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Debunking the Sovereignty Solution: Simons’ ‘Old Is New’ Grand Strategy Won’t Save Us

Posted by K.E. White on February 26, 2007

Introduction: Austria All Over Again?

 

Undoubtedly you’ve been asked the ever elusive quandary: How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Now what if we scaled that question up a few notches?

How many people does it take to create a new paradigm for American foreign policy?

Apparently four, at least according to Anna Simons, head writer for the recently published “The Sovereignty Solution”. Simons, teaming up with Don Redd, Joe McGraw and Duane Lauchengo, offer a new American Grand Strategy for the readers of The American Interest.

Their thesis:

The grand political bargain we propose is this: America will guard its sovereign prerogatives, responding to violations of sovereignty with overwhelming force, in return for which it promises other states that it will not infringe on their sovereign prerogatives, including rights to cultural integrity, national dignity and religious freedom (pp 34).

This becomes, as you read their circuitously written article, to mean this: Countries do things that violate of sovereignty (a la fund terrorist groups who actively advocated terrorist attacks on U.S. allies or America itself, provide funds or protections to terrorists who have killed U.S. troops or have carried out another 9-11), should be delivered a list of demands.

These demands would be roughly this: stop the policies that are directly threatening the United States. If the country does this, they get rewarded: aid and political support from the United States.

And if they refuse?

America will launch devastating attacks that cripple the nation, with no promise for reconstruction.

If this seems familiar, that’s because it’s been tried before: Austria once sent a list to Serbia with similar demands.

This, being cooperated by Germany, led the world into World War I.

Call it Austria 21st Century: U.S. Special Forces Edition.

 

Sovereignty 2.0: Simons et al Take Their Shot

 

Besides failure to mention this historical parallel, there are other problems with the Simons et al paradigm.

Despite the attractive elegance of their model, it doesn’t 1) solve the actual problems that will dictate our next national security strategy and 2) offers little to American security.

On the first point, let’s look at Iran. The authors propose that America send a list of demands to Tehran, demanding they stop kill American forces in Iraq.

According to the authors, America will then be in the privileged position of responding to a wrong, instead of preempting one. This, argue the authors, will put more legitimacy on American actions.

From the article:

Here’s what should happen the next time U.S. sovereignty is attacked. The attackers’ host or source—the state that “owns the problem”, in other words—would be delivered a list of U.S. demands that might include “eliminate al-Qaeda from your territory”, “disarm and disable Hizballah”, “turn over terrorist X”, OR “Stop sending fighters to country Y.” The level of compliance we receive would then determine the category into which that state would fall—partner state, struggling state, adversarial state or failed state—and that in turn would shape our course of action (35-36).

 

Unfortunately this approach offers little help on Iran. Iran considers the U.S. invasion of Iraq a violation of their sovereignty. Remember they too were a member of the “axis of evil”, so it would seem they have good reason for fighting U.S. forces covertly in Iraq: they consider the U.S. forces to already be covertly fighting them.

The authors offer us clarity: shining light on the gray of neo-conservatism. Yet they do not address America’s gray starting point.

Iran will demand concessions, and frankly so will other regional powers (China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and India) from the Bush administration before this new paradigm can take place. For Iran this will assuredly revolve around the nuclear question.

And, unfortunately for America, if the United States unilaterally bombs all good going into Iran and their military sites, the response is predictable: Iraq and Afghanistan will be lit up by suicide bombers and guerrilla fighting that will make the American long for today’s tragic headlines.

This point does not cripple the paradigm itself, merely the immediate expectations the authors put on it. For this paradigm to rise up, the diplomatic tensions of today (chiefly the nuclear quandaries of North Korea and Iran) will have to be worked out.

Unfortunately these practical concerns dovetail with the sovereignty model’s profound structural limitations.

 

A Strategy Whose Tenets Fall Short

 

America will not be able to continuously bomb ‘bad’ countries without any responsibility to care for the injured. The lightening attacks the authors endorse (which, admittedly, would match our military’s strengths and eliminate its weaknesses) would cause wide-sweeping damage and have civilian causalities.

These features will merely strengthen the regimes of these troublesome nations.

This is especially true when you look at the other end of their bargain: rewarding ‘good’ regimes that follow our demands.

 

  1. Where’s the Trust?

 

This reciprocal system would have a hard time starting. Europe, let alone Iran, has trouble believing the United States acts in any other way than power-maximization.

Simons et al seem to intuit trust in American motivations as the first step in their legitimacy repair kit. Will Iran really wait to see if America rewards it for ‘good’ behavior?

Don’t hold your breathe.

And what about those fragile regimes America is desperate to keep afloat lest a terrorist group takes control of the state. It seems those states (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt) have a lock on American aid.

