"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."-Winston S. Churchill

"The wandering scholars were bound by no lasting loyalties, were attached by no sentiment of patriotism to the states they served and were not restricted by any feeling of ancient chivalry. They proposed and carried out schemes of the blackest treachery."-C.P. Fitzgerald.

Wednesday, February 02, 2000

Republicans of a Kind 

As of this writing, the Republican Party is left with Governor George W. Bush, Senator John S. McCain, and Ambassador Alan Keyes as the three choices for that party's nomination for President. Now with all due respect to partisans of Alan Keyes, he won't be nominated. Not that his nomination wouldn't be a fun thing. After all, who else has presented us with hours of delightfully entertaining oratory? Certainly not George W. Bush.

At any rate, one must approach this with an air of some reality. Given the fact that Ambassador Keyes couldn't win a fixed game, we are left with the foreign policy choices of the two probable nominees, Bush and McCain (by the way, we shall deal with our good friend Al Gore and the Clinton inheritance in next month's edition).

George "Dubya" Bush and John McCain represent a difference in degree in the Republican Foreign Policy Shadow Government, not in kind. Indeed, they're far more alike than they would like to admit (especially in the midst of primaries, where the object of the exercise is to differentiate oneself from one's opponent) in regards to Foreign affairs. One can see the deft hand of George Schultz, Condoleeza Rice, and to a lesser extent, Henry Kissinger, in the Bush Foreign policy presentation. At the same time, McCain appears to rely on a Kissingerian approach mixed with a dash of Wilsonian idealism (his personal history may account for this regrettable combination).

The Bush approach can be traced back to the late nineteenth century British geographer Halford Mackinder, which is where I suspect Ms. Rice received some of her strategic upbringing. In the Foreign Policy document, stress is paid to what happens on the "Eurasian continent." Mackinder spoke of the "world island" in his texts, speaking specifically of the Eurasian supercontinent. Mackinder's thesis was that he who controlled the World Island controlled (you guessed it) the World. Thus, it was up to British and American statesmen to prevent one power from controlling Europe, Russia, and China.

America and Britain were a part of the "World Rimland," and as such, were powerful entities. However, should a superpower arise on the Eurasian continent, it would command such resources and manpower that the two great maritime powers could not defeat it by conventional means alone. Mackinder did not foresee nuclear weapons or the rise of Soviet and Chinese communism, but his general theory appeared to be sound. After all, one only has to look at a globe to suspect that Mackinder was on to something.

What Bush, Rice, and company argue is that the United States must act to make sure that nothing untoward occurs on the Eurasian continent that threatens American national interests. This is called "stating the obvious." Bush uses a three prong approach: one for Europe, one for China, and one for Russia.

For the European continent, Bush wishes to repair NATO as an alliance. The emphasis on NATO is designed to reassert American primacy in an alliance that is riven with self-doubt in the wake of Mr. Clinton's Kosova campaign. Bush and Rice are suspicious of European attempts to build a Defense Community on the Continent (as are the British, one would suspect). Despite those misgivings, it is probable that Bush treats the whole idea of the European Union as a joke (given the recent history of the common currency, the "Euro," one could be forgiven for not being surprised).

Bush wants to go "back to the future," as it were, with Russia. He wishes to restore the old arms reduction regime, providing that the Russian Duma flies right in regards to the whole START nuclear arms reduction program. George Bush relies heavily on Condoleeza Rice here, as she was President Bush's NSC Advisor on Russia during that Administration. Smart as a whip and fluent in Russian, Dr. Rice (whose life's ambition is to be National Football League Commissioner) has steered Bush towards a moderate course towards the Russian Federation.

Reading between the lines, one can sense an urgency for a closer relationship with Moscow, if only in order to avoid a Moscow/Beijing alignment. However, one would suspect that from her reading of history she believes that a little bit of steel goes a long way in regards to the Russian state. Thus, Bush has been urged to make friendly faces at the former Warsaw Pact regimes and the newly independent "near-abroad" states of the former Soviet Empire, such as Byelorussia and Ukraine. At the same time, Bush has made the obligatory noises about Russia's Chechen campaign, but nothing that would make any Russian government think anything out of the ordinary was going on. However, the "Bushies" have not been nearly as tender with the Chinese.

