After Iraq: The Imperiled American Imperialism
After Iraq: The Imperiled American Imperialism

After Iraq: The Imperiled American Imperium

May 30, 2007

Drawing parallels between today's situation in Iraq and the wars of ancient Greece and Persia, Raymond shows how a great power's hubris can lead to its nemesis.


JOEL ROSENTHAL: Good morning. It's nice to see you all. I hope you all had a very nice, restful Memorial Day weekend. For me, Memorial Day is always a nice weekend. It's the beginning of summer. It's also a time for sober reflection.

Some of you may have read in The New York Times and other newspapers about the death of the son of a friend of ours. Andy Bacevich, who has spoken here frequently and who is a good friend of the Carnegie Council, lost his son in Iraq two weeks ago to a suicide bomber near Balad. On this Memorial Day weekend and the days that follow, we think about the sacrifice of others, like Lieutenant Bacevich, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Bacevich family.

Also, during Memorial Day weekend our Senior Fellow, Retired Colonel Jeff McCausland, spent time in Iraq. He had a very interesting mission. With the help of CBS News, he went over to Iraq and spent some time with wounded soldiers and with the medical evacuation team that brings the soldiers from Iraq to Germany and then to Walter Reed Army Hospital.

Some of you may have heard the reports he did with CBS News, mostly on CBS radio. I think some of them are still available on the website, and we will make those reports available on our website in the coming days if you are interested.

It's a special pleasure for me to introduce Greg Raymond to you this morning. Greg is part of a two-member team that has done more than any partnership I know to enlighten us on the moral and ethical dimensions of U.S. foreign policy. The other member of that team is our mutual friend Chuck Kegley. Chuck couldn't be with us this morning, but we know that Chuck is here in spirit, and we know that he'll be listening on the podcast, so we should be very careful about what we say about him.

In some respects, the book that we'll discuss, called After Iraq, is a work of optimism. It's optimistic because it takes the long view. It imagines the world after Iraq. This aftermath is not yet in plain sight, but, as our authors suggest, the contours of that world are already discernible.

It's not too early to talk about the values, standards, and norms that will shape the behavior of states in the decade or two that will follow the invasion of Iraq, and I suppose in many ways we are already living in this world.

The book reminds us that the global primacy of the United States does much to shape the normative order of international relations. The overwhelming military superiority of American military force—full-spectrum dominance, no peer competitors—has combined with a muscular unilateralism to produce the security policies that are in place today.

Among the issues raised by Greg and Chuck are three central questions: Are these policies sustainable? What will happen if the standards of behavior America sets for itself in the war on terrorism eventually become the standard of conduct for others? And, if so, will the world be a safer place?

In addition to asking and answering these theoretical questions, I know Greg is a master of using historical illustration to shed light on present circumstances. I have learned much from the many examples he has given over the years, ranging from ancient Greece, to the Punic and Napoleonic wars, to the more familiar wars of the 20th century.

, famously, would ask one question when evaluating generals. That question was: Is he lucky?

Well, we're certainly lucky to have Greg Raymond with us today. And Greg is not only lucky himself, he is very smart, highly accomplished, a great talent as a scholar and a teacher. Greg comes to us today from the splendors of Boise, Idaho and Sun Valley. He holds the title of Frank Church Professor of International Relations at Boise State University, where he is also director of the Honors College. Greg has authored and co-authored many books and articles on U.S. foreign policy, including two of my favorites, Exorcising the Ghost of Westphalia: Building International Peace in the New Millennium and How Nations Make Peace.

Please join me in giving a very warm Carnegie Council and New York City welcome to Greg Raymond.


GREG RAYMOND: Thank you very much, Joel, for that introduction.

Since it is morning, I'd like to start out with a fable. No better way to start a morning than with a good story. The story is about a visit that the ancient Greek sage Solon once paid to the king of Lydia, a man by the name of Croesus. Croesus was the most wealthy person in the world in his day. In fact, even up through the beginning of the 20th century in the United States, we would have a phrase that someone was "as wealthy as Croesus."

Solon was renowned as the great law-giver, the person who forged the Athenian system of democracy as it took root in the ancient world. The story is told that, after building democracy in Athens, Solon made a trip around the Mediterranean to see other places and learn other things.

