Peace through victory - the American way.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

That Other Neo-Con President

A hallmark of the current administration's neoconservative foreign policy thinking is the belief that peace is advanced by democratization because democracies don't make war on each other. The administration has been criticized for seeking to impose democracy on other people. Neoconservative foreign policy is also criticized for being out of the American mainstream.

Let's see what President Clinton had to say about democracy and peace in his 1994 State of the Union speech:

"Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere. Democracies don't attack each other."

A second criticism of the Bush Administration has been that it acts without U.N. approval. Yet the Clinton Administration went to war against Serbia over Kosovo without U.N. approval. In Bosnia, the Clinton Administration in April 1994 decided to permit the Iranians to break the U.N. mandated arms embargo on the Balkans despite official U.S. policy to abide by and to enforce the embargo at the time.

A third criticism of the Bush Administration has been that it goes to war without Congressional approval. Yet President Clinton did not obtain prior approval from Congress before he sent U.S. troops to either Bosnia or Kosovo or on his other major military intervention, Haiti.

President Clinton was right to intervene in Haiti on behalf of democracy even if our guy Aristide turned out to be not much of a democrat. He was right also to ignore international law by circumventing the U.N. arms embargo in the Balkans, which had the effect of keeping the Bosnian victims of Serbia weak. He was right to join with NATO in supporting Croatia's and Bosnia's ground forces against the Serbs. And he was right to free Kosovo from Serbia despite not having a U.N. mandate to do so. In each instance, American hard power was used in support of democracy and human rights against tyranny and oppression.

The Bush Administration's foreign policy continues that tradition. Promoting democracy with force, acting unilaterally, flouting U.N. resolutions, and committing U.S. troops to combat without prior Congressional approval did not start with the Bush Administration or neoconservatives. So what's all the fuss really about?

The difference in this era is that the stakes are much higher for the United States so the commitment in forces is much higher. President Clinton's major military interventions happened during a decade when the United States was essentially at peace. So he had the luxury of using American power to intervene in small-scale conflicts with limited strategic value to the United States. Since 9/11, when the reality of the Islamist war against the United States was brought home, President Bush has made major interventions with large strategic goals. War will do that. The fuss is all about the fact that some people still don't believe we really are at war.




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