On China, Bush has been urged to be tough. So has McCain, one might add. China is grist for the upcoming political year. Why? It all goes back to Chinese efforts to penetrate the political apparatus of both political parties in 1996. This happened on Clinton's watch and under rather questionable circumstances that many Republicans believe have been covered up. As a result, Bush has called not only for China's admission into the World Trade Organization, but also for Taiwan's as well. He calls for a firm approach to the Taiwan matter (here we go with the Kissinger touch), calling for adherence to the Shanghai Communique of 1972 while insisting that the clause in said communique that the China/Taiwan dispute be solved "peacefully." Bush has called for a reaffirmation of our ties to both South Korea as well as Japan, along with the other Pacific Rim trading states. This means a naval buildup as the corollary to such a policy.

Interestingly enough, Bush calls for a closer relationship with India. This is a turn of events that shows good long-term strategic thinking. After all, if one wishes to give the Chinese something to think about in the long run, why not get close to India? Besides, the Russians have been doing the same for decades for the very same reasons.

Senator John McCain's approach to Foreign affairs is more thematic. While it is probable that he would use the same approach (if not the same advisors) to some of the areas of concern mentioned above. Let us now turn to McCain's approach to the world at large.

McCain provides us with five general principles that should govern American action. They reinforce the impression that McCain's approach is that of the generalist. This is not to say the the Senator is a foreign affairs lightweight. He is not. The first thing he did upon his return to active naval service was to do a stint at the Naval War College. There he made a deep and exhaustive study of the Vietnam War, from the Pentagon Papers to the various histories on hand, going all the way back to Bernard Fall's history of the French war, "Street Without Joy."

Senator McCain's experience in prison was probably a guiding influence in his growth in the field of foreign policy. Most junior officers of that era had a searing experience with that war. Few had to share the same privation that McCain did. However, the experience of losing men in one's own command day after day with little to show for it was traumatic. The final defeat in April of 1975 gave cause for a reappraisal among officers of all ranks across all services. This led to a return to Clausewitz and Sun Tzu as bedtime reading for young lieutenants, among other things.

The ascension of Caspar Weinberger to Defense during the Reagan terms led to a doctrine about force that led right back to Clausewitz. Weinberger insisted that all foreign adventures be vital to the national security interests of the United States, that they be winnable, that they be supported by the Congress and the registered voters, and that if force had to be used, it was to be used overwhelmingly.

A lot of Republican thinking about foreign policy revolves around force and when to use it. Most Republicans are not cowboys. The businessman's party generally isn't as bellicose as the Left would like to believe, as War tends to mean Inflation and Inflation tends to be Bad For Business. For instance, during the Republican era of 1981 to 1993, the United States had only one General War, the Persian Gulf conflict. That war was won decisively in a very short time. Senator McCain has shown in some of his public commentary a reference to this evolution of military thinking. It colors his foreign policy thinking as follows.

McCain maintains that there must be no substitute for American leadership in the defense of American interests. This is another way of saying that it is all right for the U.S. to cater to multilateralism, but at bottom, the U.S. must look after its own best interests. A case in point is the Ballistic Missile Defense debate going on right now. McCain wants to proceed as quickly as possible, as he is not assured of the emotional stability of, say, Saddam Al-Hussein or that life of the party, North Korea's Kim Jong Il. He is willing to negotiate with the Russians to amend the ABM Treaty of 1972. (One suspects that the Russians would like a piece of the action, but they would really want some technology transfers that would keep some at the Pentagon up late at night.) In the end, this sentiment arises from American nationalism and that eighteenth-century suspicion for foreign designs.

