Roundtable Review: Tony Smith's "A Pact With the Devil"

The following post examines Tony Smith's A Pact With the Devil: Washington’s Bid for Global Supremacy and the Betrayal of the American Promise (New York and London: Routledge, 2007). It features reviews by Thomas Mills (Brunel University), Lane Crothers (Illinois State University), Inderjeet Parmar (University of Manchester), and Timothy Lynch (Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London). The post concludes with a reponse by author Tony Smith (Tufts University).

By Thomas Mills, Brunel University

There has certainly been no shortage of books critical of the Bush foreign policy doctrine and the ongoing war in Iraq. Blame in most of these studies is apportioned to the neoconservatives perceived to have been the dominant force guiding American foreign policy since the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. While Tony Smith’s new book, A Pact with the Devil, has no sympathy with the neocons, they are not the principal target of this study. Rather, Smith seeks to show how the intellectual foundations for the Bush Doctrine, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, were provided by left of centre academics, journalists, and politicians, a group that Smith collectively refers to as “neo-Wilsonians”, or “neoliberals” (p.xii-xiii). In this way A Pact with the Devil provides a provocative and original interpretation of the current crisis in American foreign policy.

Smith’s central thesis is that liberal internationalism, as the traditional guiding ideal in American foreign policy, has been fundamentally transformed into a form of liberal imperialism. Spurred on by post-Cold War triumphalism, the Bush Doctrine has sought to exploit Washington’s unprecedented military superiority in order to promote market-based democracies the world over. In its most extreme form Smith characterises this ideology as a liberal fundamentalist jihadism that mirrors exactly the kind of Islamic fundamentalism it purports to oppose. This imperialistic turn represents a betrayal of America’s promise for Smith and is the first “pact with the devil” referred to in his title. The second is the support provided by the neoliberals who worked throughout the 1990’s to provide the theoretical underpinning for the Bush Administration’s subsequent foreign policy.

In order for this transformation to take place Smith describes how neoliberals developed three new concepts that would in turn prove fundamental to the Bush Doctrine. The first of these was democratic peace theory – the belief that democracies do not go to war with each other. Based on this assumption this theory holds that increasing the number of democratic states will ultimately improve the chances of lasting world peace. The second was to assert that democracy is a universal value, and therefore applicable to all societies the world over. Thirdly, neoliberals sought to challenge traditional interpretations of international law by arguing that continued human rights abuses or a desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) legitimised the use of military force against a sovereign state.

Smith proceeds to debunk each of these three concepts in turn. With regard to democratic peace theory, he points to its inability to take into account the role of the hegemon (the US) in securing the peace, and therefore, the possibility that the actions of the US could change course and thereby derail “the democratic zone of peace” (p.96). Tackling the universality of democracy, Smith notes the failure of this theory to take into account the individual circumstances and histories of the countries in which democracy has recently taken root. Finally, when challenging the new “militarised humanitarianism” (p.163) as a valid basis for war, Smith points to the danger of humanitarian concerns being deployed merely as a cover for more self-interested motivations.

Smith’s deconstruction of the neoliberal’s updated version of liberal internationalism is both erudite and persuasive. Indeed, judged on its own terms, it is hard to fault the arguments advanced in A Pact with the Devil. But it is clear throughout Smith’s book that it was never meant to be a solely academic pursuit, intended for a limited scholarly audience. Rather, A Pact with the Devil is offered as a contribution to the ongoing “war of ideas” (p.xix) in the US concerning the role of the country in world affairs.

Assessed in terms of its contribution to this broader debate there are several questions that need to be asked of Smith’s book. Underpinning the central thesis of A Pact with the Devil is an assumption that it was an attempt to advance democracy around the world – the central premise of the Bush Doctrine – that led to the invasion of Iraq. As Smith eloquently puts it, “the Iraq War flowed like the mighty Mississippi out of the Bush Doctrine” (p.54). But why should we accept this assumption?

Smith argues that the formulations of liberal internationalism developed by neoliberals in the 1990’s were translated into policy by the Bush Administration, resulting finally in the invasion of Iraq. In this sense Smith describes a “conceptual food chain” that acted to “link academic thinking to public policy” (p.94). But Smith fails to offer substantive evidence that liberal academics did in fact play any prominent role in the formulation of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, even by way of being the ‘other’ to be countered.

