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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group


And How to Restore America's Standing in the World

Dennis Ross

Farrar, Straus and Giroux


Chapter One


Even more than his actual conduct of our foreign affairs, George W. Bush's rhetorical approach to foreign policy has been criticized and caricatured. That he speaks in slogans and general principles hardly makes him unique. Every president tries to put his policies in a clear and understandable framework, and few succeed. It is not easy to find a slogan that encapsulates the U.S. role and interests in the world and, at the same time, offers a sense of direction about our foreign policy.

During the cold war, "containment" met all these tests. It provided an easy handle to describe U.S. foreign policy. It served as a guiding principle; it told us how to organize ourselves, our priorities, and our resources to deal with a global Soviet threat. It provided the logic for alliances, and the commonly perceived threat forged bonds that held those alliances together. With containment, wherever the Soviet Union was expanding directly or through proxy, we would meet and counter that expansion. It seemed logical, even compelling—until, of course, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations saw Vietnam as part of the global strategy of limiting Soviet or Soviet-backed advances. The cost of such a deterministic approach became all too clear. The reality of local nationalism unconnected to a global template was slowly and painfully understood.

Even though the Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations refined the practice of containment, it would take the collapse of the Soviet Union to prompt American policy makers to formulate a new approach to our role in the world. In the George H. W. Bush administration (in which I worked under Secretary of State James Baker) we sought to create a "new world order" developing new organizations in Europe to promote security and guide emerging states from the former Soviet Union, while also employing force collectively to undo the Iraqi aggression against Kuwait and demonstrate that the law of the jungle would not be permitted in this new era. In the Clinton administration (in which I was chief Middle East envoy), "democratic enlargement" became the new catchphrase, describing not only NATO's embrace of those in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who would adopt democratic institutions and civil society but also others around the globe who would embrace democratic values and free markets. To be sure, force would be employed where rogue actors threatened regional stability and engaged in ethnic cleansing.

Of course, the guiding principles were observed generally and not always with great consistency. The Bush administration chose not to get involved as Yugoslavia disintegrated and Slobodan Miloševic began to seize parts of Bosnia and Croatia, practice "ethnic cleansing," and expel the non-Serb populations to create a Greater Serbia. Similarly, during the Clinton administration, Hutu genocide of the rival Tutsi population took place in Rwanda without a significant American or international response.

In the two terms of George W. Bush, U.S. policy and national security interests have been governed by the war on terrorism. Defeating terrorism has been the preoccupation. But "promoting freedom" and "ending tyranny" have become the administration's rhetorical guideposts. President Bush has declared the promotion of freedom as the best way to ensure that terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden do not have fertile ground to exploit. Insofar as terrorism, which after all is an instrument not a philosophy or a belief system, depends on frustration and alienation to attract recruits, the president is right to focus on changing or removing oppressive regimes that generate so much anger and hopelessness among their people.

Here, again, we should not expect perfect consistency between rhetorical goals and foreign policy behavior. While it might be desirable to see greater consistency between our stated purpose and goals and our behavior, it is not easy for any administration always to meet this standard. After all, the world situation and our interests are not black and white, and hard choices, not so susceptible to a simple slogan or principle, have to be made. President Bush, much like his father and President Clinton, has decided that maintaining stability in oil-rich Saudi Arabia is more important than pushing the royal family to democratize. He has made much the same judgment about Pakistan and its president, General Pervez Musharraf. In this case, Pakistan's importance to the war on terrorism, and the dangers of a fundamentalist coup in a nuclear-armed state, have trumped the administration's concerns about Musharraf 's authoritarian rule and his protection of the Taliban and of A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program.

When it comes to the gap between rhetorical slogans and actual policies, the Bush administration is not materially different from or worse than its predecessors. Similarly—caricatures notwithstanding—the Bush administration has not departed radically from its predecessors when it comes to unilateral versus multilateral behavior.

The conventional wisdom that the Bush policy is unilateralist is simply wrong. No administration is ever entirely unilateralist or multilateralist. No American president has ever been prepared to allow others to veto a pathway that he considered to be vital to U.S. interests. Nor has any American president, including George W. Bush, been unwilling to join with other states in responding to potential challenges and threats. Indeed, when it comes to the Iranian and the North Korean nuclear programs, the administration has been only multilateralist—answering charges during the 2004 presidential campaign about the growth of North Korean and Iranian nuclear capabilities during Bush's first term by pointing to its efforts with allies to address the problems.