Among the places he visited was Lydia, an important kingdom that exists roughly in what today would be the Mediterranean coastal region of Turkey. Now, we know this visit was chronologically impossible. If you match up the life span of each man, they didn't overlap sufficiently that this could have happened. But this is a tale that is told by the ancient historian Herodotus, and he tells it for moral instruction. He tells the tale because it symbolizes certain lessons that he wants us to learn about life and about statecraft.

The story is that Solon made the trip to this splendid capital city of Sardus. When he arrived, because he was one of the great seven sages of ancient Greece, he was taken on a tour of the city, shown the magnificent buildings, the royal treasury, the palaces.

After several days, he was granted an audience with King Croesus himself. The king was feeling rather good about himself in those days. He had just conquered an area known as Ionia. So, flush with victory, when he met with Solon he was fishing for some compliments.

Apparently, one of the first questions that was asked was, "Solon, you've traveled around the world, you've seen many great people and many splendid things. Can you tell me who is the most obious person you have ever met?" Now, "obious" is one of those maddening ancient Greek words that has multiple meanings. It can mean blessed, it can mean fortunate, but in this context it means accomplished. In other words,"Tell me, Solon, who is the most accomplished person you have ever met?"

Solon thinks for a second and he says, "Well, I think it was that fellow Tellus of Athens. He was the most accomplished person."

Croesus said, "Tellus, who's Tellus?"

"Well, Tellus was a person who lived an exemplary life. He did nothing to excess. He fought on behalf of his city. He lived to a ripe old age, old enough to see his grandchildren become adults. When he passed away, he was buried at state expense."

Croesus said, "Huh? Okay, who's the second-most-obious person you've ever met?"

Solon thinks for a second and says, "Well, actually it would be those two young lads from the city of Argus, Cleobis and Biton. They would certainly fall in second place."

Croesus at this point said, "Okay. What did they do?"

"Well, it turns out that their mother was elderly and very devout. She wanted to go to a celebration of the goddess Hera at a temple that was about five miles away from her home, but, unfortunately, someone had forgotten to bring the oxen in from the fields, and so they could not be hooked up to the cart that would bring her over the rough terrain for five miles to the Festival of Hera. But the young sons, Cleobis and Biton, lashed themselves to the oxcart and pulled their mother the five miles up and down the hills and eventually got her to the temple in time for the festival.

"She went into the festival. Many of her neighbors were probably there. They all said, 'What wonderful lads you have.' While she was in the festival, she prayed to the goddess, 'Please give my outstanding sons the best that they can receive.' The goddess Hera listened and made sure they passed away that afternoon while they were sitting beneath a shady tree, exhausted from pulling their mother the five miles. They passed away at the zenith of their power and reputation."

By this point, Croesus wants nothing of this guy Solon. He says, "As a sage, you are really overrated. It's been nice knowing you. Why don't you sail off to Phoenicia or somewhere? I've got business to attend to."

Solon recognizes that he's a very frustrated man. He said, "Well, listen, Croesus, let me explain to you what's behind my tales of these three people. What we can learn from them is that fortune, good fortune in particular, is not permanent, that things change over time, and we can't tell that a person is obious or accomplished until the end of their life. Someone may be doing well at this moment simply because they're lucky, not because they are obious. Humans and states have fortunes that rise and fall over time."

Well, again, Croesus doesn't want to have any more to do with this and says, "Fine. I really feel enlightened, but I've got business to attend to."

Solon went off and Croesus began to attend to his business. His business centered around a concern he had regarding a rising power in the neighborhood, and that was the power of Persia. Croesus was concerned that someday Persia may become strong enough to threaten Lydia, someday Persia might be able to harm Lydia in some manner. So he began to contemplate a foreign policy to deal with this potential threat, a policy that we would today call "preventive warfare." Not preemption—preemption is when you're facing the uplifted dagger, a threat that's imminent, it's tangible, and it's foreseeable. Preventive war is acting on the suspicion of a possible threat someday, somehow, by someone in the future.

Persia, under its leader Cyrus, represented for Croesus a possible threat in the distant future, and why not deal with it now, while Lydia was in a position of strength?

But, of course, any leader wants to get some advice. In the sixth century BCE, where you went for advice would be to Delphi, to speak with the Oracle of Apollo.

