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tv   Stephen Walt The Hell of Good Intentions  CSPAN  December 30, 2018 1:20am-2:46am EST

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[inaudible conversations] . >> good afternoon. here at the cato institute thank you for being here and also to the conference staff here who has done such a terrific job organizing our events keeping us on track also to those of you watching online and c-span.
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at the end of the cold war the united states appeared to be standing on the precipice of a new era of peace and prosperity us leaders adopted a strategy aimed at discouraging others from challenging power they sought to spread democracy and liberal economics within the american sphere of influence that encompass most of the world some call liberal hegemony huntington called it primacy of a world without us primacy he predicted in 1983 is a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth". we can know what the world would have looked like without primacy but we do know today that relations with russia and china are bad and getting worse. there is now open talk of a new cold war with both nations at the same time.
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of feet we mostly managed to avoid for the last cold war. meanwhile activist movements are on the horizon european union seems unsteady at best. and last but not least the middle east is in turmoil more than 15 years after george w. bush sent troops into iraq through the rise of the islamic state in the horrific war in yemen that has claimed thousands of lives recent un report warned as many as 13 million people are facing starvation the world's worst famine in over 100 years. in the hell of good intention intentions, stephen traces many of these problems to the flaws inherent in primacy us power has on policymakers to
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pursue ambitious foreign policy goals even when they are unnecessary or doomed to fail but yet despite many setbacks the entrenched foreign-policy retains its faith and influence most are hopeful that rate of inertia will then donald trump to their wishes and it appears to have been the case so far with respect to the war in afghanistan and the presence of troops on the korean peninsula all those that were previously questioned many are prepared to wait him out confident pre- trumpet foreign-policy can be reconstituted the american people will go back to tolerate those military missions and foreign entanglements. that there are alternatives to trumpet what came before walt explores them here and outlines the case for american foreign-policy based on
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restraint that he calls offshore balancing before he tells you more about the book i will tell you about steve he is the robert and renée professor of international affairs at the harvard kennedy school he previously taught at princeton and university of chicago master of social science division and deputy dean he has been a resident associate of carnegie mellon and a guest scholar and is also served as a consultant the center for savo analysis and national defense university serving on the editorial board where he writes regularly this is america's middle east strategy on steroids you also writes international relations and journal studies and also serves as coeditor cornell securities series which includes many fine books as
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well as one that i wrote. welcome to cato. >> thank you very much it is a pleasure to be here today to talk about my new book and thanks to chris for arranging this visit and for to explain what i got wrong but i want to focus on two big questions so how did we get here? there was tremendous optimism when the cold war ended but that's not the world we are living in today. so what went wrong? i will argue the united states deserves a lot of the blame. not all of it but a lot of it but then how can we do better? here i will lay out the case for a different grand strategy to bring that about and along the way i will explain why don't think donald trump is the guy who will deliver that to us.
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starting with the bad news that unipolar moment in the united states was dominant? our problems were a few pesky dictators the early 19 nineties united states was on good terms with all the major powers including russia and china democracy was spreading worldwide iraq has been disarmed there was no nuclear enrichment capacity we thought we capped the nuclear program as well globalization was spreading rapidly under the american hospices with the wto nato and e.u. begin to expand and it gives us hope for a lasting peace in the middle east of the economy is doing pretty well.
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now 2018 china's power and impatience one - - ambitions have grown dramatically. and now moscow and beijing increasingly have been aligned democracy is in retreat 2017 mark the 12 consecutive year of a decline of global freedom last year the economist intelligence unit annual doc democracy index downgraded the united states from a full democracy down to a flawed democracy north korea india pakistan have tested nuclear weapons and iran is a latent power with the capacity to get one if it wants to. repeated efforts to broker the israeli-palestinian peace were humiliating failures in those two states by bush and obama
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are further away than ever we invaded afghanistan and then iraq both turned into costly disasters weakening our strategic position in the american military no longer seems unstoppable and finally much of it is in yemen and syria so back in 2016 when donald trump called us foreign policy a complete and total disaster accuse the foreign-policy establishment of being out of touch and unaccountable many americans nodded their heads in agreement. but the path of those failures was us commitment to a grand strategy of liberal hegemony
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as the indispensable nation that is uniquely qualified to spread democracy and other liberal institutions to bring other states into a web of alliances led by washington is a highly revisionist grand strategy to uphold the balance of power liberal hegemony seeks to change the status quo in many parts of the world peacefully if possible but if necessary by force and to remake the world in america's image but the problem is no matter how much we may like those liberal values it is fundamentally flawed as a strategy for starters it inflates the defense requirements by 2016 we were formally committed to defending more countries than any time in our history including some that were weak and vulnerable and hard to protect and allows her allies