The issue has never been unilateralist versus multilateralist. Rather it is effectiveness. The Bush administration's failing has not been its instinct for unilateralism and its disdain for multilateralism. Its failing too often has been how poorly it has practiced multilateralism. On Iraq, it tried and failed to persuade the UN Security Council to pass a second resolution endorsing the war in Iraq. It tried and failed to gain Turkey's permission for U.S. forces to operate from Turkey's territory and send U.S. ground troops across the Turkish-Iraqi border—a failing that allowed large parts of the Ba'ath regime and the Republican Guard forces to melt away, avoid destruction, and regroup as an anti-American insurgency. Even after Saddam Hussein was captured, the administration tried and failed to persuade our NATO allies to help deal with the Iraqi insurgency, reconstruct Iraq, and train indigenous security forces.

Whether on Iraq or on its efforts to blunt North Korean and Iranian nuclear development, the Bush administration has adopted a multilateral approach, but failed to achieve our national security objectives as it did so. If the administration has not eschewed multilateralism, why is it perceived as unilateralist?

Is it because of its style? Is it because of its ideology? Or is it because it has been weak in its use of diplomacy and the tools of statecraft? All three factors help explain both the perception and the costs internationally of that perception.


Style matters in foreign policy. It is easy to dismiss style, and focus only on the substance of what we do. But the "how" of foreign policy—meaning how we act—also matters. While the how of our foreign policy involves many different tools—all relating to implementation of policies once we've settled on them—the way in which we carry out our steps and apply the various instruments available to us is particularly important. In this sense, our "style, " or our public positioning and packaging, creates the context in which we deal with others and they respond to us.

At times, different administrations might adopt similar approaches to a given situation but package their approaches very differently. Compare, for example, the style of the George H. W. Bush administration in advance of the first Gulf War and the style of the George W. Bush administration in the run-up to the second Gulf War. There was no difference in the readiness of each administration to go it alone if necessary, but the two Bushes' styles were very different—and got very different results.

George H. W. Bush said unequivocally that the Iraqi aggression would not stand, and then proceeded to put together an international coalition and gain passage of UN Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions and then authorized the use of force against Iraq—resolutions that his son would use to justify military intervention against Saddam Hussein twelve years later.

How did the elder Bush build his coalition and gain UN support? Through statecraft—in this case, through intensive and extensive efforts to persuade other leaders, often in face-to-face discussions. At one point, in November 1990, his secretary of state, James Baker, met with the leader or foreign minister of every country on the Security Council in order to formulate and win support for the crucial UNSC Resolution 678, which authorized the use of "all necessary means" to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

In public, Baker explained that he was consulting other national leaders on the best ways to respond to the Iraqi aggression. In private, his message was very different: he told the leaders that President Bush had said the aggression would not stand and we would do what was necessary to undo it; the resolution that was being drafted would authorize the use of military means to expel Iraq from Kuwait; we hoped this particular country and its leaders would support the resolution, and if there was something we could do to make it easier for them to do so, they should let us know what that might be. However, at the end of the day, we would act collectively as we desired or on our own if we had to.

The "style" of the approach was consultative, even if the "substance" was not. But in this case, style was substantial. By sending its top foreign policy official to many other countries, the United States demonstrated that the views of others mattered. America was signaling its respect for the positions and attitudes of foreign leaders enough to go to them and solicit their input, to give them an explanation for their publics as to what they were doing, and to enable those foreign leaders to show that they were part of an international consensus they had helped to shape. The U.S. public posture did not make the leaders defensive or put them in a political corner. On the contrary, by going to them, the administration was giving them an incentive to respond favorably.

Contrast this with the behavior of the younger Bush's administration in 2002. From the president's speech at the UN in September, in which he challenged the body to be relevant, to his failure to travel to other capitals to make his case or solicit views, to his challenging others on the Security Council to "show their cards" as the president proposed a second resolution—and then declaring such a resolution unnecessary when it was clear the votes weren't there to adopt it—the administration's public posture was "give us the cover for what we plan to do anyway, or get out of the way. "

My point here is not to address the issue of whether going to war in Iraq in 2003 was right or wrong. Rather, it is to show that two administrations that were equally committed to using force if necessary went about gaining support for their goals in two very different ways. One understood that how it went about positioning itself and framing its goals was very important; indeed, that the "style" of what it did would have an impact on whether others would join it in carrying out the "substance" of its goals. The other showed very little interest in the effect its style might have on others.

