It's been clear since September 12, 2001, that U.S. foreign policy was going to change radically. The only questions were which direction it would move in and how far. The invasion of Iraq has answered some of those questions but raised still more, as analysts debate whether such wars will undermine the stability of the Middle East, whether that status quo is worth preserving in the first place, and how seriously to take the president's talk of making Iraq a beacon of liberty and democracy.
The deeper question, of course, is not what the administration will do but what it should do. As American troops massed outside Iraq and then entered it with guns drawn, Associate Editor Jesse Walker spoke to three men with very different ideas about the emerging world system. One is an Iraq hawk who thinks we shouldn't make a fetish of sovereignty or stability. One is an Iraq dove who wants a stable, multipolar balance of power, even if that means dictatorships sometimes prevail. And one is a dove -- not just toward Iraq but virtually everywhere -- with little interest in any stability that serves the interests of autocrats.
The Hawk: Ralph Peters
Since retiring from the U.S. Army in 1999 at the rank of lieutenant colonel, Ralph Peters, 51, has been a prolific author of essays on geopolitics and of military fiction. His two books on strategy, Fighting for the Future (1999) and Beyond Terror (2002), have been both controversial and influential -- sometimes among the same readers.
Writing in the military journal Parameters in 2001, Peters declared, "Historically, instability abroad has been to America's advantage." The Spanish-American War, he argues, was one of the great watersheds in U.S. history, heralding both the welcome death of the old European empires and the rise of America as a global power. "With that war," he writes, "we became an imperial power, if a benign one, thus denying our heritage as the key anti-imperial power in history." Today, he argues, Washington has an opportunity to fuse its military might with its anti-imperial origins, by using its armed forces to bring self-government to people suffering under repressive regimes.
reason: Is stability an important foreign policy goal?
Ralph Peters: There are certainly times when stability is very important. But not always. I just came back from South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa right now is very worried about stability in Zimbabwe, because they don't want a flood of refugees coming to the south. And so they're supporting Robert Mugabe, a nasty dictator. But in fact, the longer Mugabe rules, the greater the clash may be -- and South Africa may have a greater flood of refugees.
In the United States, because of our short-term election cycles, we tend to want near-term solutions. So there's always the temptation to go with the "stability now" option that ends up being detrimental to U.S. interests. Take Iran in the 1950s. We were absolutely obsessed with stability, to the point that we helped depose a prime minister, Mossadeq, who was a lefty but not really a menace. Or take some of the regimes we supported in Latin America. There was simply no way that the Soviet Union was going to take over Paraguay or Brazil and use it as a launching pad to attack the U.S. But we were very tolerant of extremely repressive regimes, because they were "our" dictators. The Cold War's over. We don't need to do that anymore.
We've supported oppressor regimes in Indonesia for mining rights, in the Middle East for oil rights, and so on. Bad move. In the short term, supporting human rights in a place like Saudi Arabia may mean that the Saudis give their oil contract to someone else or crack down even harder or deny us bases. In the short term, that's painful. But in the long term, supporting human rights is not only morally correct, it's good for business and foreign policy. It's much easier to do business with people whose human rights struggle you've supported.
I support the Iraq campaign strongly on human rights grounds: the liberation of the Iraqi people and the example it sets for other dictators that they literally cannot get away with murder. If that sets a new pattern, it's going to change absolutely all of the rules. It will put dictators on notice that they cannot slaughter their own people with impunity and then hide behind sovereignty. To me, the only legitimate reason that should allow a state to claim full sovereignty would be that the government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
reason: That hinges on what emerges after Saddam, doesn't it? There's a tension between the drive to democratize and the feeling we should just bring in a loyal regime.
Peters: Of course. And anyone who expects a perfect result is foolish, because this isn't a perfect world. In the first few months, there's going to be confusion and retributions. Everyone's going to rush to declare defeat -- to declare that the occupation, the rebuilding, is failing. That's just the way our 24/7 media works.
You have to stand back and take a long-term view. In Afghanistan in the first few months, you had all these reports that Afghanistan was falling apart. It wasn't true. Is Afghanistan perfect today? No -- it's still Afghanistan, for God's sake. But it is a safer, more peaceful place than it was before we intervened.
You cannot expect that Iraq will suddenly turn into one big New England town meeting. But we can expect a state will emerge in which the people have a greater role, moving toward democracy; in which human rights are observed; in which minorities have protections; in which the market, not merely a ruling family, rules the economy.
reason: How easy is it to liberalize or democratize a country from the outside?