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to act recklessly because they know uncle sam will bail them out. by definition trying to spread those values threatens nondemocratic regimes who have lots of ways to thwart our aims and in the wake of regime change leading to fail states and costly occupations looking back with this radical social engineering like iraq libya afghanistan or yemen was delusional what were we thinking? globalization did produce real gains for men especially in asia but not for the lower and in the west liberal hegemony has been a failure so why did
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we do this and embark on this foolish crusade to persist in repeated disappointments one and is privacy itself the extraordinary power united states enjoyed but that is still a puzzle. why do we do this that we are already in remarkably good shape in this ambitious effort was not necessary? our own values as universal validity that ought to be brought to the rest of the world makes it hard to resist the temptation and that others will welcome it. but the most immediate reason was the powerful consensus within washington that was not shared by the general public by the elites those are actively engaged on issues of international affairs so the formal institutions of government and the president
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department of state in defense and intelligence agencies the membership organizations like counsel formulations and think tanks like carnegie and brookings and special interest groups and lobbies who weigh in on any number of issues from human rights to regional politics and the parts of the media dealing with foreign affairs and academics like me who work on foreign affairs and occasionally get involved in public debates or serve in key government positions and train students will join the blob eventually. first there are no formal membership requirements no required degree. no bar exam. no medical board certification you need a real estate license but not to practice foreign policy. all it takes is convincing people of the elite you are
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smart and energetic and that your useful and loyal that the only membership requirement it's a community as you rise up within it everybody knows everybody else they have participated overlapping organizations and with lots of jobs over the career so it is a community your success depends on your network to maintain a positive reputation that means staying within the acceptable consensus. despite all the partisan warfare in washington is remarkable agreement what america's role should be in the world what is that? nato is a central israel is beyond criticism i ran russia and china are bad. nuclear proliferation is bad
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but america's nuclear arsenal is essential free trade is mostly good terrorism is the absolute worst democracy and human rights are important except when close allies fall short in the united states must exercise leadership on every issue and every part of the globe and has the right to overthrow or pressure any government we happen to dislike so to question any of those ideas is not a smart career move in washington and to show how pervasive this is in the book i talk about those forces over the last 15 years the princeton project for united and strong america 2013 the report to extend american power each of these is bipartisan and produced by boldface names in the elite
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with the circumstances of which they are written are very different before a rat goes south and the financial crisis the others are afterward but virtually interchangeable the prescriptions and the justifications are essentially identical there is some disagreements in the blob over specific issues like the iran deal or intervention of syria but overall voices supporting liberal hegemony far outweigh the number of voices saying the united states might be overcommitted and should act with greater restraint. there are a few places like the building we are in today but not very many. so why do the elites like hegemony so much many genuinely believe in the ideals thinking they are good for the america and the world but trying to remake the world in america's image increases
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their power their claims of budget shares their sense of self-worth and it gives them plenty to do in other words, liberal hegemony is a full employment policy for the foreign-policy elite. the american people have a different view they reject isolation overwhelmingly surveys show this repeatedly but they also want much more restrained foreign-policy in 201380 percent of americans agreed we should not put so much an international terms concentrate our own national problems and building up strength here at home. 80 percent in the last four us presidents running for office promised to do lesson foreign-policy clinton, it's the economy stupid george w. bush a humble foreign-policy and no nationbuilding barack obama ending foolish wars
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rebuilding ties with the rest of the world don't do stupid stuff. donald trump are foreign-policy is a complete disaster were getting out of the nationbuilding business but that's not what they do once they are president so given this gap how does the foreign-policy elite get the public to go along? there are four basic techniques one is exaggerate foreign dangers to justify going all over the world exaggerate the benefits of liberal hegemony to increase stability of course, it hasn't done either one for the last quarter century conceal the cost pay for wars by borrowing the money rather than taxes or airpower or drones or the volunteer force so people don't really have to watch and don't hold anyone accountable
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the people responsible for the iraq war remain respected figures in some of them like john bolton are in top jobs today you can lobby to invade iraq screw up the occupation and become president of the world bank like paul wolfowitz, resign under a cloud land at aei then get appointed to the state department international security advisory board. it's hard to screw up in this line of work you can be convicted of lying to congress get pardoned go back to government screw up again and up at the council and nearly become deputy secretary of state as abrams has done and by contrast those who challenge that consensus view are marginalized even when events show they were right all along. i have a number of examples in the book of this happening so
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it is a self protective community and the real question is this a healthy situation for those who got it wrong and those who got it right don't get recognized and why should we ever expect to do better? so what about trump won't he challenge the blob to make america great again? know. and that's the chapter called how not to fix for foreign-policy he has in many things personally and his personal style is unprecedented including the way he approaches foreign-policy. but with the transition from bush to obama a lot is the same have a series of trade wars end up producing new agreements for you have to squint really hard to see how they differ from the old one. the commitment to nato is intact his complaints about burden sharing are nothing new