Did the younger President Bush not want others to join us? No, he has spoken often and with obvious sincerity about the international response to terrorism, and he has referred to the countries who joined us in Iraq as the "coalition of the willing. " The issue was not whether he wanted partners for the war in Iraq, but what he was willing to do to get them—and here the impact of 9/11 on the political psychology of President Bush must be understood.


With the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a president who seemed to lack his footing in the first eight months of his administration found his mission, his confidence, and his voice. He would combat the evil of terrorism and its emergence as the leading threat to the United States and our values. There was no alternative to fighting this war that had been imposed on us, and there could be no compromise with the terrorists or those who supported them. His blunt, no-nonsense manner of speaking seemed to fit the moment. This was not a time for nuance.

Striking a strong, determined pose was necessary to reassure the American public. It was also the right policy, particularly because Osama Bin Laden and his supporters had to understand that the United States would not shrink from this conflict. Bin Laden had fully expected that we would. In his eyes, an America that had fled Lebanon after losing 241 marines to a suicide bombing; withdrawn from Somalia after losing 18 soldiers during the Black Hawk Down incident; and failed to respond in any meaningful way to the bombings in Saudi Arabia in 1996, of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, despite the numbers of Americans killed, appeared weak and irresolute. In Bush's mind, Bin Laden and his adherents had to see that there would be a tough, sustained response and that they would know no peace and find no refuge.

This was not just the right approach to policy; it was also good politics at home. President Bush adopted a style that fit the moment but also reflected who he was. His speaking plainly and bluntly struck a chord with the American public. It gave the public confidence when that confidence had been badly shaken. It responded to our collective need to be defiant in the face of such an outrage, and to show support for a leader who would not surrender to such an evil but would confront it. It helped the president forge a bond with the American public at a time when one was crucially needed.

When any president finds his voice—and it is authentic—he is unlikely to depart from it. Moreover, in an age of instant communication, a president cannot have one voice for America and another for the world. Certainly Bill Clinton spoke in the same voice regardless of where he was. His capacity to feel pain, empathize, and connect with people was employed, as I witnessed, not only in this country, but also in Moscow, Budapest, Tel Aviv, and Gaza—and it worked everywhere. George W. Bush's blunt style would look cynically political if he used it in this country but not elsewhere.

Inevitably, then, Bush's blunt rhetorical style after 9/11 began to have consequences for his foreign policy. For him it was simply not a big leap to go from finding Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive" to challenging Iraqi insurgents to "bring it on"—to badgering prospective allies to get with the program. Was the tone going to be different with potential partners? Was he going to try to cajole others into dealing with the "evil" of Sad-dam Hussein or simply declare that others should not shirk their duty?

Of course, one might ask whether Secretary of State Colin Powell could have complemented the president by pursuing a James Baker–type solicitation and consultation mission—at once both providing others with reasons to join the coalition and softening the effect of President Bush's style. Clearly, Secretary Powell should have tried to follow the Baker example and did not. However, to be fair to him, no one in the administration was eager for him to do so; some actively discouraged him and others undermined his legitimacy as secretary, questioning whether he was authoritative and actually spoke for the president. To be sure, the reason he did not speak for the administration was that the president, Secretary Rumsfeld, and other key officials came to translate Bush's style (the bluster) into substance. They believed what they said and did not think that the United States had to depend on anyone else—indeed, to do so, they felt, would signal weakness.