Smith’s principal source when demonstrating that an effort to promote democracy was the driving force that led to the Iraq War is Bush’s public speeches. But why should these be interpreted as revealing the true motivation for the war, rather than merely a justification to the American public and the wider world? There were many reasons given for the invasion of Iraq – Saddam’s possession of WMD not least among them. This claim turned out to be false, so why take public assertions of democracy promotion at face value?

While there is clearly a correlation between the ideas propounded by neoliberals in the 1990’s and the public utterances of the Bush Administration when making the case for war, it does not necessarily follow that these ideas provided the true motivation for war.

Smith insists that we must respond to the Bush Doctrine on its own terms and seeks to contribute to a debate concerning the benefits, possibilities, and legitimacy of the US placing the worldwide advance of democracy at the heart of its foreign policy. In so doing A Pact with the Devil offers a stimulating and robust rejoinder to the theories of liberal internationalism recently advanced by neoliberals. However, by accepting the assumption that these ideas were the salient factor that propelled the US into war in Iraq, A Pact with the Devil may ironically attribute undue significance to the very neoliberals that it seeks to condemn. 

By Lane Crothers, Illinois State University

In A Pact With the Devil, Tony Smith offers a useful if ultimately stretched analysis of an under-examined aspect of the rise of the Bush Doctrine: the role of liberal intellectuals in creating an ideological context in which the Bush administration’s assertions of American global dominance was intellectually credible. For Smith, the usual suspects of neoconservative luminaries have been mischaracterized as having somehow co-opted U.S. foreign policy for their radical ends. Instead, it was liberals who made a “pact with the devil” and linked ideals of liberal internationalism to the neoconservative project, thus creating the moral foundation on which American presumptive military action was advanced. Liberal intellectuals, then, share substantial responsibility for the excesses of the Bush administration’s policies and the consequences that have followed from their implementation.

The particular liberal contributions to the Bush Doctrine are seen to derive from three significant leftist adaptations of Wilsonian liberalism: democratic peace theory, the universal achievability of democracy, and the moral use of force. After the end of the Cold War, liberal intellectuals combined the insight that democracies don’t go to war with one another (apparently) with a rejection of conservatives’ skepticism of human nature (and thus rejection of the idea that democracy could be exported quickly or easily around the globe) to articulate a theory of global democratic peace. This, in turn, was linked to an expanded understanding of the potential for the moral use of violence to achieve democracy that had, among other things, examples of the failure to act in Rwanda and the success of NATO in the Balkans as context. Combined, these liberal theoretical developments provided neoconservatives with the rhetoric they needed to claim that their aggressive triumphalism was fundamentally moral.

The three chapters in which Smith elucidates this tri-part argument are certainly the book’s strongest. The cross-fertilization of liberal and conservative thought is well illustrated. So, too, is the theoretical disarray into which foreign policy thought was thrown at the end of the Cold War. The 1990s were, indeed, a moment in which the world had to be thought anew, and the particular twists and turns of that decade established an intellectual environment in which the Bush administration could develop its extraordinary doctrine in the horrible aftermath of 9/11.

At least two claims Smith makes work to undermine elements of his analysis, however. Both can be seen to derive from his exclusively ideological analysis of the politics of the Bush Doctrine. These are his repeated insistence that the Bush Doctrine is uniquely radical in American history, and thus that the Doctrine constitutes a fundamental shift in American orientation to the world, and his claim that the Doctrine is a permanent, pervasive and ultimately dangerous part of American life—and thus, given the United States’ role in contemporary world affairs, to global politics.

Smith is at some pains to insist that the Bush Doctrine is radical and new as the result of the United States’ preeminent position in global affairs: where once the Soviet Union limited potential U.S. supremacism, the end of the Cold War removed this constraint. Accordingly, the United States is free to enact its international ambitions far beyond the wildest fantasies of Cold War-era politicians, who accepted prudent limits on the use of power. This makes the Bush Doctrine fundamentally new.

There are several contentious points in this argument. As Smith himself notes, moralism has been a central component American political culture at least since the Jacksonian era. Americans are evangelist, exceptionalist, pragmatist and populist—often all at the same time. A careful examination of the rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, for example, through which American adventurism in Mexico, the Great Plains and Cuba was legitimated, suggests that an American sense of unbounded power shackled to moral principle has been a motivating force in American political life from a time well before the end of the Cold War. It is not at all clear precisely how contemporary intellectual triumphalism is profoundly different than these earlier formulations, and indeed the book tends to assert the uniqueness of the Bush Doctrine more than to demonstrate it. This does not, in and of itself, obviate Smith’s analysis, but the overstatement of the historical uniqueness of Bush Doctrine detracts from the core analysis of the synthesis of liberal and conservative foreign policy thought the book rightly exposes.