Now, at Delphi there was a structure, and inside the structure there was apparently a crack in the earth. Above the crack was a three-legged stool upon which sat the Pythia. Fumes would come up from the bowels of the earth, she would inhale them, it would put her into a trance, and she would then speak the words of the god Apollo. Various priestesses would be around her and they would then interpret what she had said.

Well, Croesus makes his way to Delphi and he asks, "What will happen if I launch a preventive war against Persia?"

The Pythia responds, "If you launch this war, a mighty empire will be destroyed."

That's all Croesus needed to hear. So he immediately set about organizing his cavalry—and the Lydian cavalry was known as the best of its day—organizing the archers, the heavy infantry, and they launched a preventive war against Cyrus of Persia.

But, as Clausewitz always tells us, you can have the best plans but then a fog descends. In the first engagement, the Lydian cavalry smashed up against the Persians, and the fight went on through most of the day. At the end of the day, neither side prevailed.

Croesus began to get cold feet and he ordered a retreat back to the capital city of Sardus. Cyrus ordered the Persians to follow in hot pursuit. They began to lay siege to the city of Sardus. Within two weeks, the city fell and by most stories Croesus was captured. By one version, he is burned at a stake. In another version, he is allowed to live under the rule of Cyrus. But regardless of what version you accept, Croesus did destroy a mighty empire—his own.

The story of Croesus is a story of the paradigm of excess. It's a story of a leadership that doesn't recognize the limits of power and the consequences that flow from that.

It's a story that unfolds like a Sophoclean tragedy. If you look at the various works of the great playwright Sophocles, typically what you see are three stages:

  • The first being hubris, a kind of arrogance that someone may have. Certainly, Croesus had this arrogance.
  • The second thing you see is what that arrogance produces, what the ancients called ate, a kind of mad, blind, irrational act. Invading Persia, which was led by Cyrus, who we know today as Cyrus the Great, in a preventive war was an act of ate—madness, blindness.
  • And ate inevitably leads to nemesis, or destruction.

The story of Croesus is important for us today because it reminds us that many of the most important security threats that we face in the world, and in life in general, come from within, not from outside.

Now, why do I begin this morning by talking about a story that is brought down to us by Herodotus? After all, Herodotus was born in 485 BCE in the town of Halicarnassus. He was very much influenced by what we call the Ionian Enlightenment, where pre-Socratic philosophers, geographers like Hecataeus, taught him that if you could observe carefully and you could reason deductively, you could discover patterns of behavior that could help forecast what is likely to happen.

Herodotus did this in the study of what are called the Persian Wars, which ran from 490 down to 480 BCE. In his studies of the Persian Wars, he has a lyrical style that led the great Roman orator Cicero to say Herodotus was the "father of history." And Winston Churchill reminds us that history is important because "the farther back you look, the farther ahead," he said, "you can see."

Now, not everyone was enamored with Herodotus. The great historian Plutarch said, "He's not the father of history; he's the father of lies," because Herodotus was also influenced by Homer. Herodotus wanted to memorialize the great, astonishing deeds of Greeks and barbarians so that they would remain in our memories, they would not become aklea, a Greek word meaning "forgotten." So often as you read through Herodotus you find amazing tales of distant places. And so, for people like Plutarch and others, Herodotus is a gullible and a garrulous storyteller.

But I am more sympathetic to Cicero's view. I believe that Herodotus has produced a pioneering work that continues to speak to us in our day. It has not finished teaching us lessons about life and about statecraft. Most important of those, and the one that I want to emphasize to you today, is a way of looking at world politics. Herodotus gives us for the first time a multidimensional view of the world. We typically look at the world in a unidimensional way. We look at the horizontal axis of the thrust and parry of states on a geostrategic chessboard—who is aligning with whom; what state is moving in what direction.

Herodotus tell us yes, it's important to look at the horizontal axis, but it is equally important to look at a vertical axis, the rise and fall of states over time in relative power. Although it may be true that states are powerful at a given point, Herodotus, through the story of Croesus, tells us that it will not remain that way. In a sense, Herodotus is holding up a distant mirror for us that we can look at and understand what today we call unipolar moments.

Now, as many of you know, power can be distributed in a variety of ways in the international system. It can be dispersed among many states that are roughly equal, as for example in the Renaissance Italian state system or in 19th-century Europe; it can be concentrated in the hands of two superpowers, such as the Cold War; or it can be in the hands of a single predominant state—unipolarity.

