannot support torture and the indefinite detention of individuals we have declared to be beyond the law. " Id.

The point of all of this is also clear in Mrs. Clinton's mind: produce a stronger America, defeat America's enemies, and reassure its traditional allies. Id. She also posits the utility of networks and containment as the dual cords to be utilized around the necks of American enemies. . . and tightened.

The case in point is Iran. Iran poses a long-term strategic challenge to the United States, our NATO allies, and Israel. It is the country that most practices state-sponsored terrorism, and it uses its surrogates to supply explosives that kill U.S. troops in Iraq. The Bush administration refuses to talk to Iran about its nuclear program, preferring to ignore bad behavior rather than challenge it. Meanwhile, Iran has enhanced its nuclear-enrichment capabilities, armed Iraqi Shiite militias, funneled arms to Hezbollah, and subsidized Hamas, even as the government continues to hurt its own citizens by mismanaging the economy and increasing political and social repression. . . .

On the other hand, if Iran is in fact willing to end its nuclear weapons program, renounce sponsorship of terrorism, support Middle East peace, and play a constructive role in stabilizing Iraq, the United States should be prepared to offer Iran a carefully calibrated package of incentives. This will let the Iranian people know that our quarrel is not with them but with their government and show the world that the United States is prepared to pursue every diplomatic option.

Id. To these ends, networks of rising powers would serve as effective allies. Sounding liberal in a Kissinger kind of way, Mrs. Clinton suggests the utility of Russia and of the People's Republic of China, for the efforts to retain American hegemony on its own terms.
We need to engage Russia selectively on issues of high national importance, such as thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, securing loose nuclear weapons in Russia and the former Soviet republics, and reaching a diplomatic solution in Kosovo. At the same time, we must make clear that our ability to view Russia as a genuine partner depends on whether Russia chooses to strengthen democracy or return to authoritarianism and regional interference.

Our relationship with China will be the most important bilateral relationship in the world in this century. The United States and China have vastly different values and political systems, yet even though we disagree profoundly on issues ranging from trade to human rights, religious freedom, labor practices, and Tibet, there is much that the United States and China can and must accomplish together. China's support was important in reaching a deal to disable North Korea's nuclear facilities. We should build on this framework to establish a Northeast Asian security regime.

Id. Of course, the Americans might be late to this point. See, Larry Catá Backer, China’s People’s Liberation Army at 80: Projecting Power and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Law at the End of the Day, Aug. 1, 2007. And even liberal internationalism--soft power, can be too crudely applied. But the object remains the same however accomplished--to ensure the "building of the world we want." Clinton, supra. Thus, American "power and might can only be sustained and renewed if we can regain our authority with the world, the authority not simply of a large and wealthy nation but of the American idea. If we can live up to that idea, if we can exercise our power wisely and well, we can make America great again." Id.

Smart power, perhaps. Nossel and Clinton have been right to remind Americans of the realities of the framework within which global power contests are now waged. And Americans, more than anyone else, ought to remember their role in changing the rules under which military action was a first response. The global community now lives in a a world whose conceptual framework was erected to avoid another world situation--and national desires--that arose fully formed in the 1930s. To revert to the forms of action against which Americans fought (along with many others) is certainly ill advised. And that, perhaps, was the greatest error of Mr. Obama's predecessor and his claque. But the greatest irony is the conflation of global and national interests inherent in either smart power politics or liberal internationalism. In a world in which, as President Obama implied, the United States stands as the only proxy for the global community, a politics of inclusion, of networks and smart power, is one in which the universalist agenda of the United States--as global representative, is mopst likely to have the greatest effect. Smart power wqorks for the Amerivcans because, in effect, global values are American values. See Larry Catá Backer, Democracy Part XIV: “For Now We See Through A Glass, Darkly; But Then Face to Face”; On President Obama's Inauguration Speech, Law at the End of the Day, January 21, 2009. It is not for nothing, therefore, that the greatest military-ciultural foes of the Americans are nervous. See, e.g., John Warrick, To Combat Obama, Al-Qaeda Hurls Insults, Washington Post, January 24, 2009.

Ms. Nossel and now Mrs. Clinton remind us that the rules have changed. Or perhaps better put, that ther Americans are reverting to traditional values. They point to what they call smart power, liberal internationalism or similar monikers. They invoke the great patron saints of American liberalism. But the policies and frameworks they advocate are profoundly conservative in the world which has arisen since 1945. Global expectations can no longer be driven by brute force. And why should they? It is to the world of ideas and the example of action, it is to the control of the discourse of global policy that modern global politics--and warfare, now first turn. It is in those contests and on those battlefields that it will be interesting to see how well the Americans perform after an eight year absence.

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