A similar bit of overstretch comes in Smith’s claims that the Bush Doctrine is a potentially transformative idea capable of trapping the United States and the rest of the world in what he analyzes, in Chapter Seven, as “Liberal Fundamentalist Jihadism.” For Smith, the excesses of a rhetoric of unbounded power and moral triumphalism can lead Americans to jihad in the name of their principles and fantasies. This analysis rests on the notion that the Bush Doctrine is at least as important for shaping the future of American foreign policy as Washington’s Farewell Address was—and indeed is of more historical moment than was either the Monroe Doctrine or the Truman Doctrine. Yet such an assertion fails on the simple point that the American people have already abandoned the Bush project as hopeless; it is simply not possible to imagine that the U.S. might engage in more preemptive, moral, transformative wars in the near future absent a significant change in American public opinion. Put another way, the Washington, Monroe and Truman Doctrines (for want of a better term) were institutionalized in U.S. policy and accepted by policymakers in the United States and across the world. By contrast the Bush Doctrine seems unlikely to survive past the Bush presidency even should a Republican win the 2008 presidential election. This analysis seems more a matter of playing out the logic of an idea than adding persuasively to the matter at hand.

Smith is to be commended for unpacking the linkages among liberal internationalism and neoconservative transformational politics. His is a useful corrective to those who wish to pin blame for the Iraq War on neoconservative cronies pouring poison into the ear of a naïve President. This powerful analysis would only be strengthened by more attention to the dynamics of American politics and less to claims about the uniqueness and extremism of the Bush Doctrine.

By Inderjeet Parmar, University of Manchester

This is a fascinating and controversial book. It is likely to make particularly uncomfortable reading for liberals (and perhaps somewhat to dismay those neo-cons – such as William Kristol - who believe that they were so influential in determining President Bush’s national security strategy) because Prof. Smith squarely assigns to neo-liberals intellectual responsibility for the ‘global war on terror’ and the War on Iraq. By ‘neo-liberals’ Smith means “liberal internationalists of the center and the left…. or neo-Wilsonians” (pp.xii-xiii). Smith especially points up as neo-Wilsonians the likes of the Progressive Policy Institute of the Democratic Leadership Council who provide intellectual and political support to Democratic leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman and Richard Holbrooke, among others. His main argument is that it was neo-liberal scholars and activists who masterminded and championed the two principal theoretical breakthroughs that provided the intellectual case for democracy promotion and humanitarian intervention: ‘democratic peace’ theory and ‘democratic transition’ theory. Those lines of thought, those logics, when put into practice, provided the intellectual rationale for interventions in Kosovo and Iraq. To be sure, Smith does not let the neo-cons ‘off the hook’: he merely argues that as far as the theoretical innovation went, the neo-cons did not cut the mustard.

It is impressive, at a time when so many former left-liberal sceptics of US interventions abroad – like Christopher Hitchens, for example – that Smith, who has for years counselled a sort of selective policy of US interventionism to promote democracy (in Latin America, for example, but not in the Middle East or Africa), did not back the Bush programme after 9-11. In 1999, Smith argued that “What liberalism must avoid are self-righteous, quixotic crusades” and, especially in the Muslim world, remember “the limits of our influence, the vulnerability of our interests, and the virtues of restraint” (Tony Smith, “Making the World Safe for Democracy,” in Michael J. Hogan, ed., The Ambiguous Legacy, Cambridge: CUP, 1999). Smith’s new book then is partly to be understood in the context of his having stuck to his guns while others from that camp, and even further to the left, abandoned ship and fell in with Bush’s hubristic imperialism, liberal jihadism. Smith is a Wilsonian with teeth – a Wilsonian realist? - who recommends biting selectively and just enough to be able to chew effectively.