Once President Bush won reelection, however, he began to temper this style and see the value of reaching out to others. Iraq had already created a sobering reality. The United States was tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and had few forces available for other contingencies. The costs of almost reflexive opposition of others in the international community, including from many of America's European allies, had also become increasingly apparent, and argued for a new stylistic approach. According to one report, President Bush "began signaling foreign leaders visiting him in the Oval Office that he knew much had gone wrong in his first term, and that he had empowered Ms. Rice to put a new emphasis on consultation and teamwork with allies."1 New secretary of state Condoleezza Rice embarked almost immediately on fence-mending trips to Europe and Asia. In Europe, she went out of her way to emphasize a common approach on the question of Iran's nuclear program. And President Bush, in his February 2005 trip to Europe, echoed the theme of consulting European leaders and listening to European attitudes on how best to stop the Iranians from going nuclear. After the trip, he authorized a change in the U.S. approach; previously the administration had kept its distance from the British, French, and German negotiations with the Iranians (even if it claimed otherwise in the 2004 presidential campaign), but following the president's European trip, the United States began to coordinate with the European trio, and permitted them to offer limited incentives to the Iranians on the United States' behalf.

If nothing else, the president began his second term exhibiting greater awareness of the impact of America's public approach on others; his secretary of state appeared even more sensitive in this regard, going so far as to remark in her senatorial confirmation hearing, "The time for diplomacy is now." While I don't mean to reduce diplomacy to style, there can be little doubt that the failure of the Bush administration's multilateralism in the first term was largely the result of its style. But even had the administration adopted a George H. W. Bush style, policy ultimately still comes back to substance. By most European and American accounts, Secretary Rice had a very successful initial trip to Europe; however, the same day she flew home, Iran announced it would never forsake its right to have nuclear power, and North Korea declared that it had nuclear weapons. Fences had been mended in Europe with an effective style, but the reality of real challenges to U.S. national security had not been altered.

Style matters precisely because it can help us affect the substance of foreign policy. Style is part of an approach to foreign policy. Style gets at how we shape the instruments at our disposal for trying to make us safer in the world—both removing threats and building a world more comfortable for our values and purposes. But it is those threats and the international landscape that we are constantly trying to alter as we pursue foreign policy.

How we go about dealing with the substance of our foreign policy concerns has always been a subject of debate, and appropriately so. We may often wax nostalgic about the ideal of politics ending at the water's edge. And we have succeeded at times with a bipartisan foreign policy. But that tends to be on big issues where the country truly does come together, as it surely did with 9/11.

Partisanship in foreign policy did not emerge just during George W. Bush's tenure. Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic president, lost his vision of an activist League of Nations to opposition from the Senate and the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Henry Cabot Lodge. Henry Kissinger's pursuit of détente fell victim in the mid-1970s as much to the politics within his Republican Party as it did to opposition from Democratic senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson.

Ideology, more than partisan politics, drove Lodge's opposition to the League. He did not believe in limiting America's freedom of action or sacrificing it to an international body. Similarly, from different parties, Ronald Reagan and Scoop Jackson opposed détente not to gain politically but because they believed that it was seriously flawed—accommodating a dangerous Soviet Union and reaching agreements with it when we should have been competing with it, exploiting its vulnerabilities, and demanding an end to the oppression of its people. The point is that differences in foreign policy goals and objectives may express themselves politically but are often based on ideological premises. And it is the ideological divide about the proper course for American foreign policy that needs to be understood; but it, too, tends to be oversimplified.


Traditionally, a liberal foreign policy (associated generally with Democrats) was guided by a core set of principles: promote dialogue; restrain aggression through collective security mechanisms rather than through balance-of-power maneuvering; strengthen international institutions to manage international relations and mediate conflicts; foster human rights and support humanitarian interventions militarily; and engage in nation-building and the export of democratic values. By contrast, a conservative foreign policy (associated generally with Republicans) has historically preferred to stabilize countries rather than promote democracy; more carefully calibrate and narrowly define what constitutes areas of national interest; use force unencumbered by others or by international institutions; and engage in interventions guided by more hardheaded national, not strictly humanitarian, interests.

Conservatives saw liberals as too ready to go on foreign policy moral binges that taxed our resources—human and material—and that failed to recognize the realities of power and the costs of employing it badly. Liberals saw conservatives as managing a foreign policy devoid of American values and in danger of making us dependent on other states whose stability at home was imposed by coercion. For liberals, this suggested that the stability might be hollow and temporary, and that, in any case, it was contrary to American values of freedom and human and civil rights.

On the use of force, the divide was less on the utility of force and more on its purpose. True, liberals might have been more inclined than conservatives to shape U.S. interventions around collective responses, but that was more to lead the world to fulfill its responsibilities. For liberals, our responsibility was to rescue and remake the world. Conservatives saw only folly in such endeavors, and were convinced that alliances had value not for transformative purposes but for countering or defeating aggressors.

