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At War With Ourselves by Michael Hirsh (Oxford University Press, 288 pages, $26) As the United States strains to clarify its role in the world, after winning the Cold War only to take a painful blow from a dozen guys with box cutters, it’s too easy to look at the foreign policies of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and see a simple dialectic � Clinton the consensus-builder, Bush the swaggering marshal. Michael Hirsh, a Washington-based senior editor of Newsweek, argues that the Clinton and Bush approaches both miss the point: The United States created a benevolent monster, the United Nations, and should entrust it with the heavy lifting of nations. If we want to promote trademark American values such as democracy and free markets, we must recognize that the task is best suited to the international community, not the 800-pound gorilla in the stealth bomber; otherwise, we end up “at war with ourselves.” At War With Ourselves: Why America Is Squandering Its Chance to Build a Better World is a close look at recent history, with critical emphasis on faulty assumptions and missed opportunities in U.S. foreign policy. The 21st century president, Hirsh contends, must serve both as “enforcer of last resort” and as “agenda setter at a sort of open-ended global convention of nations and interest groups, a convention that is never quite adjourned, whether the issue is free trade, geopolitics, or terror.” The president must, in other words, show attributes of Clinton that Bush lacks and attributes of Bush that Clinton lacked. Early on, Hirsh engages the ghost of Cold War pundit Walter Lippman in dialogue about this duality. Lippman opposed both the doctrine of containment (or, in poli sci terms, realism) and the idealism of the proto-Clinton philosophy he called “foolish globalism,” championed by Woodrow Wilson. Lippman wanted the United States simply to “behave like a great power,” not to stoop to such quagmires as Vietnam � or, Hirsh extrapolates, Somalia or Kosovo. But on Sept. 11, 2001, we discovered real danger lurking in those quagmires we did neglect. Clinton’s foreign policy, calling basically for a latt� in every pot, did little to stabilize nations that could not or would not ante up; Bush’s foreign policy is made by people who ridicule Clinton and Wilson because they supposed that “global society was perfectible” and that “things generally got better over time.” The Bush approach is to throw the nation’s weight around as the last superpower standing. “In the view of Clinton’s Republican critics,” Hirsh explains, “he was a passionate world-hugger and serial intervener who rarely saw a global stage he didn’t covet, a conflict he didn’t resolve, usually through negotiation.” Contempt nothwithstanding, that’s exactly what Wilson had in mind when he � when the United States � laid the groundwork for the United Nations and multilateralism. The incoming Bush administration, in contrast, “saw the world as a nasty, alien place still largely defined by anarchy” and believed that “conflict is natural or inevitable and force is what works.” As if in an internal memo to policy wonks, names like Rumsfeld and Rice are mentioned in the same breath as Hobbes and Thucydides. In the early months of the Bush administration, one � just one � high-level Bush appointee seemed to be on the same page as Hirsh, favoring a policy of diplomacy backed up with military muscle. It was, of course, Colin Powell, and he said every nation has been “touched by America.” In fact, he told the Senate at his confirmation hearing, “We are attached by a thousand cords to the world at large, to its teeming cities, to its remotest regions, to its oldest civilizations, to its newest cries for freedom. This means that we have an interest in every place on this Earth, that we need to lead, to guide, to help in every country that has a desire to be free, open, and prosperous.” If Powell mentioned our appropriate role in countries that don’t seem interested in being free and open, Hirsh doesn’t report it � and Hirsh also doesn’t note the similarity between this policy statement by Powell and the remarks by Powell’s former boss, the elder George Bush, about a thousand points of light. Bush was advancing a policy in support of community service � arguably a soft and upbeat approach to domestic problems � and simultaneously sharpening the ax with which Clinton, in 1996, would cut “welfare as we know it.” The first Bush administration might offer a domestic template for the international policy Hirsh advocates. The younger Bush took his cues instead from Donald Rumsfeld, reprising his Cold War role as secretary of defense. At his confirmation hearing, Rumsfeld revived the notion of deterrence: “We don’t want to fight wars. We want to prevent them. We want to be so powerful and so forward-looking that it is clear to others that they ought not to be damaging their neighbors when it affects our interests.” Wilson had left the building. Then Sept. 11 happened, and Hirsh almost feels sorry for Bush and the gang. “The world they wanted to impose,” Hirsh says, “was one in which America would have its way, and America’s raw might would make the difference. The world they were handed was one in which the most profound cooperation among nations was necessary to snare the terror groups in our midst.” Bush almost rose to the occasion, suddenly resolving to “extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with the hope of a better day.” But those were just words � the only deployment of U.S. resources was military, and “that rendered [Bush's] unilateralist moralism all the more grating on foreign ears.” U.S. credibility among nations actually declined as we asserted our political independence from the international community even as we made demands of the United Nations as a political rubber stamp and an engine of nation-building. Hirsh