Smith attributes the rise of the neoliberals’ intellectual influence to their domination of several think tanks, universities and NGOs in the 1990s where they developed and elaborated “an argument for liberal imperialism just waiting to be used when a team with the will to power took over in Washington”. (p.xii). With the end of the Cold war, neoliberals believed that intervention to promote democracy – as the source of world peace and American security – was back on the agenda. Their counterparts in comparative political development, contrary to comparativists of the 1950s and 1960s, argued that democratic transitions were relatively straight-forward affairs, regardless of a country’s history or political culture. “When great ideas were adopted by great leaders at critical historical junctures, momentous change could be the result.” (p.xiii). But the final piece of the puzzle lay in undermining – through sophisticated neoliberal jurists and academic lawyers – the main stumbling block to intervention: national sovereignty.

Dividing the world into three blocs – a group of democracies, a transitional group on the road to market liberalism, and a bloc hostile to market democracy – neoliberals’ advocated unity with the first, aid to the second, and war on the third to forcibly impose democracy. A fusion of neo-cons and neo-liberals’ thinking after 9-11 produced the toxic cocktail that led to war: the fusion of muscle and morality, of interests and values, Wilsonianism with teeth. With the invasion and military conquest of Iraq, even as it threatens to descend into a Vietnamesque nightmare, neoliberals continue to see Washington as a progressive force in the world, its mission to secure America and promote world peace. The pact with the devil consisted of the neoliberals’ backing a war in the hands of conservative nationalists in the hope that they’d ‘do the right thing’ to open the way for further democratisation in the Middle East and elsewhere. For Smith, the result has been a disaster for America’s progressive ideals and for the promise of liberal internationalism. And, one might add, for Iraq, where hundreds of thousands have been killed since the invasion of 2003.

What next? Will the United States retrench to a 1990s style selective liberal internationalism or march boldly on? Smith considers the ‘nightmare scenario’: the continuation of the Bush crusade by liberal fundamentalists who believe that he just did not go far enough. Citing the apocalyptic vision of Paul Berman – and many others – Smith argues, not too convincingly, that large-scale “utopian violence” is a possibility.

What to do? Smith argues that the place to slay the “dragon of liberal imperialism” is in the intellectual priesthood – in the liberal IR and political science communities – where “the core ideology” is elaborated and gives coherence to elite and popular discourses. Once elaborated by scholars in venues such as International Organization, International Security, and World Politics,scholar-activists transmit the more salient ideas to Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy for consumption by activists and policy elites. (This, of course, sounds curiously like Gramsci’s organic intellectuals though Smith makes no reference to the Italian Marxist). How the dragons are to be slain is not elaborated by Smith though presumably a counter-mobilisation of critical intellectuals would be required. But where would resources for such an enterprise come from? Smith does not address this problem.

Tony Smith’s book is an excellent account of the power of ideas in world politics and the actual and potential influence and role of intellectuals. The central argument is persuasive. The only points I would raise in (mild) criticism are these: perhaps Smith could have explored more deeply the sociology of knowledge and intellectuals, looked at the reasons why some ideas – like democratic peace theory – became influential and even hegemonic and why and how others are marginal/marginalised. But that might be, as Smith suggests, another book. Secondly, Smith offers no solution, no strategy for challenging the continuing problem of liberal fundamentalism. Thirdly, Smith might have let the neo-cons off a little lightly. Surely, they played important roles as the attack dogs of the administration – the talking heads on TV, and the screamers on talk-radio. But maybe even that would not be enough to point up the sources of the war on terror and on Iraq: what about American conservative nationalists – the mainstream conservatives of the Heritage Foundation and the most senior people in the Bush administration – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Bush himself: was it just liberal hawks and neo-cons – neither group occupying the most senior positions in the White House – who took America to war? Surely the upsurge in conservative power and influence, so ably analysed by John Mickelthwaite and Adrian Wooldridge in The Right Nation, played a powerful role in taking the decisions that led to war; in using the neo-cons so ably; and in ratcheting to the right the neoliberals themselves. 

By Timothy Lynch, Institute for the Study of the Americas, University of London

It is rare I am asked to review a book that I think I will dislike but actually ended up rather enjoying. Tony Smith’s A Pact with the Devil is his sixth book – and his most interesting. His starting point is the ‘certifiably megalomaniac’ (xi) Bush Doctrine and its ‘bid for world supremacy.’ But his target is not ‘the devil’ – the neocons et al – of the title. Rather, it is the ‘pact’ made with them by various ‘neolib scholars, scholar-activists, and activists’. It was these men and women – largely Democrat-leaning – that helped generate ‘the intellectual underpinnings’ of the Bush doctrine and of the Iraq invasion in particular. Smith ends, after tracing the metamorphosis of foreign policy liberalism through various stages of liberal imperialism (chs 2-6), with a warning about the perils of ‘liberal fundamentalist jihadism’ (ch. 7).