Has the world turned upside down? Are today's liberals, who shy away from ever using force, even for humanitarian purposes, taking on some of the attributes of traditional conservatives? And are today's conservatives assuming some of the impulses for interventionism that characterized liberals in the past? Perhaps there is some role reversal, but it is important to remember that the cold war began to blur the distinctions between the two.

The cold war produced convergences between some in the Republican and Democratic parties, such as Ronald Reagan and Scoop Jackson, who saw the competition with the Soviet Union in terms not just of dangerous weapons but also of values. While understanding the danger of gratuitous provocation, they saw the potential for defense against such weapons and ultimately believed that in promoting our values we would wear the Soviets down and eventually win the cold war. For others, the risk of mutual annihilation meant that survival, stability, and predictability in our relations with the Soviets had to supersede concerns about values and human rights. Direct confrontations were to be avoided, particularly because clashes over moralistic concerns could lead to inadvertent crises and catastrophic escalation. Republicans such as Henry Kissinger and James Baker had more in common with Democrats such as Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright than they did with fellow Republicans such as Senator Jesse Helms.

Today we see echoes of some of the past debates that blurred the lines between liberals and conservatives and Democrats and Republicans. Some see the danger of terrorism, especially given the potential of terrorists being armed with nuclear devices, as requiring collaboration with those such as the Saudis and Pakistanis, even if it means sacrificing our values and ignoring their human-rights abuses. Others might not dispense with such collaboration but also believe that it should take place on our terms. They see little reason not to put much more pressure on the Saudis and the Pakistanis to democratize, believing that they need us even more than we need them, and that our interests will be better served over time if both regimes are transformed.2

Of course, what tempers the differences of policy makers in administrations is that they have to make hard choices in implementing policies, and, as noted earlier, they often opt for stability in the short run. The Bush administration has certainly done that, at least with both the Saudis and Pakistanis. But that does not make President Bush a traditional conservative or a "realist"—someone who cares little about the domestic character of other countries and their regimes. On the contrary, while being prepared to adjust to some realities, he is overall an "idealist," and more revolutionary than conservative. Rather than seeking to preserve the status quo, he has recognized that in too many parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the status quo and internal oppression have fed the anger that both produces terrorists and provides a basis for them to recruit new followers. As President Bush declared in his second inaugural address, "The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world."3

President Bush and many of the so-called neoconservatives of his administration favor transformation, not preservation. They think big, convinced that we can end tyranny and must spread democracy. They are Wilsonian in their moralistic view of foreign policy and their belief about the role the United States must play in the world. President Bush is reported to admire Theodore Roosevelt. But Roosevelt was much more of a realist than an idealist, much more a believer in preserving balances of power than in chasing the chimera of collective security, and much more a devotee of artful and supple diplomacy to counter threats to U.S. interests and meet U.S. needs. Woodrow Wilson, on the other hand, was the embodiment of idealism, and is in many respects a better guide to President Bush's instincts and attitudes.

Wilson believed in the transformative power of the United States. Unlike those European countries that in his view sought only selfish advantage and so had produced the catastrophe of the First World War, America was selfless. We did not seek national aggrandizement or colonies, and we would not engage in a mindless competition for power and arms. We would be an example to others and appeal to the basic goodness of man, and his freedom-seeking nature. We would lead a world in which there would be an end to imperialism and where self-determination would allow colonized people to enjoy their freedom and their god-given rights. Wilson saw the hand of divine providence in our role, our unparalleled resources, our decency—and our call to duty. One hears the echo of Wilson's beliefs in President Bush's words.

To be sure, there is one very profound difference between President Bush's approach and Wilson's. President Wilson, the driving force behind the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, believed fervently in collective security and international law; both would limit national sovereignty, including ours, and would constitute a practical and a moral inhibition on the use of force. In his eyes, the United States, given our standing and unselfish purposes, had to lead the way. But America, too, would be bound by the international conventions that Wilson favored.