stops just short of calling the United States a rogue nation, but he does quote Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis comparing Bush to “a sullen, pouting, oblivious and overmuscled teenager.” If one of the signature endeavors of Wilsonian institutions has been arms control, then Bush reserved a special contempt for it. He told a graduating class at West Point that the word of “tyrants” is no good in a nonproliferation treaty; there will always be Saddam Husseins trying to accumulate weapons of mass destruction. Hirsh explains, “The Bush team believed the only way of ridding the world of these threats was instead to ‘devalue’ such weapons by aggressively taking on states that pursued them.” It was, in fact, the alleged WMDs and not alleged ties to al Qaeda that drew Bush’s attention to Iraq after the conquest of Afghanistan, according to Hirsh � Iraq was supposed to set an example to deter weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. (The book came out a little too soon to reach the conclusion that we targeted Iraq instead of North Korea because the latter actually had WMDs and Iraq, to the best of our knowledge, didn’t.) Invoking Gaddis again, and other sources from George Washington to Gen. Richard Myers, Hirsh explains why the United States was so cavalier about homeland security for its first 225 years � but he makes the debatable leap that Americans will, like the British, grow to accept domestic intelligence as a matter of course. “America is just getting started on this road,” he says ominously, apparently not remembering COINTELPRO. It will take a few election cycles and a few confirmation hearings to determine whether the American people are quite as ready as Bush, Tom Ridge, and John Ashcroft to edit (or spin) the Bill of Rights. Hirsh spends an entire chapter acknowledging that the “international community” is a debatable concept, and that it can best be defined in negative terms � “the absence of anarchy” and “the failure of other major powers, in the face of U.S. dominance, to build up alliances against the United States” as realist theory would expect. Any notion of international community must also acknowledge that 21st century factors such as al Qaeda transcend the nation-state, and indeed, Hirsh goes a step further and declares that consumer technology is replacing the military-industrial complex. A nation’s enemy is no longer necessarily manifest in rockets, planes, and ships, but just as ominously in PCS phones and e-mail � ready-made command-and-control infrastructure that looks innocent and usually is. Terrorist groups may never acquire a single stealth bomber, but they’ve shown that a city can be attacked with knives and detailed planning. Moreover, he adds, governments are “under constant threat of surprise attacks from the markets” as the global economy is clearly and increasingly more powerful than any chartered international institution. These are monsters of American creation. “If Americans” � left and right � “know one thing for certain, it is that their values are right not just for them, but for the world.” We believe, according to Hirsh, the world will be “a better and safer place” if we flex our national muscle and export our defining values. We did both in recent decades, and even a Bush policy paper quoted by Hirsh seems to recognize that U.S. hegemony is not consistent with U.S. democratic values: “The great struggles of the 20th century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom. . . . No nation owns these aspirations, and no nation is exempt from them.” In the end, there’s only one flaw in Hirsh’s logic, but it’s an important one: he uncritically equates “realism” with militarism, yet his whole point is that it’s unrealistic to discount or disown international institutions devised to keep the peace. Hirsh is conscious of the aphorism that journalism is the “first rough draft of history.” Much of the book is a narrartive of recent history, no news to anyone who reads the daily paper � or, for that matter, the author’s own magazine. But the events of the early 21st century are recounted in a level of detail that will be an asset to future scholars, just as a college student today needs the Pentagon Papers to understand what anyone tuning in daily to Walter Cronkite once knew. And Hirsh was, after all, an eyewitness to much of this history. He can tell us what Madeleine Albright was wearing at the Rambouillet talks � not that history should care, but it’s a touch of detail that adds credibility in an age when star reporters file under remote datelines. Hirsh complains about the squalor at a decrepit Afghan hotel in 2002 and about the steak at the Waldorf-Astoria during the World Economic Forum a week earlier � not to show off, in either case, but to show credentials. So he does know what he’s talking about. His style shows early signs of George Will’s Disease � citing Thucydides and Alexander Pope and churning out phrases like “erstwhile raison d’�tre” doesn’t necessarily mark a keen intellect, and it forces readers to squint to see whether wisdom is actually there behind the pancake makeup. In Hirsh’s case, it is, but it’s more readily apparent when his prose lets its hair down. Recent headlines have already tested his observations. It could have been no surprise to Hirsh when Bush invited the world to help us out in Iraq while serving under our undivided command there. Bush put the military cart before the diplomatic horse, almost as if he read At War With Ourselves and picked up some general concepts, but completely missed the point. Mike Livingston is a free-lance writer based in Takoma Park, Md. He is the lead author of The Newcomer’s Handbook for Washington, D.C., 3rd edition, published by First Books in 2002; his next book, The Newcomer’s Handbook for the USA, is due later this year from First Books.

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