His thesis reflects the cooptation of realism that increasingly marks the liberal critique of US foreign policy. This form of liberal realism (Smith dishes out several labels but baulks at adopting one for himself) holds that liberal democracy is a discrete phenomenon, hard to achieve, difficult to maintain, impossible to spread. This is especially the case in what the author labels the ‘third zone’ (xiv), comprising, substantially, the Middle East, where anti-Americanism and anti-capitalism is rife. According to Smith, given its ‘pride in ancient ways,’ this region, unlike post-1945 Germany and Japan (154-9), nations now firmly in the ‘first zone,’ was never going ‘to fall under the sway of a doctrine as foreign as liberal democracy when its experience for so long had been one of outside incursions made for strictly self-interested gain.’ (x) This argument about Arabs (it is the Middle East which remains the book’s central case study) is made by the Tufts professor over eight chapters, each offering an indictment of various manifestations of ‘liberal imperialism’.

In his preface, Smith makes his objections to the Bush Doctrine clear. Rather than fashioning ‘broad-based democratic governments’ – the Doctrine’s objective – its chosen means were more likely to create ‘a form of populist, militarist, nationalist neofascism’ even more antithetical to ‘American interests and values’ (x) than the regimes it replaced. His logic here is not difficult to grasp. Again, it conforms to the standard realist critique of American power in the current era: great power, especially that for which unlimited military efficacy is claimed and universal moral purpose imputed, will be resisted because it is great and hubristic. The ‘victims’ (his word, ix) of American power will quite understandably resist it thus perpetuating the paradox of US foreign policy: the more ambitious its means and objectives, the less likely they are to be realised. Indeed, the fault is not with Bush himself, or with his party, or indeed with the neocons, though Smith clearly deplores all three. Rather, he says, it is liberal internationalists who have created this state of affairs.

This dissection of liberal thinking is sustained throughout the book and makes for a terrific read. Liberal internationalism, he argues, encounters no problem which it has not itself created. The enemy is simply the logical consequence of neoliberal excess, contemporary and historical. I am persuaded by very little of this. If anything, America’s international problems stem today, as in the past, not from hubris but from its absence. American foreign policy is more the sins of omission than commission. The abandonment of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites by the first Bush administration after the Gulf War in 1991, applauded by realists, seems as likely to have sown the mistrust which Smith credits to American democratic zealotry. This too limited war to liberate Kuwait gets no mention in the book. And yet it was this refusal to finish the job which made the Middle East a much more problematic region in which to engage when America finally chose to do so – by toppling Saddam Hussein. In fact, the Bush Doctrine was so ‘megalomaniacal’ in Iraq in 2003 that it sent too few troops and did too little planning.

But the target for Smith is not Bush and the neocons. And this is why the book is interesting and important. Instead, the author goes after wrong-thinking liberals – particularly IR theorists – who, he argues, have facilitated Bush foreign policy by misrepresenting and misunderstanding the efficacy of American power. The book offers a fascinating analysis of the various scholarly approaches to international relations – and their disastrous impact on US conduct. Space here precludes consideration of all the accused but they include Andrew Moravcsik, Larry Diamond, Francis Fukuyama, Paul Berman, Ian Buruma, Thomas Friedman, John Rawls and several more. His case against them is invariably as strongly worded as it is unproven.

This is all compelling if contentious stuff. Polemic does rather get the better of him, however. Whilst there is some effort to make the Bush administration less explanatory of foreign policy failure than is often the case in liberal analyses, Smith just can’t resist kicking it. Similarly, I think he compromises his scholarly tone and intent by conjuring the label ‘liberal fundamentalist Jihadists’ (195-235) to describe people who can see no real alternative to democracy promotion, by persuasion and/or coercion, as a central pillar of US grand strategy. This game of moral equivalence is best left to ideologues like Tariq Ali (see his Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity, 2002). Smith’s constant allusions to all manner of religious imagery – serpents, Satan, God, the Apocalypse, Jihad, the Tower of Babel, and the book’s title itself – detract from his argument.