President Bush wants no limits on the exercise of American power or sovereignty—not from the United Nations, not from the International Criminal Court, and, as we have seen, not even from something like the Geneva Convention on the rules governing torture of those we seize as we combat terrorism. Ironically, because he shares Wilson's conviction in our goodness, our selflessness, he opposes any limits on the exercise of our might. For President Bush, our benevolence and our exceptionalism mean we will use our power only for good, and therefore that power should not be constrained by others. Traditional conservatives also don't want others to limit our exercise of power. But unlike them, President Bush seeks to use our power not for defensive but for transformative purposes.

Some might argue that Ronald Reagan, not Woodrow Wilson, is George W. Bush's real historical model. Certainly, here at home, there is a strong case to be made that Bush is a Reaganite. In foreign policy, Reagan, too, was a Wilsonian—speaking of America as that "shining city upon a hill"—and like Bush, he was instinctively opposed to external limitations on our exercise of power. However, unlike Bush, Reagan was not quick to use American military might. True, he would compete with the Soviet Union and drive up the costs of empire by raising defense spending, pursuing the Strategic Defense Initiative, or a "Stars Wars" defensive shield against missile attack, and supporting insurgencies against the Soviets in Afghanistan or Soviet proxies in Nicaragua. But he was not keen on using American military forces for foreign interventions. One cannot compare a low-cost venture in Grenada, where there was essentially no indigenous military force, to the war in Iraq.

Moreover, consider President Reagan's response in Lebanon: the United States initially went into Beirut to preside over the PLO's departure from Lebanon, and did so as part of a small multilateral force of which American forces were essentially an equal part. The mission of the multilateral forces subsequent to the PLO exit was to support the Lebanese as they reconstituted a new national compact and reached agreement with Israel on its withdrawal from Lebanon. But with intense Syrian opposition to the new Lebanese government's negotiation (and resulting agreement) with the Israelis and the emergence of Hizbollah as a new Shi'a militia, internal fighting in Lebanon escalated. Following the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks near the Beirut airport in the fall of 1983, in which 241 U.S. marines were killed, President Reagan withdrew the American forces in early 1984.

President Reagan was quick to cut our immediate losses. He did not let concerns about perceptions of our staying power prevent him from pulling forces out. Though willing to use U.S. military forces in limited circumstances, he was clearly wary of getting bogged down, and did not look at American forces as the vanguard for producing political and regional transformation. President Reagan was an idealist in terms of the American role internationally. But, for him, America could transform the world more through the force of its example and less through the force of its military.

Both Wilson and Reagan saw the power of our example. Both also reflected well the ethos of Americans. We see ourselves as selfless and willing to help others, eschewing any special gain for our country. Internationally, others may see us and our purposes quite differently. Our self-image, however, is one of sacrifice for a greater good. And Bush, like Reagan before him, knows how to speak to the American idiom in foreign policy—something, not surprisingly, that gave his approach a ring of authenticity to many Americans.

Again, however, policy comes back to substance, and while shaping a foreign policy that reflects our ethos is important, there are still real threats that must be dealt with and real interests or causes to pursue.

The ideological starting point is important, and certainly in the George W. Bush first term, it is fair to say that the neoconservatives defined the foreign policy agenda and how it was pursued.


Like most caricatures, the description of the neoconservatives has been overly simplistic. Their current standard-bearers—such as Richard Perle, David Frum, William Kristol, and Robert Kagan—are serious thinkers with a clear worldview.4 To be sure, those who might describe themselves as neoconservatives are not homogeneous, but they do share a number of general precepts: force and power remain highly relevant in a very dangerous world; the United States is the world's premier state and has the moral responsibility to use its power, including its unrivaled military force, for good; the internal character of regimes matters; malevolent leaders and terrorist groups (which usually have some connection) must be confronted and defeated; our readiness to do so will undermine all such entities and reduce their coercive effect on others; using our force can transform the political landscape, embolden democratic, reformist elements regionally and internationally, and hasten the day that democracy triumphs around the globe; though many of our traditional allies, particularly in Europe, instinctively oppose the use of force, we must not be inhibited by their reluctance—a reluctance that favors accommodation of those who can, in fact, never be accommodated in their opposition to our values and purposes.

