When Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar met recently with reporters, he spent the better part of an hour simply outlining the "huge challenge" the Bush administration faces in trouble spots around the world.
Listening to the Indiana Republican, who makes it his business to visit many of those dangerous areas himself, those of us around the table at the Christian Science Monitor-sponsored breakfast were all but overwhelmed. As Lugar recapped his impressions of the aftermath of the disputed election in Ukraine, the ongoing struggle in Iraq, the shaky steps toward democracy and order in Afghanistan, the possibilities of Israeli-Palestinian talks, the nuclear challenges in Iran and North Korea, the backsliding toward autocracy in Russia, the growing economic competition of China and the disrepair in American relations with Europe, it was enough to make your head swim.
What I took away from his recital was a realization that diplomacy -- not military force -- must be the main tool in meeting these challenges. That is all the more true because of the strong reluctance the American people feel toward engaging in another Iraq or any other struggle so costly in lives and treasure.
In the lead article of the forthcoming January issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, historian John Lewis Gaddis of Yale University makes Lugar's point in a more academic fashion. Gaddis is more hopeful about defeating the insurgency in Iraq and moving that country toward democracy than several of the other authors in the same magazine, but he acknowledges that failure is possible. It needs to be kept in perspective, however.
"What takes place during the second Bush term in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey and especially the Israeli-Palestinian relationship may well be as significant for the Middle East as what occurs in Iraq," he writes. "And what happens in China, India, Russia, Europe and Africa may well be as important for the future of the international system as what transpires in the Middle East."
As Gaddis sees it, the historic change of Bush's first term -- a direct response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- was the embrace of the doctrine of preventive war and its application in both Afghanistan and Iraq. While the move against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan gained broad international support, the war against Saddam Hussein did not. Bush's decision to invade Iraq without that assent "provoked complaints that great power was being wielded without great responsibility, followed by an unprecedented collapse of support for the United States abroad," Gaddis writes. "From nearly universal sympathy in the weeks after September 11, Americans within a year and a half found their country widely regarded as an international pariah."
It would be a mistake, he argues, either to be intimidated by that reaction or to ignore it. "The American claim of a broadly conceived right to pre-empt danger is not going to disappear, because no other nation or international organization will be prepared anytime soon to assume that responsibility. But the need to legitimize that strategy is not going to go away, either; otherwise, the friction it generates will ultimately defeat it. What this means," Gaddis concludes, "is that the second Bush administration will have to try again to gain multilateral support for the pre-emptive use of U.S. military power."
When John Kerry made a similar argument during the campaign, President Bush said he was not about to let the United Nations or anyone else veto steps needed to protect Americans against terrorism. No such veto is implied, Gaddis says. Rather, the obligation on the administration will be convincing "as large a group of states as possible that these actions will also enhance, or at least not degrade, their own interests."
The task of persuasion will fall first on the incoming secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and second on Bush himself. Lugar, who has been at this diplomacy business longer than either of them, says the repair job is not only necessary but possible. En route home from Eastern Europe last month, he stopped in Berlin and found German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder more than willing -- almost eager -- to reopen conversations with Bush that became embittered over their disagreements on Iraq.
Diplomacy -- the oldest tool in international relations -- seems fated for revival. The people Rice chooses to share her leadership in the State Department and to represent the United States abroad must be skilled diplomats and not just Bush loyalists. At confirmation hearings Lugar and his committee can help ensure that is the case.