Thursday, October 27, 2011

Notes on Kegley and Raymond's After Iraq

I was reading Charles W. Kegley and Gregory A. Raymond's After Iraq: The Imperiled American Imperium. Here are some notes:

Kegley and Raymond’s After Iraq is concerned to understand and analyze the most likely security situation that the United States will find itself in after the conflict in Iraq is finished. The book does this in part by making claims based on empirical analogies with other large imperial powers that dominated the international relations of their day. It also extrapolates the political behavior of other states based on the idea that the US is setting a precedent with its behavior and actions in the Iraq (and to some extent Afghanistan) war.

Chapter 2 argues that there is a strong lesson in the example of the Persian Empire. It was arrogant and overextended. Persia conflated the fact that it was a powerful imperial power with being omnipotent. It was not, and ultimately fell apart and could not really withstand the combined Greek armies. (In the intermediate run, Kegsley and Raymond neglect to point out that after the defeat by the combined Greek forces the Persians waited patiently till the end of the Peloponnesian War when they once again became the major power broker on the Agean and lasted as an important empire until Alexander the Great.)

Chapter 3 takes on an important question (in light of Chapter 2) and asks: Is the US an empire? They conclude that indeed it is not. It does not have colonies nor does it compel other countries to do its bidding, or have any of the other traditional trappings of an emipre. It is some kind of qualified empire, or as they call it, an “imperium” which resembles an empire mostly in its imperious “attitude” (37) that has it believe that it is a political and moral beacon for other nations to follow. This attitude is traced (as in e.g., Joan Hoff's A Faustian Foreign Policy) from the “city on a hill” concept at the founding of the country through post-Cold War strategy. The definition of imperium as the world’s “supreme normative agent” allows Kegley and Raymond to make its case later on that other countries will seek to imitate the US. Oddly however, the fact that the US is not a traditional empire simultaneously seems undermines Kegley and Raymond’s case that it is possible to extrapolate about the future of the US from the examples of other empires. Also, it does not follow from the fact that the US is the hegemon and that it has a certain attitude, that other countries will follow its lead. There is a massive amount of obvious empirical evidence that most countries do not follow, have not followed, and have not been following the US in political philosophy. Moreover, the "city on a hill" attitude has been with the US since long before the formation of the country, that is, long before it was an empire. It is therefore odd to claim that this attitude is indicative of an empire. It is just as easily indicative of the 13 colonies, or the US at any point in her history.

Chapter 4 describes the challenges posed by asymmetric warfare, or more narrowly, Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW). 4GW is characterized by a blurring of the distinctions between soldier and civilian, and military and political. Fighting this kind of war is expensive, has vague goals and outcomes that are difficult to quantify, seemingly endless, and does not seek to defeat an army, rather to influence foreign politics. In short, it is a kind of war that the US and most western countries are unprepared to deal with. (Curiously, the authors do not recommend adapting to this kind of warfare, but rather to change foreign policy goals, strategies, and tactics to avoid it.)

The Bush doctrine is then discussed in Chapter 5, and described as an effort to radically alter American security policy by allowing for the American use of self-defense prior to a hostile act. Much of the chapter hinges on the distinction between prevention and preemption (a distinction that is at best unclear, and has been recently severely critiqued by David Fisher - a critique I am very much sympathetic with).

This defense posture, the book argues in Chapter 6, will be emulated the world over because the US controls the hegemonic discourse and its attitudes are adopted by others. Therefore, the authors claim, other countries will also use the excuse of pre-emptive self-defense to initiate wars of their own. (I find this argument implausible on its face. If anything, Kegley and Raymond’s argument suggests that imperial powers will start adopting preemptive self defense to initiate wars as they please. But imperial powers always initiate wars when they please and right now the US is the only such power. It is hard to believe that it is a lack of philosophical arguments that has been preventing war all these years, and now that there is a readily available philosophical argument provided by George Bush, wars will suddenly proliferate. It is also unclear to me why the US will be responsible for starting wars in foreign countries, when in all other relevant political attitudes, like democracy, the US is not particularly emulated the world over. Do countries only wish to emulate the worst feature of the foreign policy of the hegemonic power?)

The book ends with Chapter 7 speculating that it is international norms that promote order, predictability, and presumably peace. The US was once a moral leader in the world (though this was when she was much weaker and didn’t matter, so I suspect the US wasn't really a leader) and now that leadership is eroding because we refuse to adhere to the high-sounding principles we claim to embrace. The strange claim that legitimacy is a force multiplier is then asserted to show that the US will loose support for its military endeavors and ultimately fall victim to its own tactics (124); the fact that the US espouses preemption will create a climate of more wars; and the fact that we live in a unipolar world suggests inevitable instability. To the extent you believe in “hegemonic stability theory,” they tell us, the US must practice humility, prudence, and self restraint, though they are not clear why. It is certainly possible that it is the fact that hegemons do not practice humility that promotes hegemonic stability. (The authors do not elaborate much here.)

Their solutions are then to adhere to better norms, be clear about what those norms are, work with other nations in reciprocal trusting ways to avoid hostility, and stay resolute about the goals.

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