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going back to eisenhower. the same set of commitments in the middle east and yes he did get out of the iran deal that was a narrow win for the obama administration was almost evenly balanced he's not reversing course just going within a different faction within the blob we continue to criticize adversaries for human rights abuses now look at we sweep under the rug with saudi arabia and also sending more troops with the same rationale to make sure afghanistan is not a safe haven china is the primary rifle russia faces sanctions over ukraine we are still spending more on defense than the next nine countries combined his style is
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different but substance has not changed nearly as much so i will wrap this up outlining a different way to do business instead of liberal hegemony we should adopt a strategy offshore balancing to recognize the united states is still remarkably secure more than any other country and the main threat to long-term security is the emergence of a rifle that dominated its region the same way we dominated the western hemisphere we are free of any serious dangers or threats so the country existed to dominate its own neighborhood it would be free to project power the way the united states has been doing including into the western hemisphere united states should seek to prevent that from happening and that's been our policy and other parts of history however we should try to get other countries were also threatened by this to
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pass the buck to them when we can and not when we can in practical terms china is the only potential hegemonic person out there we should focus on balancing china and asia reduce the military role in europe so europe becomes responsible for its own defense we should reduce our presence in the middle east and have normal relations with all countries there including iran instead of special relations of some countries and no relations with others. but we should get out of the regime change and stay out we will not get better at this by practicing we should place much more emphasis on diplomacy sanctions and coercion as a last resort
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rather than first and pulls definitely promote american values by setting a good example here at home to make united states a country that others want to look at and emulate because they are working so well here are not trying to force-feed other countries a set of institutions they may not want this is not isolationism the united states is fully engaged diplomatically and militarily the united states still has to have fairly robust capabilities the foreign-policy elite will likely resist this approach and it will be adopted unless we create a foreign-policy elite or the establishment of the global role that is closer to what most americans say they want with some practical
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advice how to bring that about with a more restrained grand strategy could be made more marketable and sold to the american public very readily so to conclude adam smith wrote there is a lot of ruminations and that's why the wealthy and powerful united states has survived its haphazard and idealistic approach to foreign policy whereas bismarck supposedly said there seems to be a special providence that looks after drunkard fools in the united states of america the real danger we are facing today is not an array of foreign adversaries to attach her security prosperity and way of life away from us while we are not looking the problems we are facing abroad are mostly of our own making
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we have met the enemy and he is us. we are at a crossroad so down one road lies more of the same with the same unhappy results down another road much more realistic strategies serving the country well in the past it's not the foreign-policy donald trump will deliver but the foreign-policy most americans want so how long will it take before they get it? i look forward to steve's comments and your reactions. [applause] we will hear from stephen who is a visiting scholar from columbia and a visiting professor from history he
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researches us relations from the 19th century to the president on - - the present and currently writing a book about the birth of global supremacy of world war ii. 's previous academic post was a permanent lecture history and landed in kings college cambridge postdoctoral research associate at princeton also published commentary foreign affairs "the washington post" and elsewhere and a full cutting essay in the works on this very book. stephen? . >> thanks for inviting me here and think you all i have had the opportunity to read professors new book the whole of good intentions demands considerable - - serious consideration as you have
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heard a challenge to american foreign policy of the past quarter century and if that were not enough at the institution that is shaped foreign-policy the book focuses our attention on the 19 nineties as the pivotal decade it argues american foreign policy went awry further back on the war on terror that many - - many citizens may single out but is not nearly as far back as 1945 with a string of experts have invoked to interpret the stakes of this moment as they rally to defend the postwar liberal international order but the professor has a different view we need to wreck in the 19 nineties american foreign policy experts are disoriented today because of events are thwarting those expectations of what they have formed from
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their own lived experience in the nineties foreign-policy experts came to believe and expect the world as fast moving to a liberal democracy and peace and ever closer economic integration under a benevolent us post and alternatives to this liberal vision were so thoroughly trounced but they are returning as a genuine shock it is on us to some extent it is particularly powerful in explaining not just wide of gun policy wrong but the community to do with the community to show due to debate the alternatives and provide accountability for members unusually for a book about foreign-policy talks
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about knowledge and foreign-policy are produced in more than other expert communities he orders foreign-policy on loyalty is removed from the public and has a bias to activism and world affairs since the more foreign-policy these were sobering chapters to read in part because i might be easier than to change the incentives of the institutions that shape the debate that leaves to the immediate question of the relationship between the two levels of analysis in the foreign-policy community to see how that emerged in the 19
