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US Foreign Policy in Wartime - 2003-04-09


MR. MORALES: War is never easy. In the case of the allied campaign to dislodge Saddam Hussein, the United States is now engaged in its fiercest military campaign in decades. Three weeks into the war, more than 120 US and British troops, and perhaps thousands of Iraqi soldiers and an untold number of Iraqi civilians have been killed.

Some observers are asking whether the Iraq war is keeping the United States from focusing on other parts of the world. And do routing Saddam Hussein and the war on terrorism signal a major shift in the way America views the world?

Joining me to take an in-depth look US foreign policy are: John Hulsman, Senior Foreign Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation; and Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Foreign Policy Analyst at The Brookings Institution. Both public policy research groups are located here in the nation's capital.

Michael O'Hanlon, let me begin with you. How do you assess the Bush administration's ability to carry out foreign policy during this war?

MR. O'HANLON: Any administration is severely challenged to handle more than one major crisis at a time, and I would say that this is no exception. I think that if you look at issues in foreign policy that were already essentially on autopilot or being handled at a working level, and even the war in Afghanistan being one example or intelligence cooperation on terrorism, I think things are still going fine because there doesn't need to be a whole lot of top-level political intervention in that sort of situation.

On the other hand, if you take problems that are fundamentally unsolved right now, take for example the North Korea issue or the Arab-Israeli peace process and its breakdown, I do not believe the administration is very capable of handling those sorts of things in a real innovative way in the course of the most intense period of wartime. And that's less of a critique of the Bush administration than it is the general reality of American politics. I do think they have been a little careless on the North Korea and Arab-Israeli issues, but I wouldn't have expected most administrations to do a whole lot better during this sort of an intensive period of focus on Iraq.

MR. MORALES: John Hulsman, let me put that same question to you.

MR. HULSMAN: I think to some extent -- and I think Michael is right -- we do "walk and chew gum" all the time. We can handle more than one crisis at various levels. But to really have push [i.e., movement on a particular issue] and have political capital expended, that really, at some point, has to be done at only the top level of government, which makes doing it in the way that Franklin Roosevelt so magnificently did with the Pacific theater and the European theater [during World War II] very difficult to replicate.

Specifically, though, I think if you look at the big three crises at the moment, which would be al-Qaida and the continuing terrorist problem, Iraq, and North Korea, I think they [i.e., the Bush administration] have done particularly well on the first two and less well on the third. We can talk at great length about why North Korea. You know, all presidents inherit their problems from their predecessors, and I think both of the post-1989 presidents, the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, didn't particularly handle North Korea well. But I think that that is, in many ways, the problem that's hanging in the fire out there. I think, frankly, with al-Qaida, things are going extremely well, given everything, "knock on wood," with the capture of Khalid Mohammed and, more importantly, his phone records, which have been extremely useful. And I think ultimately the administration has nerved itself [i.e., played its hand] nicely on Iraq. The key question about Iraq, and I've always felt this, is the postwar situation. We have to be very careful not to lose in peace what we win in war, which is unfortunately a long-standing American tradition. And that's really the critical key, and the link between al-Qaida and the Iraqi situation.

MR. O'HANLON: I think that's very sensible. And even if one doesn't necessarily recognize a close tie between Saddam and al-Qaida, these are still two very important problems, both worth addressing. We're going to have to solve both of them. And it doesn't mean just getting through the initial military victories; it means the longer-term resolution as well. Clearly, part of the problem here is for us to convince many skeptical Muslims around the world that we care about their lot in life. And there is going to be a lot of skepticism. A lot of people actually are a little unfair in their views toward the United States in much of the Arab world. And we're going to have to work doubly hard to prove to them that we really do want to come to Iraq as a liberator and really do want to improve the well-being of the Iraqi people. We haven't yet convinced many Arab peoples of that fact yet. And so that's why John is 100% right that the postwar effort here is going to be just as important as the actual military victory.

MR. MORALES: Gentlemen, we have just a few seconds left, and I would like to ask each of you, beginning with Michael O'Hanlon: Are we seeing a fundamental change in U.S. foreign policy and the way America views the world, as exemplified by the Iraq war and the war on terrorism?

MR. O'HANLON: I would say no. I think that you certainly have an administration in power in the United States which has strong views, which has people who know how to be bureaucratically effective in advancing those views. And yet, at the same time, if it had not been for September 11th, we would not have seen such a major change in the day-to-day workings of foreign policy in the United States. And I don't believe it's going to be all that feasible or all that desirable for us to turn our sights on the next potential enemy after this is over. I'm not trying to say that Mr. Bush has six more years in the White House and that he'll never use force again. But I am saying that the Taliban and Saddam Hussein were two pretty obvious and extreme examples, and that al-Qaida is a third, and that in the post-September 11 world, we are likely to come under the microscope. If there had been a Democrat [in the White House], if Al Gore had won the election in 2000, he would have had to go after the Taliban and al-Qaida as well. He may not have gone after Saddam Hussein. But that boils down to one specific difference and disagreement, not so much a difference in the broad world view. There are broad philosophical differences we could talk about at great length, but I think people often overstate the degree to which the Bush administration has the radical agenda.

MR. MORALES: And John Hulsman, the last word to you.

MR. HULSMAN: I think September 11 and not Iraq is just kind of the key dividing line. I agree with, I think, Michael, in that I think there is no doubt, if Gore had won, he would have done similar things in Afghanistan, in probably very similar ways. But I think there are differences. I think there are two divisions worth mentioning, at least shortly. Within the Democratic Party, there are divisions. And if you look at the vote to authorize force with Iraq, the Democrats in the U-S Senate split right down the middle between what I would call the more aggressive [Woodrow] Wilsonian, kind of [Richard] Holbrooke wing of the party, and the old [George] McGovernite kind of more suspicious of American power wing of the party. And who wins that battle and how Wilsonianism is updated for the new era is a fascinating question. On the Republican side, there are real divisions between conservatives and neo-conservatives, who do have an agenda to continue to further, by military force, this notion of where the President is going that's radical. But I think that reality and the old-style realists are going to win out over them [the neo-conservatives]. And I have to tell you I'm in that camp [i.e., the old-style realists]. I agree with Michael, that you deal with problems through the multiplicity of foreign policy instruments. And in Iraq there is a difference [i.e., the use of force]. But I think that in North Korea already the administration is finding that it's one thing to have rhetoric, rhetorical neo-conservative flourishes; it's another thing to deal with them in a realistic way. And I think there you're going to find broad bipartisan consensus still and a lot more continuity than all of us led on.

MR. MORALES: We'll have to leave it there. I would like to thank my guests: foreign policy analysts John Hulsman of The Heritage Foundation and Michael O'Hanlon of The Brookings Institution.