Since 1991, the United States has been said to be enjoying a unipolar moment. Its defense expenditures roughly are equivalent to everyone else's combined. An enormous economy, great cultural influence, what Joe [Nye] and I would call "soft power." As Madeleine Albright once put it, "We stand tall, we see farther than other people." We can almost hear Croesus feeding her that line.

This is a unipolar moment. And in this unipolar moment what have we done? We have come up with a doctrine of muscular unilateralism and preventive warfare. As a unilateral power, we have a hammer. And, as most unilateral powers, as most unipolar powers, all the way back to Lydia, when you have a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.

Now, Herodotus goes on to tell us some things that might speak to us today. He uses his multidimensional view of the world to focus in on one power in particular, ancient Persia, because after Croesus and Lydia were defeated, Persia under Cyrus the Great became a proto-superpower. It enjoyed a unipolar moment. It stretched in boundaries from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River, from the deserts of Libya to the Hindu Kush. It was all tied together by a magnificent web of roads and a vast cosmopolitan bureaucracy. No power came close to it until the rise of Rome in the west and the Han dynasty in the east.

After Cyrus passed away, this vast power of Persia came under the rulership of three different individuals, Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes. Each one of those individuals got Persia involved in a foreign intervention that did not turn out well for Persia. Cambyses took the Persian military down into Ethiopia, or what today would be called Ethiopia. Darius took the Persians into what was Scythia in his day, today would be the Ukrainian area around the Black Sea. Xerxes took the army to Greece.

Like Croesus, all three of these leaders were impressed with their own power and they became pawns of their own preconceptions. They all saw the challenges facing Persia as military in nature, not political.

The goals of each of their expeditions were vague. They started with great overconfidence, so confident that they believed that they were immune to brash actions. They all underestimated their opponents, had poor intelligence about the conditions of the places they were going to, and what little intelligence they had came to them from exiles, the "Chalabis" of the day. They all disregarded warnings of people who said, "This will not turn out well for Persia." They preferred to treat their own optimistic assumptions as if they were facts. They were all uniformed about the cultures of the adversaries they faced. None of them had contingency plans in case anything went wrong, and when things went wrong none were willing to reevaluate.

All three Persian kings framed their conflict as a war of "good versus evil." Their adversaries were evildoers and their mission was to rid the world of this evil, even if it took preventive warfare. Now, such a strategy simplifies things enormously. If all your enemies are wicked beyond reform, then there's no need to draw distinctions between the types of threats that you face, there is no need to tailor policies to specific states that you may encounter. All of them are bad to the bone. In effect, what all three Persian kings did is that, by trying to solve one security problem that they thought they faced at a certain day, they created new and more difficult security problems for themselves in the future.

Now, what does this have to do with Iraq and after Iraq? Well, I would like to suggest to you in the brief time that I have left three lessons that one can draw from the study of antiquity, in particular the study of Croesus in Lydia and these three great Persian leaders.

The first is unipolar moments are fleeting. If we look at the modern world, the world after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, no state has stayed at the apex of world power for very long. States have risen and fallen over time. Those states at the summit of world power have tended to confuse their primary with omnipotence. They have all assumed that, having reached the peak, they would stay there indefinitely.

But they did not realize that they faced both short- and long-term security threats. Today, for example, we face a number of short-term security threats, typically products of failed states and non-state actors like al Qaeda, but we also have lumped in with that rogue states, such as how we've defined Iraq in recent years.

What I'd like to suggest to you is a mind experiment. Imagine that you step into a time machine and you emerge from that machine 200 years in the future and you encounter a historian whose specialty is the 21st century. You ask this historian, "What happened in the 21st century?"—because, after all, you stepped into this time machine at the very beginning of the century, in 2007, and so you don't know how things played out.

I don't spend a lot of time wagering—if I did, I would live in Las Vegas instead of Boise—but if I did, I would wager that this future historian would say to you, "The big story of the 21st century was not Saddam Hussein, was not Osama bin Laden, but the big story is the shifting tectonic plates of world politics, that the United States, while at the beginning of the century stood at the summit of power alone, over the course of that century began to encounter peer competitors."

Other states will rise. That's that vertical axis, the rise and fall of power. The big story of the 21st century is likely to be the rise of China and others and the emergence of a multipolar system to replace the unipolar system that we are more familiar with.