That said, this reviewer is left thoroughly refreshed by his approach, if not always his style. Any book written by a liberal scholar containing the line ‘it would be a serious mistake to exaggerate the importance of the neoconservatives’ (43) deserves a wide readership. If his purpose was to open up, rather than foreclose, debate he has succeeded.

Timothy Lynch is the author, with Robert Singh, of After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

The Author's Reply

By Tony Smith, Tufts University

I very much appreciate the opportunity to appear in Argentia, especially because it gives me the opportunity to interact with British colleagues with whom I have unfortunately never had much interaction. Twenty five years ago, when I published a book with Cambridge University Press on the character of Anglo-American imperialism designed in part as an attack on Marxist constructions of this matter, I was briefly involved (but in Germany for some strange reason) with a spirited group led by Ronald Gallagher. Since those springtime days my contacts in Europe have been limited to France (where I have a great many colleagues). So let me thank you for the invitation to dialogue with such a fine set of reviews.

Thomas Mills most certainly gets the argument of my book right except for one major matter: its discussion of the role of ideas in the making of state policy (and hence history). He correctly maintains that it is inadvisable to take public pronouncements at face value, hence his skepticism, first, that the ideas of “liberal academics did in fact play any prominent role in the formulation of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy,” or, second, that to the extent they did that “these ideas provided the true motivation for war.” Let me take each of these objections in turn.

On the first score, my answer is that the “food chain” linking academic thinking to public policy needs to be explored with more research than I was able to engage in; however, I am confident the tracks are there to be found. The neoconservatives, who most believe were the primary authors of the Bush Doctrine and who claim as much themselves, came to many of their principal ideas about the exportability of democracy during the Reagan years. But these ideas were rather inchoate, more sentimental and patriotic than based in anything like a rigorous theory or a philosophical argument. (The one exception is Francis Fukuyama, as I explain in the text.) Instead, the bona fides of these ideas germinated during 1990s in the fertile minds of those I call “neoliberals,” for the most part left-leaning political scientists at major US universities (Yale, Princeton, Stanford, and Harvard especially). These concepts were transmitted easily enough to the neocons through conferences, journals, and personal contacts. As examples, I cite the case of Larry Diamond or Michael Ignatieff or the ways these ideas reached the best know foreign correspondent in America, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Thus, ideas generated over seminar tables in great universities were popularized and disseminated rather easily, percolating quickly from these institutions to the seats of power hungry for direction. Remember the times. Here was America Triumphant. What would it now do with the vast power at its disposition? What was called during the Clinton administration “the enlargement of the zone of market democracies” was thus an historic moment for the reconfiguration of liberal internationalist thinking. The elaboration of a serious ideology for world peace (yes) was thus the order of the day.

By the time we get to Natan Sharanksy’s book The Case for Democracy (a book distributed by President Bush on his own initiative to his foreign policy team), the Word had been made flesh. That is, the arguments had passed from elite production to popular consumption. Sharanksy had contributed not a thing to the formulation of the theoretical position he espoused, but he put it convincingly. The implicit footnotes that gave his utopian rhetoric some grounding (to the extent there were any) were not to works by neoconservatives but to neoliberals. That the same set of ideas appeared simultaneously in the Progressive Policy Institute of the Democratic Party suggests how portable they had become. A zeitgeist or conscience collective was forming, in a word, a development basic to the formulation of the Bush Doctrine. Hence, Mill’s proposition that liberal ideas were not appropriated is demonstrably false.

But, Mr Mills may object, so what? Maybe the neolibs were indispensable to this enterprise, but wasn’t it all window dressing for the war, one motivated by other considerations? Mills is right to some degree. As I say in the book, a “will to power” disguised itself with these self-confident, self-righteous ideas as it marched to conquest. Yet to some extent, these ideas of themselves gave rise to the martial spirit. Certainly those in the land of Tony Blair can see with blinding clarity that this poor man, whose intelligence and integrity place him far above George W. Bush, sincerely believed much of the tripe he was talking. Yes, he was taken with the weapons of mass destruction argument in part (his “Saddam can launch in 45 minutes” assertion). But by the summer of 2002, Blair had been informed by British services to take these arguments with a large grain of salt. He didn’t need much persuading as he was already set to march on a liberal crusade under the banner of human rights and democratic government, a secular religion that coincided nicely with his own views on Christianity.