McCain believes that one can protect interests to promote values, and vice versa (if one might be forgiven for paraphrasing the McCain policy paper). Here McCain throws in the baleful influence of Woodrow Wilson, asserting that idealism does have its place at the foreign policy table. Sadly, his understanding of the force of idealism in U.S. Foreign policy does betray an understanding of the role that idealistic sentiment plays in the passions of the American people. In other words, the average voter would find a strategic alliance with say, Hitler, to be somewhat unacceptable.

One finds a rather deliberate approach to the use of force in McCain's speeches and policy tea leaves. It's actually a throwback to the Romans: the use of force is firmly subordinated to political ends. Of course, the Romans found a political reason to go to war almost every other year during the time of the Late Republic. However, Americans aren't as reckless as the ancient Romans and the foreign policy apparat knows that they, as a people, are slow to anger. McCain asserts that force might have to be used if necessary (the latter point is emphasized), but only after all diplomatic measures have been fully exhausted. Americans like to make sure that all the talking has been done before any decision on force has been made. McCain is also a Senator and was a Representative, so one would hope that he would be mindful that in decisions of war, Congress tends to be the soul of caution.

McCain knows believes that the United States cannot be a "unilateralist" power. He does believe in working within the existing structures of the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and NATO. He simply wants to make sure that American freedom of action is maintained where necessary. If this conviction is carried through during a McCain Administration, then the Chinese and the Russians might find that while McCain can be obnoxious from time to time, most things will be negotiable. The United States won't be as adventurous as it has been during the Clinton era. This will give pause to any move on the part of Beijing and Moscow to align with each other to contain a reckless, arrogant America.

Finally, McCain recognizes that an American President must be seen to be credible. That is another way to say to say that no one will pay any mind if one is feckless or indecisive. Many have raised questions about McCain's rather emphatic insistence that overwhelming force be utilized during the war in Kosova. Actually, this should have surprised no one. Neither McCain nor Bush believed that the United States should intervene. However, once American prestige was committed, McCain betrayed his own, somewhat Kissingerian roots. Kosova was decisive for McCain. It brought him to national prominence. He was an aviator who believed that air power had its limitations. Therefore, the Senator insisted that to bring the war to a successful conclusion, the United States needed to move troops to Europe and stage them for an overland invasion of Serbia proper. Some have accused McCain of recklessness, but in retrospect, he only insisted that ground force not be removed from the table. (Indeed, the Clinton Administration found it necessary to put ground troops back on the table during a meeting with the Europeans in early June. The news got back to Belgrade, and the war ended within a few weeks.) At bottom, McCain saw the Kosova war as a credibility test. He was desperately concerned that the Clinton Administration was failing that test and that the Russians and the Chinese would draw the appropriate conclusions (as would the North Koreans and the Iranians, for that matter). It is fortunate that the war ended before anyone's theory had to be put to the test.

We are left with two rather moderate fellows steeped in a foreign policy tradition of internationalism that predates Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Indeed, one can detect traces of Arthur Vandenberg and Wendell Willkie in both men. They are resolutely internationalist, have no place in the "big tent" for the likes of Pat Buchanan. One is reminded of Eisenhower, Truman, and the era of "Bipartisanship in Foreign Policy" when one looks at these guys. Perhaps it is because that with the fall of the Soviet Empire, there's not much to be controversial about. The only question is whether or not one or the other candidate would slip into hegemonism were he to become President. This is something to be guarded against, as any assertion of a militant American "mission" overseas would only serve to bring China and Russia together.

Both men are rather cautious, or so it seems. McCain strikes one as more messianic, but not excessively so. Bush has advisers in spades. Whoever is nominated, both men recognize that in the absence of the Soviet Union, we are not left with a return to Reaganism. Rather, in their own ways, these campaigns are but a ressurection of Nixon, Kissinger, and the belief that, while ideals are important, national interest is the most important thing of all.

© February 2000, Christopher M. Jefferson. All rights reserved. E-mail comments and feedback to Chris Jefferson at cmjefferson@thependulum.com.

The George W. Bush For President Website
The John McCain For President Website

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