Shaping Post-Bush Policy

By Jackson Diehl
Monday, November 27, 2006

The reopened debate on Iraq will now rage for months or years, consuming most of the oxygen for foreign policy in Washington. Even if the result is a better strategy for rescuing (or ending) that beleaguered mission, larger questions about President Bush's post-Sept. 11 foreign policy will remain to be sorted out -- ideally by the time the next president takes office.

For example: Is the fight against "Islamofacism," as Bush has taken to calling it, really the defining struggle of the 21st century, comparable to the Cold War against communism? Is the president's "freedom agenda" of pressing for democratic change around the world, and especially in Muslim countries, still worth pursuing, given the failures (so far) of U.S.-backed democratic experiments in Iraq and the Palestinian Authority? Can the United Nations be salvaged as a forum for addressing threats such as Iran and North Korea, despite Bush's failure (so far) to make it work?

Right now the most audible discussion of such issues, by candidates in the midterm elections, suggests that many Republicans and Democrats would like to jettison any foreign policy connected to the Bush administration as quickly as possible. "Realists" such as James A. Baker III and Henry Kissinger are suddenly back in fashion, their own manifold failings in past administrations obscured by the panic over Iraq.

Encouragingly, however, there is also some fresh thinking going on -- strategizing that tries to rewrite the Bush administration's first cut at a 21st-century foreign policy without returning to the 20th-century nostrums that preceded it. The most impressive example of this that I've seen is something called the Princeton Project, a massive 2 1/2 year effort to formulate a bipartisan approach to the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world conducted by Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The Wilson school's dean, Anne-Marie Slaughter, and politics professor G. John Ikenberry, who jointly directed the project, convened hundreds of experts from across the political spectrum in nine separate conferences; they consulted Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, George Shultz and Zbigniew Brzezinski, among many others. They then wrote a report that, refreshingly, would confound both Bush and many of their fellow Democrats -- but contains ideas that ought to have broad appeal across both parties.

So: Bush's "defining" war against Islamic extremism? "Absolutely wrong," says Slaughter, a rising star in the foreign policy world who would be a likely candidate for a top position in a future Democratic administration. "It's an attempt to simplify a world that won't be so simplified." The Princeton Project argues that the coming century will offer not one overriding threat but a "Rubik's cube" of diverse yet sometimes interlocking challenges, such as the spread of nuclear weapons, global warming, and the rise of India and China as great powers. Also, pandemics: Slaughter says she's more worried about the risk that a strain of avian flu will kill millions of Americans than about another terrorist attack.

As for the problem of terrorism, Slaughter says "it shouldn't be called Islamo-anything," because that merely invites a civilizational conflict and gives al-Qaeda and other criminal networks more credit than they deserve. They should be hunted down through an aggressive global counterterrorism campaign, she says, but not placed at the center of global politics.

What about democracy? Here Slaughter and Ikenberry refuse to buckle under the anti-Bush backlash. At the center of their strategy is the goal of "a world of liberty under law" -- a phrase that first appeared in Ronald Reagan's platform. They argue that the United States should "develop a much more sophisticated strategy of creating the deeper preconditions for successful liberal democracy" extending "far beyond the simple holding of elections."

One of the most intriguing Princeton ideas is the creation of a treaty-based "Concert of Democracies" that, like the European Union or NATO, would admit members only if they met strict requirements. The new institution would allow the democracies to work together as a concerted force within such institutions as the United Nations -- as mostly undemocratic groups such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference already do -- and could eventually replace the United Nations as a forum for legitimizing international security actions if the United Nations itself proved resistant to reform. Ideally, emerging powers such as India and Brazil would seek membership and influence in the democracy alliance, rather than allying with "nonaligned" dictatorships.

There is much more: an overhaul of every major global institution, from the International Monetary Fund to NATO; construction of a better "protective infrastructure" in the United States; a national gasoline tax and a new U.S. international initiative on climate change. Yes, it's far-reaching and none of it will happen while Bush is president. It could, however, be a start at what comes afterward.

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