One of the unfortunate things about our preoccupation with the short-term problems of today is we're not concentrating as much as we might upon those longer-term problems. In fact, the way we deal with the short-term problems may make it more difficult to handle the long-term problems.

My second theme picks up from that point. How we deal with problems today while we do have primacy is important for dealing with the problems of tomorrow when we don't have primacy. We are in a unique position. As the foremost power in the world, we have the capability to shape the norms and institutions which guide international behavior. We can shape them for good or we can shape them for ill.

If we have a foreign policy that is all accelerator and no brakes, we will be sorry decades down the road that we have taught by an example that is not going to be helpful to us when we are no longer alone at the top of world power.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to talk with my brother-in-law, who's a pilot. He used to fly Learjets about 20 years ago. He began to describe something to me that I thought sounded awfully relevant to statecraft and world politics today.

He said, "Learjets were amazing. They could fly outside the envelope of their design. If you took them up above 42,000 feet, the air is thinner up there, and you could literally fly that jet faster than it was designed to go."

He said, "Of course, there was a problem if you did that—in fact, there were two problems." One was once you got up to that altitude and reached that speed, you entered what he called a "coffin corner." If you tried to slow down, the plane would stall and would go into an unrecoverable flat spin. But if you tried to speed up, you would build up a shock wave behind the plane that would eventually tear the tail off the plane. In other words, once you got to that altitude and that speed, whether you went faster or slower, you were doomed, there was no exit.

A foreign policy that has all accelerator is similarly doomed. You find yourself in a place where there are no good options; all the options are bad.

Now, some of those options have been bequeathed to us by a policy—and this is my third point—based on preventive warfare. I'd like to suggest to you that such a policy is wrongheaded for a number of reasons, but the most important being it will make it very difficult to deal with the problems we face in the future when we have peer competitors.

First, and obviously, preventive warfare assumes accurate intelligence. Yet, intentions of one's opponents are awfully difficult to discern over a long time horizon. Policy planning by your opponents is typically shrouded in secrecy, and signals that you might get are typically, let's say, submerged in a sea of background noise. So it is very hard to ascertain what specific threats you will face in the distant future that would warrant taking preventive action.

Secondly, preventive warfare has moral problems insofar as it erodes restrictions on when and how to use military force. Over the centuries, we have built up a body of theory called Just War theory. Two of the criteria that typically we focus on are proportionality and discrimination—that the amount of force you use should be proportional to the objective that you are trying to attain; and you should discriminate among targets, for example between combatants and noncombatants. But if you adopt a preventive war strategy against a threat that has yet to materialize but someday may materialize, how in God's name do you know what's proportionate in terms of the amount of force to use and how can you act in a discriminating way?

As Otto von Bismarck, no raving liberal, once put it, "A policy of preventive war is like committing suicide out of a fear of death."

Finally, and most importantly, I worry about such a policy because it sets a perilous precedent. The most powerful state in the system is often emulated by others. When we take actions, others follow. If we take actions that legitimize preventive uses of military force against threats that have not yet materialized, we have just set a rough-and-ready precedent for every truculent, self-absorbed leader to emulate and launch first strikes. We will have created what I like to call a "permissive normative order," one that fosters a global culture of mistrust and that can easily polarize the multipolar system of the future, locking us into an ever-downward spiral of conflict and reciprocal military actions.

It's a hubristic policy, and as the fable of King Croesus reminds us, hubris brings nemesis.

Now, I'd like to say I could predict the future, but as the Chorus in Sophocles' play Ajax reminds us, "Much may humans learn by seeing, but before he sees it none may know the future." We can't know the future. We can make forecasts and projections.

But there is a guide. I started by quoting Herodotus and the story of Croesus. It's only fitting that I end with a story from my home state of Idaho.

The story is told—and it's probably told in many different states where hunting exists—about two hunters who came to Idaho to hunt moose in the enormous, roadless wilderness that makes up the center part of my state, the Frank Church Wilderness, bisected by the "River of No Return." There are no roads in, there are no roads out; you either hike in or you can fly in and land at a grassy airstrip.

The story is told that these two hunters arrived in Boise and they encountered someone who ran a charter service and asked that they be flown into the wilderness area and be left there for a week to hunt moose. The pilot agreed and flew them back there.

As they were coming in to land, he said, "Now, remember one thing. This plane isn't very large. I can only haul the two of you, myself, and one moose. Remember, one moose. This engine is not that powerful."