In the eyes of many neocons, 9/11 resulted from our weakness in responding to threats. It was far less an intelligence failure than a failure of will over the preceding decade to confront those such as Saddam Hussein or the Iranians or Hizbollah or the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Terrorism was never seen primarily as a law enforcement problem; rather it was a first-order threat that required a strong response against not just the groups but also the countries that gave those groups support and sanctuary. Ultimately, the neoconservatives are far more optimistic about being able to transform human nature and international relations than traditional conservatives.5 Like conservatives, they are not as a rule inclined to intervene strictly for humanitarian purposes; unlike conservatives, they tend to see our military power as an agent of change that can be used to create an environment in which our ideas are able to flourish.

While some neoconservatives such as Robert Kagan and William Kristol would put a high premium on marrying force and diplomacy, others seem to believe that force often creates its own diplomatic logic.6 Creating new facts on the landscape seemed to infuse the thinking of leading officials of the new Bush administration as it assumed office in January 2001. There was a sense that respect for American power had been lost during the Clinton years, and it had to be reestablished. Others, it was believed, would adjust to the realities we might create, even if they expressed unhappiness about our behavior. Initially, withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, the ABM Treaty, and the Arab-Israeli peace process was as much a part of creating new realities as was putting far more pressure on Iraq or Iran to change the character of the Middle East. But as one of the neocons wrote prior to assuming a policy-making position, forced regime change in either Iraq or Iran was far more likely to transform the Middle East than continuing futile diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians.7

Obviously, Iraq has not turned out the way the neocons envisioned or hoped. To be fair to them, the Bush administration did not prosecute the war and the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's fall the way many of them had argued for. Richard Perle believed that U.S. forces should have gone in, removed Saddam Hussein, and withdrawn—leaving Iraq for Iraqis such as Ahmed Chalabi to manage. Others, such as William Kristol, were highly skeptical of such an approach and instead saw the administration's reluctance to use sufficient force to liberate territory and be able to hold it as a major failing, particularly because it allowed the insurgency to take root and undermine the ability to reconstruct Iraq quickly.

Kristol's views converge, in part, with what might be described as a neoliberal view of Iraq.8 While there is as yet no clearly acknowledged or identified body of scholars, policy makers, and commentators broadly described as neoliberals, I will use the label and define it. First, neoliberals believe in the weight and importance of the U.S. role internationally. Second, just as the neoconservatives tend to be Republicans, the neoliberals tend to be Democrats—though clearly not all Democrats are neoliberals (any more than all Republicans are neocons). Third, with regard to Iraq, there were some in Congress—such as Senators Joseph Biden and Joseph Lieberman—and many who served in the Clinton administration who believed that going to war in Iraq was the right choice.9

To be sure, not all those whom I would define as neoliberals—Francis Fukuyama and Joseph Nye, for example—believed it was right to go to war in March 2003. But those who did raised questions about force size and its appropriateness to the military and political mission. Unlike Kristol and other thoughtful neoconservatives, neoliberal supporters of the war were far more preoccupied with what would be needed in the aftermath of Saddam's demise. There was much less optimism about the ease of the mission and much greater concern about the messiness of the reconstruction or nation-building phase. Similarly, neoliberals were far more riveted on the dangers of a vacuum after Saddam, and the implications of this for security; the role of the former Iraqi military during a transition period; the importance of having an international, not American, administrator of Iraq to avoid the symbolism of U.S. occupation; the need to create an early Iraqi administration; the risks of sectarianism, the likelihood of a Sunni insurgency, and the long-haul nature of the responsibility we would be assuming.10

Neoliberals come to nation-building with an understanding that transformations are about not just removing regimes but also focusing on what takes their place. Unlike the neocons, who, Francis Fukuyama observes, defined the task in Iraq as simply "getting rid of the old regime," neoliberals understand that regime change in general, and specifically in Iraq, required a "slow and painstaking" process of constructing institutions to fill the vacuum.11 It was the newspaper columnist Thomas Friedman, a self-styled neoliberal, who wrote a running stream of commentaries supporting the war but cautioning that if we did not have a serious "day after" strategy, we were in danger of creating a Balkan-type nightmare in Iraq. We could not simply destroy; we had a responsibility to construct— recognizing that this would be a complex and very difficult task. Still, in Friedman's eyes, the benefits of replacing a truly evil, malignant leader with a decent, roughly representative government in the heart of the Middle East might justify such a Herculean effort. Ultimately, neoliberals are optimists who are guided by their hopes but who also recognize limits.