The point, I would maintain, is not to find “the” motive to war, but rather to identify the way in which various motives interacted as they came together into a construct for policy that we call the Bush Doctrine. In the history of American presidential doctrines this one is a dilly. Never before had such a complex yet coherent framework for policy been advanced in the United States. And the reason it was possible had to do with the evolution of Wilsonianism, or liberal internationalism, in to a supple ideology of progressive imperialism during the 1990s. Put differently, all the terms of the Bush Doctrine were laid out before George W. Bush became president, in fact before he had even been nominated to that office by the Republican Party.

Indeed the strength of the framework remains with us today, whatever the “lessons of Iraq.” Take a look at an important publication by Professors John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Forging a World of Liberty under Law.” These two academics are at Princeton, where Slaughter is Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. Both are Democrats and Slaughter is widely considered a likely nominee as ambassador to the United Nations next year in the event of a Democratic victory this November. In “Forging a World,” known also as “the Princeton Project” and based on interviews with a large number of intellectuals and policy makers many of whom are Republicans, we find a restatement of all of the major terms of the Bush Doctrine. To be sure, there are amendments. The Princeton Project insists that American military action to promote a better world be multilateral, and they talk of downplaying “democratization” of foreign peoples in favor of their “liberalization.” But the essential argument they forward falls clearly, indeed dramatically, within the parameters set by the Bush Doctrine.

So, do ideas matter? Yes. Do they alone count? To some such as Tony Blair, apparently they do. To many others, they work in tandem with other motivations. And to some they are but cynical pretexts for actions they take based on other considerations altogether. So far as the Bush Doctrine is concerned, examples of all three possibilities may be noted. But without having the intellectual heft that it did, would the Doctrine have been as persuasive as it was? Without its arguments can we explain the continued appeal of its tenets to many still today?

Lane Carothers makes two points, which if true would indeed be damaging to my argument. First, he contends that the Bush Doctrine is not such a new thing under the sun. He goes back to Manifest Destiny and other expressions of America’s mission to show that such hubris has long been with us. But I agree! Pages 44-48 and elsewhere in the book talk about the influence of Christian missionary zeal on public policy, the secular confidence in the universality of American political ways, and the manner that Woodrow Wilson stitched this all together between 1913 and 1919 into a distinctive tradition that the United States has employed ever since. The argument about “continuity vs. change” is one that historians love to play with, but whose problem is readily apparent: usually both terms are true so it is better to avoid accepting one at the expense of the other.

Accordingly, I am careful to put the Bush Doctrine within the Wilsonian tradition, that is to acknowledge its continuity with American traditions. Yet at the same time, credit where it is due: the neocons who invented the Bush Doctrine were coming up with a radically new statement of American greatness that reflected the country’s victory during the Cold War. Hence, both continuity and change must be seen as operative in its formulation.

As for its staying power, we shall see. Carothers seems to think its days are numbered. Would this were true! However, that would be news to John McCain, now the Republican nominee for the presidency. What aspect of the Bush Doctrine is McCain ready to jettison? As for the Democrats, I refer the reader back to the Ikenberry-Slaughter statement, which can easily be found on the internet. Read it at all carefully and you will find two prominent Democratic intellectuals who have multilateralized the Bush Doctrine but in no other way substantially modified it. (I should add that John Ikenberry has edited a volume that will be out this fall in which Slaughter and I argue this very point: American Foreign Policy in Crisis: The Future of Wilsonianism in the 21st Century, Princeton University Press, October, 2008).

Inderjeet Parmar is quite right to suppose that I have been subjected to abusive messages from neoliberals who feel I have broken ranks with the movement, that I am a whistle blower telling tales out of school, a traitor, in a word, to the sacred mission of carrying the democratic flame worldwide. Yet as Parmar says (and I appreciate the effort involved to review my earlier writings), I have always believed that such efforts must be selective. The world of liberal democratic capitalism has limits to its power and to its appeal, as well as serious internal problems. It can make a bad situation worse by self righteous posturing, especially of the sort that gets it involved in imperialist ventures for the sake of redeeming humanity. My guess is that those of you in Blair-land are as familiar with this kind of dangerous delusional thinking as we are in the United States. For Parmar is correct to point out that Iraq was only the beginning. The “Broader Middle East” was to be reformed under the terms of the Bush vision—and who knew but that such a mighty cause might not sweep Russia and even China as well thereafter!

