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Soros is arguably the world's greatest private-sector nation builder. His charities, centered mostly in the former communist world, have disbursed nearly $5 billion during the last two decades, on initiatives ranging from keeping 35,000 top Russian scientists financially solvent during the 1990s, to founding a Central European University in Budapest, to providing fresh drinking water to besieged Sarajevo. His cosmopolitan organizations are openly opposed to most things authoritarian, including several of their host governments. "My foundations contributed to democratic regime change in Slovakia in 1998, Croatia in 1999, and Yugoslavia in 2000, mobilizing civil society to get rid of Vladimir Meciar, Franko Tudjman, and Slobodan Milosevic, respectively," he brags. Just before the book's publication, he could have added Georgia and Eduard Shevardnadze to that list.
So what's wrong with regime change in Iraq, whose dictator made the democratically elected (and defeated) Vladimir Meciar look like Thomas Jefferson? Soros' explanation is almost laughably tortured: "When the weapons of mass destruction could not be found, President Bush fell back on the justification of liberating Iraq from a heinous dictator and introducing democracy. That is indeed a noble cause, which could have justified the invasion if the president had made a case for it. But that was not the case that President Bush had presented to Congress, and presumably, Congress would not have endorsed it."
Later, "noble cause" notwithstanding, Soros compares Iraq unfavorably to Vietnam, rues that "it could have been avoided," and then announces that "admittedly, Saddam was a heinous tyrant and it was a good thing to get rid of him" -- and that's just on a single page. A page later, he laments that the United States, because of overextension in Iraq, "has been reluctant to get engaged in Liberia, causing unnecessary suffering." To be only slightly unfair, Soros seems to oppose toppling tyrants only when it is Bush's White House doing the dirty work.
Why? Because the president has embraced the doctrine of military pre-emption, allowed some members of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century to have positions of influence on foreign policy, and noisily mocked multilateralism in favor of case-by-case bilateral arrangements, thereby making the rest of the world, including longtime allies, nervous and surly.
The criticism is valid enough, and Albright shares it, though to a less vitriolic degree. (Soros decries "Bush's rabid unilateralism," while Albright worries diplomatically that "the great institutions forged by the trans-Atlantic partnership that saved freedom in the twentieth century are in jeopardy" and "must be rescued and revitalized if that blessing is to survive the twenty-first.")
But both fail to acknowledge that the democratizing idealism of Bush administration officials such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is in fact suspiciously similar to their own nosy Wilsonianism. They do not ponder whether aggressive Democratic interventionism made Bush's Republican (and therefore less palatable) version more possible. To the contrary: Soros even writes an entire chapter on how to overcome that annoying obstacle of "sovereignty" when meddling in the affairs of tyrants. He and Albright both skate over the fact that, in Kosovo especially, their pro-war and anti-U.N. arguments could be cut and pasted into Dick Cheney's talking points on Iraq.
"I believe we were justified in intervening in Kosovo without U.N. authorization, and we would have done better if we had relied on NATO and not the United Nations in Bosnia," Soros writes. "But unilateral action that goes against international public opinion cannot be justified, and it can endanger our national security by turning the world against us." Unfortunately, Soros does not explain how we might quantify this "international public opinion," or come up with a Plan B when the world is acting particularly daft. If European public opinion had won the day in March 1999, Soros' Kosovo war never would have been fought.
The most coherent argument against Bush's Iraq policy comes from a perhaps surprising source, given his much-publicized campaign flip-flops on the issue: Wesley Clark. Winning Modern Wars, though a clumsily written and awkwardly structured book (one part crisp military description of the Kosovo war, one part foreign policy argument, then an unconvincing tacked-on chapter about domestic policy issues), nonetheless drives home and supports a few simple, pragmatic points. "The Bush administration's focus on Iraq had thus far weakened our counterterrorist efforts, diverting attention, resources, and leadership, alienating allied supporters, and serving as a rallying point for anyone wishing harm to the United States and Americans," Clark writes.
Bilateralism costs much more in time, money, and lives than multilateralism; terrorism's "root cause" (which Clark laudably defines as "the extreme Wahhabist ideology and funding from Saudi Arabia") has been unaddressed; intelligence has been recklessly warped for political purposes; the military is stretched perilously thin. "U.S. foreign policy had become dangerously dependent on its military," Clark writes. (Much of the book is written in this annoying past tense.) "The armed forces were practically the only effective play in the U.S. repertoire."
Clark looks back fondly on the "new strain of idealism in U.S. foreign policy" during the Clinton era, when the interventions and peacekeeping operations were aligned, he contends, with the noblest of American values. "But 2001 marked a profound departure," he warns. "The Bush administration acted unambiguously to put a more unilateralist, balance-of-power stamp on U.S. foreign policy."
Like Soros, Clark is alarmed, not heartened, that a Wolfowitz-flavored Wilsonianism was grafted onto the Kissinger-style balance-of-power approach after September 11. "Overnight, U.S. foreign policy became not only unilateralist but moralistic, intensely patriotic, and assertive...intimating the New American Empire."
Somewhere within these ominous warnings, a small but tangible Democratic foreign policy distinction begins to emerge. Munich is the mind-set, but not if it prevents us from confronting still more little Hitlers. It's not the invasion, it's the motivation. Selective use of unilateralism and even pre-emptive military action is OK; just don't be rude about it.
This characterization may sound flippant, but the divisions are real. There is genuine concern over in the Democratic aisle that America's plummeting reputation abroad is a source of danger in and of itself, and will continue to drive military costs skyward while perhaps encouraging more terrorism, not less. Bush's irritable, realpolitik, man-to-man bilateralism, in which Saudi princes he's known for years get treated with more respect than the less intimate but nonetheless elected leaders of Europe, is the kind of hubris that suggests impending collapse -- in Soros' theory, a burst "bubble" of American prominence. As Clark darkly muses, "Somewhere in the rising U.S. budget deficits, the balance-of-payments current accounts deficits, and the growing resentment of the United States abroad, there may be a 'tipping point.'"
Unless the more sober Democrats come to the rescue, of course. But what, really, would they do differently? Most recent American presidents, regardless of party, have campaigned on domestic issues and a more "humble" foreign policy, then governed much like the global cop they replaced. The loyal opposition (Republicans in the late '90s, Democrats now) has to be dragged into supporting a war or major troop deployment, while the commander-in-chief can be counted on to invoke Munich and warn against isolationism. The difference? One party talks up the virtues of multilateralism, while the other talks it down.
That distinction may be enough to earn my vote in November, but as tangible philosophical differences go it ranks somewhere not far above splitting a hair. If the most vexing foreign policy issue we face is that American supremacy is indeed a bubble inflated by military assertiveness -- and that's the big if -- then playing nice with international institutions is about as structurally significant as applying a new shade of lipstick on a very old pig.