What Next for U.S. Foreign Policy?

Power, stability, and the post-Iraq world order.

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Peters: I do not believe that anyone can successfully impose democracy from the outside. What we can do, with our allies, is give people the opportunity to construct their own democracy. We cannot design the Iraq of the future. We can create an environment in which Iraqis design the Iraq of the future. And they'll work through the growing pains.

One of the crucial reasons why authoritarian regimes like Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt are so opposed to our going into Iraq is because they fear the example of an Arab state that's reasonably democratic, has a market economy, observes human rights, and has a free press. That is more terrifying to Mr. Assad or Mr. Mubarak than Saddam is. The Saudis are even afraid of the gradual liberalization we've seen in Qatar.

reason: For most Americans, the No. 1 foreign policy concern is our safety. One of the reasons 9/11 happened is because the United States has been involved in these battles in the past and has made enemies in the process. We're going to make a lot more enemies this way, and a lot of the enemies we're going to make have a history of alliances with terrorists. So even if this is better for Iraq in the long run, and maybe even destabilizes these other dictatorships, couldn't you be reducing U.S. security?

Peters: I disagree entirely with that. First of all, 9/11 happened because of cultural divides. The United States is hated for its success, for its liberal policies, for the roles it allows for women. The United States' presence in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arab world matters, but it's a secondary issue.

As for making more enemies: Under President Clinton, our enemies were allowed to see the United States as weak-willed. The world has to learn about American resolve. If you are perceived as strong, then the fellow travelers and also-rans don't sign up to oppose you.

There will always be hard-core enemies of the greatest power. But this idea that if we just retreat to Fortress America and don't get involved anywhere, they won't come after us, is wrong. The terrorists' hatred is really about their internal demons and not so much about America. They're coming after us anyway. And the best defense is a good offense.

reason: Isn't there a difference between going after people who've proved their intentions toward America, such as Al Qaeda, and fighting people who haven't attacked us?

Peters: When it comes to America's security -- and that of its allies, because we're all interrelated -- you have to act vigorously. And pre-emption is important. When people openly want to kill as many Americans as possible, you can't just sit on your farm and wait for it to happen.

The rules are changing. What we're doing here -- and this is one reason I think this war is such an epochal event -- is we're casting off sets of rules that were designed from the 17th through the 20th centuries in Europe. They don't work anymore. Enough. It's as silly as having France on the United Nations Security Council when obviously India should be there instead.

reason: Let me ask you about one of those rules. You've raised the idea of assassination as an alternative to war. Right now, that violates international law.

Peters: The problem is with the word assassination. It brings the image of Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth. So give me a new word.

You may decry it instinctively. But wouldn't the world be better off had we been able simply to kill Saddam Hussein, his two sons, and a dozen of his top henchmen? Wouldn't it be better to kill 13 to 15 people than to have a massive war that no matter how cleanly executed will still cause human casualties, dislocation, and suffering?

The rule against assassination was an agreement among kings, emperors, czars: "Well, we may take Alsace or Lorraine, but we won't eliminate the ruling family. Live and let live among us kings." It even made practical sense to the extent that, in the past, armies didn't have the ability to reach beyond the other foot soldiers and get at the king. Well, increasingly, we have that ability -- instead of killing the draftees, to kill the guilty.

What do human rights really mean? Is it our job to protect the human rights of one dictator while 22 million people suffer? Or is it more commonsensical to protect the rights of 22 million people and get rid of the dictator?

The Realist: Benjamin Schwarz

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