Parmar writes that the conquest of Iraq “threatens to descend into a Vietnamesque nightmare.” But in truth, it is already far worse. Perhaps as of yet not as many people have died as a result of the American invasion. But the consequences geopolitically of this megalomania have yet to be fully assessed. It has already been complemented by terrible economic problems worldwide as the same kind of self-confident, self-righteousness that brought us the invasion of Iraq also brought us rampant economic deregulation and globalization. Then there is the possibility of a yet more utopian violence on the part of the United States as one can see not only in the current writings of the neoconservatives, as well as the promptings of self-styled leftists like Paul Berman, but also in repeated statements by John McCain, for whom Iraq is not enough but who would take on Iran—and Russia too should it pretend to great power status once again.

If what we are seeing is the end of American hegemony, then the descent in to a new world order of frightening difficulties may soon enough be upon us. Defenders of the Bush Doctrine have often remarked that the invasion of Iraq is a” make or break” undertaking. They intended for it to be a “make,” to be sure, but that it could be a “break” is more likely as Asia, and more especially China, comes more and more to dominate world affairs. In the late 1980s, we pondered the question of how Moscow would react to its relative decline in world affairs. That it would lash out to defend its position was widely believed to be likely. In the event, these guesses proved wrong. But what now of the United States as it faces its decline?

Parmar speculates on the intellectual food chain and invokes Gramsci. I have an earlier book on Marxist-Leninist intellectual thought (Thinking Like A Communist: State and Legitimacy in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, Norton, 1987) and perhaps I should have gone in to this matter at more length (although I think Marx’s German Ideology had it all laid out long before Gramsci appeared on the scene). At this point, however, my ambition was to get across the logic and power of a set of ideas, not to show just who learned what from whom, valuable as such a study might be.

As for a “counter mobilization of critical intellectuals” that Parmar calls for, yes, I agree. To my mind that would involve not only talking about the use of military power and waving the flag of human rights and democracy promotion, but also about questioning the virtues of economic globalization. That some countries and peoples have profited handsomely from opening markets is obvious. Chile and China, India and Hungary, are only four cases in point, as well as the upper 10% of Americans who have grown far richer in the last twenty years. But other countries and peoples have rather suffered from the experience, including the United States, where the great majority of the population has seen its incomes actually fall at a moment when overall the economy has, until recently, been doing quite well. At the same time, the process has fed Chinese, far more than American, power (reminding me of Lenin’s observation, “the capitalists will sell us the rope by which we shall hang them”).

With the current crisis, based in large measure on deregulation and globalization and due quite clearly to Washington’s leadership of the world economy, a new order may be called for that critical intellectuals can articulate, a set of ideas that could link up with politicians and public policy making for a different framework for American foreign policy. This undertaking was not the mandate of my book, however, although such dismal thinking could, and perhaps should, prove the fodder for further writing.

For Timothy Lynch, however, it appears not that a new set of ideas but the more robust execution of what we already have on hand is what we should endorse. “If anything, America’s international problems stem today, as in the past, not from hubris but from its absence,” he writes. Certainly we hear this on every side in the United States too: that it was not the mind-set that led to the invasion of Iraq that should be faulted but instead the war’s bungling. Here is the thinking we find in John McCain and the neoconservatives surrounding his bid for the presidency. They hope to expand the military, make it “smarter” (by which they mean to figure out the cultural and political character of the peoples to be conquered so as to make occupation policy more effective), and create “reconstruction teams” based on a “civilian surge” that can do for whatever peoples America next takes over what was accomplished decades ago in Germany and Japan.

Perhaps Mr. Lynch is a signatory of the Euston Manifesto or a member of the Henry Jackson Society—both British initiatives endorsing an Anglo-American military bid to spread the gifts of liberal democracy to Iraq and the Broader Middle East. Whatever the case, he offers evidence of a point made above: despite the calamities of the Iraq war, the tenets of the Bush Doctrine live on to do mischief today. If a stake will be put through the heart of this noxious hubris it will certainly not be at Lynch’s instigation.

I thank the four of you again for your thoughtful comments. Writing is a solitary task, one of whose principal rewards is an exchange such as this one has been for me. I appreciate the opportunity to appear in Argentia. 

Matthew Hill