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nineties it was announced in presidential speeches and strategies manifested in the containment of iraq and iran but i wonder what the professor sees the nineties as equally pivotal for the institutional culture for that community had been hollowed out in the later decades of the cold war rendering it to grapple with change of circumstances thereafter or what follow the soviet collapse change our culture for the worse suppressing the alternatives to liberal hegemony? i am open to both possibilities and they both could be true but i do think the range of alternatives in public narrowed over the course in the nineties with the first gulf war divided democrats and the senate authorized it by a narrow vote
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of 52 / 47 others had significant retrenchment from jean kirkpatrick from a normal country and honorable time but by the late 19 nineties those voices diminish and the neo- generation of neoconservatives have gathered weird by liberal interventionist who advocated the force for humanitarian purposes so it seems us foreign policy was significantly more militaristic over the course of the 19 nineties and by contrast the hell of good intentions argues the grand strategy of liberal hegemony was replaced from the start of the decade and never got a hearing that may well be true on that level of grand strategy but i never wondered
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why dissenting seems to dissipate over the course of a decade than if the professor is correct liberal hegemony comes from the outset from the nineties ambush and clinton administration doesn't consider the alternative how do we explain that? if liberal hegemony is under the guise of common sense policymakers must of inherited something like that from the cold war or earlier. prior to the 19 nineties american leaders got many things right so they exaggerated communism and that threat. with that far more formidable adversary but those that were inflated that was it not more than opposing a soviet or communist enemy?
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it began as a vehicle for the united states to pursue a project with political leadership that was first conceived in world war ii. and then in the 19 nineties it was also the inheritance of privacy that it was light widely perceived as a success so perhaps that needs to be questioned more precisely separated from the excess and this may be especially important as it confirms a rising china and then with the
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rising china and then let me turn how might the future be different? it ends on a surprisingly upbeat note because of the biases of the blob it also makes a prescription for countervailing set of institutions to enter the marketplace of ideas in the service of a strain foreign-policy that sounds like a question from what existed in the 19 nineties will change happen or should advocates of restraint do something different from the 19 nineties realists had those think tanks so what went wrong and was the answer totally external? that seems realism has a
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language to be deployed in popular politics in a long line including george tenet has grown frustrated that the realism proved antithetical to american culture. ultimately the idea by counter institutions working through party politics and in a recent column the professor has suggested how does that happen through a left right coalition of libertarians and progressive progressives. but it struck me that makes rhetorical appeals that our more traditional than this optical coalition may be headed the book pays homage to american exceptionalism and a noninterventionist variety stating america should be a model for others to emulate even though sanders and trump
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candidacies were considerably further intended to save united states was headed backwards and needed to emulate others and also paid some homage to privacy the offshore balance would help to maintain us military superiority even though millennial's show that the client is there for privacy itself i know it's not probably every day you are accused of not being provocative enough so hopefully that is a reflecting invitation and one last thought of party politics the professor will target what he identifies as the grand strategy and i accept that is useful category of analysis particularly to characterize policy experts. i wonder if it is useful to describe politicians and
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citizens in the wider world with this wide political arena as engaged in unwitting threat isolation to credit his adversary with a thoughtful and elaborate grand strategy perhaps privacy is less a strategy and in good times and assumptions might go unquestioned and then that is thrown over and privacy might in such times could be reasserted as what the us us us on - - administration is attempting to improve easier to dislodge than we might think so i will leave it there you can see how stimulating and found the book. thank you very much. [applause] . >> thanks to you both i will exercise my moderators
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privilege and tease out two things. i was going to comment on something related to what steve said near the end about building alternatives that may be a little self-serving because it is true one of the few places in this town that is called out is the exception is here and we are quite proud of that to be honest so is it as simple as that? it's not simple but just creating more institutions like cato? it's not impossible there are exceptions what striking about this book is that there are so many cases in which the impulse to go along is overpowering but yet there are
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exceptions we tried to replicate that and identify what it is that make people stand out from the crowd kennedy replicated the second is somewhat related and i will take it in a different direction there is a passage that you quote from dwight eisenhower chant for peace speech where the president one of his first speeches as president in 1953 talks about opportunity cost and trade-offs every bomber built every warship launched is a theft for those who are not fed and naked. it is a terrific speech you probably know the industrial military complex his last speech we should also know his first. i thought it interesting you called attention to that
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speech because you will recall dwight eisenhower was savaged during his presidency for suggesting there was such a thing there was such a thing as opportunity cost we had to be concerned with such trade-offs and it was close minded and that was his worst at the time was harsh the hawkish liberals and largely democrats of course, we called them scoop jackson democrats and now we call them neoconservatives but i reread that section today and it reminded me where is the natural constituency of
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