Here we can see what neoliberals have in common with neoconservatives, as well as where they diverge from them and the liberals of today. Like the neocons, they see that power and force are inescapable parts of international relations. They see real threats that require military responses, and they understand that the United States must be able to project its power. Unlike many of today's liberals, neoliberals are not defensive when it comes to the use of American force. They are far more likely to see the need for engagement internationally and to believe, unlike many on the political left, that there are forces in the world that must be resisted. Indeed, they tend not to "think of Miloševic and Sad-dam as victims, " or to accept the "sort of affectless, neutralist, and smirking isolationism" that Christopher Hitchens says characterizes too much of the "left" today.12

Neoliberals know that the world can be nasty and that American power is one essential tool for dealing with it. Not surprisingly, they are not against the principle of preemption—attacking those who threaten us before they can succeed in doing so. They see new security challenges from murkier places, in which waiting until the threat is unmistakable may be too late to prevent it from killing large numbers of Americans. Ultimately, what separates neoliberals from neoconservatives is not their optimism and their commitment to fostering positive changes worldwide, but their doubts about where our use of force is likely to succeed. Neoliberals are more skeptical than the neocons that force can foster democratic transformations, though they are more inclined to use force for humanitarian purposes in places such as Rwanda or Darfur.

Neoliberals see peace and democracy as having to emerge from within, not as imposed from without. They are willing to make the effort— diplomatically, economically, politically, and militarily—to help promote both peace and democratic change, but they realize that all the instruments at our disposal must be employed and in a way that fits the local context. They have no illusions about the limitations and weaknesses of international institutions such as the United Nations, but they also understand the value and greater legitimacy that results from taking actions under such international umbrellas. Unlike neocons, neoliberals also see the cost to the United States when America defies international conventions, rejects what may be a broad international consensus on something such as global climate change, and offers nothing to take the place of that which it opposes.

Neoliberals believe, to use Joseph Nye's term, in the use of smart power—meaning the optimal mix of hard and soft power to achieve our objectives.13 While they don't rule out the need to engage in regime change, they tend to favor the changing of the behavior of regimes, believing that can have a transforming effect.

Neoliberals as a rule are convinced that Iran must not be permitted to develop or acquire nuclear capability, and that the North Korean nuclear weapons must be dismantled. But, again, unlike the neocons, neoliberals believe that we are more likely to succeed by persuading, not compelling, others whom we may need to join us in countering these dangers. It is too simple to say that neoliberals are more likely than neoconservatives to employ diplomacy over the use of force. But it is fair to say that neoliberals are more attuned than the neocons to how to employ all the instruments of statecraft—at least at this stage in the articulation and implementation of neoconservative strategies. Indeed, I would argue that the neoliberals are much more preoccupied than the neoconservatives with statecraft—largely because they have less confidence in the consequences of using military force for political purposes.


Statecraft is not simply another way of referring to diplomacy. While including all diplomatic procedures, it is much more than only exercising diplomacy. Some define statecraft generally as the "art of conducting state affairs."14 Others describe it more specifically as the "organized actions governments take to change the external environment in general or the policies and actions of other states in particular to achieve the objectives that have been set by policy makers."15

As a former policy maker, I would describe statecraft as knowing how best to integrate and use every asset or military, diplomatic, intelligence, public, economic, or psychological tool we possess (or can manipulate) to meet our objectives. Statecraft involves influencing others—those who are already friendly and share our purposes, and those who do not. But statecraft requires more than simply orchestrating all the resources directly or indirectly at our disposal. It requires putting our means into a broader context of goals and capabilities.

Statecraft starts with understanding our role and our broad purposes. It requires a definition of objectives that are desirable, even ambitious, but also tied to an appreciation of what is possible. Strategies and tactics must be fashioned that create a match—not a mismatch—between aims and the means available for acting on those aims. As such, statecraft puts a premium on being able to assess a threat or an emerging threat wisely. Such assessments must evaluate the nature of the danger, its likelihood of materializing, its possible consequences, and its timing, as well as which other actors have the capabilities to be helpful in countering it. Often those who are not our allies may have the greatest leverage on a potential adversary, and statecraft involves determining and then employing the most effective means to bring those who are not our friends to exercise their influence constructively.

Excerpted from Statecraft by Dennis Ross

Copyright © 2007 by Dennis Ross

Published in 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.