 

  1. Destroying our Imperfect Friends

 

And what happens to these fragile regimes after they are ‘decked’ by American bombers. Either the regimes turn virulently anti-U.S. or are replaced by radicals who possess bona-fide anti-American credentials.

This is not to mention other flaws in this paradigm. Will the American public really not be rattled by intra-state atrocities? Will U.S. elites really cede more influence to ‘rival’ states if they agree on terror? And will America not loose allies by cavaliering bombing countries we deem not meeting our demands?

 

C. A Quick Note on Other Flaws: What about the Benjamin’s ($$$)?

And what about non-military approaches to international stability. How can America encourage a growing and prosperous global middle class? The economic portion of this strategy is next to non-existent.

No strategic plan can be maintained unless it reflects the marco-economic challenges facing America and economically rewards America’s partners. In the Cold War it was the Marshall Plan. What should it be today? The authors don’t answer.

The authors only glance of this aspect, detailing only is how to keep America competitive, not how better to integrate the economic interests of regional powers. But there quick reccomendation that America take more of a led in global medical challenges does win them some points in improving the U.S. image around the world. (Unfortunately these tasks are already being taken up by private charities: a la the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Bill Clinton’s charitable organization).

 

What Should Be Done?

 

But these criticisms are not meant to take away the value of this working paper. America must prioritize its strategic aims. Do we care about security or do we continue to pursue regime change at all costs?

If we care about both, where will we make our difference and how to do maximize our chances of success?

The “list” concept the authors aver is nothing new. President Bush sent a list of demands to the Taliban (one that the Taliban actually claimed to have met before our invasion). Saddam Hussein did the same thing (remember those missiles he got rid of, and then the whole failure to find weapons).

These examples show the central flaw in this approach: How does America know the sovereignty violator has met the demands, and not merely shift money-flows or push terrorists into another country?

Again, this weakness results from a structural flaw in the strategy: Understanding the state-on-state tensions that allow terrorism to foster.

Until both these challenges are addressed, America will continue to grope around in the dark strategically.

And this Austrian 21st Century: U.S. Special Forces Edition does not get us there.

The next strategy will be borne out of contingency. Iraq and Afghanistan must be solved, and the way those dilemmas are approached will set the parameters of any U.S. grand strategy.

But this criticism applies to all attempts to forge grand strategy today.

We have yet to truly know the dynamics of this evolving world system. And, most importantly, America’s strategic posture in the world remains nebulous to both our allies and foes.

The regional powers of the world are still on the side-lines, waiting for the Iraq outcome (and to a lesser extent the nuclear crisis points in Iran and North Korea).

How will the United States come out over the next five years? America has only begun asking that question, let alone adopting policies that in time will answer it.

Until then no one can purport to offer the new IR roadmap—only shed light on various approaches that may reveal the contours of this still murky world system we inhabit.

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Posted in American Interest, Anna Simons, Bush administration, Diplomacy, Don Redd, Duane Lauchengo, Iran, Iraq, Joe McGraw, neoconservatism, North Korea, Pakistan, Victor Davis Hanson, WMD | 5 Comments »

Neo-Con Back and Forth on Iraq: The Ultimate in Meaningless Echo-Chambers

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2007

 

Victor Davis Hanson and Max Boot debate Iraq

contentions (yes, small “c”), Commentary’s new blog, yesterday started a neo-conservative dialogue on Iraq—proving that echo-chambers can, indeed, exist within themselves.

The speakers?

Max Boot and Victor Davis Hanson.

Read their back and forth here, but the site doesn’t make them easy to find.

(You can find the full text quicker by going here and here, and Proliferation Press offers this summary for interested readers.)

This “back and forth’ read more a like “pat on the back.” One pessimistic neo-con, Boot, commiserating with an optimistic neo-con, Hanson.

Both endorse Bush’s surge,seeing it as a last option, and find it the necessary and best course of action.

Hanson, at least, gets down to specifics: gauging the time-table General Petraeus (the new Iraq commander and prospective White Knight) has for success.

But what both miss, and I hope they discuss in latter “chapters,” are 1) how this “surge” will operate in particular and how attainable its goals are and 2) real and practical alternatives about what America does after the surge, whatever its outcome.

And—if time and attention permits—they should touch on the need for a revamped American security strategy.

One that takes into account 1) our currently stretched resources and 2) the growing isolation America’s strategic faces from traditional allies of the past.

We’ll see if they get there.

Posted in Bush administration, Commentary Magazine, contentions, Diplomacy, Iraq, Max Boot, Middle East, neoconservatism, Victor Davis Hanson, WMD | Leave a Comment »