They said, "Oh yeah, we know."

He dropped them off, and then they proceeded to spend the next week in the wilderness hunting.

The following week, when the pilot was coming back in, he was descending—wouldn't you know it?—he saw two dead moose lying by this grass airstrip.

He lands the plane and he gets out and he says, "Don't you remember what I told you?"

The two hunters say, "Oh come on, come on. You can do it, you can do it."

He said, "Absolutely not. I told you only one."

Well, one of the hunters says to the other, "Don't worry. I know how to solve this problem." He opens up his wallet and says, "What if I give you an extra $1,000? Can you get that moose onboard?"

The pilot says, "Sure. Give me the money and put the moose onboard."

They get ready and take off. They get into the air, and about two minutes later the plane starts wobbling. They're hanging on for dear life. It crashes into the forest. Fortunately, everyone survives.

One hunter, sort of brushing himself off and coming to, says, "Where are we?"

The second hunter says, "I think about 100 yards from where we crashed last year."

The moral of this story is the same as what Herodotus might have told us: We all need to learn from past mistakes and we need to remember the way we deal with the problems of today have important implications for the problems we will face tomorrow.

Thank you very much.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: I enjoyed very much listening to you. But I was struck by one fact, that other people steeped in Hellenic stories—I'm thinking of Bob Kagan, whose father was the translator of Thucydides—came out with a different scenario than yours. They said that we are from Mars and the Europeans are from Venus, and that if you have a rifle you should go out and shoot the bear. Have you seen any signs that others in the classical world like them have had second thoughts about hubris?

GREG RAYMOND: The literature, of course, is like any academic literature—someone stakes out a position and then immediately you have a variety of people staking out a counter-position; then you get a lively debate; then out of that debate, ideally, you get some synthesis.

I would argue that there is an awful lot parallel to what I've said that you can find in Thucydides, in the History of the Peloponnesian War. That's the war that began in 431 BCE and ended in 404 BCE between Athens and its allies in the Delian League and Sparta and its allies in the Peloponnesian League. I'll give a couple of examples.

One is, at very beginning of the book Thucydides is talking about a variety of people who have made comments about this war that has just started. He says, "I believe that the truest cause of the war"—in other words, he is saying, "Well, there are a lot of things that could have gone into it, but the deep-down structural cause of the war"—he says, "The truest cause of the war was the rise of Athenian power and the fear that created in Sparta." In other words, Thucydides, without citing Herodotus, is essentially beginning with the same argument: We need to understand world politics not just on the horizontal plane but on the vertical plane, the rise and fall of powers.

There is a huge body of data-based research that has been done on this topic where we have looked at factors that may lead conflicts to escalate to war. Much of that literature points to an important factor, and that is power transition, the rise of a power that is going to essentially catch up with someone at the summit of world power. Colloquially, we often refer to this as a rear-end collision, that often wars start because the rising power wants to speed up and overtake the established power, or the established power wants to launch a preventive war to stop the rising power.

The second point I want to make about Thucydides, I would argue, is supportive of the theme that I have tried to reach. Pericles, the great leader of Athens at the beginning of the war, gives a very famous speech that we are all probably familiar with, "The Funeral Oration." After the first year of war, he gives one of the most magnificent speeches ever given in the history of humanity about one's responsibilities as a citizen, duty, and so forth.

But then he gives another important speech a little bit later in the book. As you may know, unfortunately for Athens, the Periclean strategy was to bring everyone from Attica inside the great walls of Athens and then allow the Spartans to sort of roam around the countryside and burn and knock things over, but they wouldn't engage in set-piece battle with the Athenians because everyone was inside the great walls. The Athenians, in turn, could send their naval forces all over to attack Spartan positions. The hope was that the Spartans would get frustrated with a long, drawn-out war, and therefore a peace settlement could be negotiated.

But what happens to Athens is when all of the humanity of Attica is brought inside the city walls a plague breaks out, a horrific plague. It kills one-fourth of the entire Athenian population, including the great Pericles.

In Pericles' last speech, he says to the Athenians, "I worry more about the blunders we will make than about what others will do to us." In a sense, he is saying the greatest threat to security is often from within, not from outside.

Now, I could go on and on about Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. It is, frankly, next to Don Quixote, my favorite book. I would argue that as I read that fantastic work there are a lot of themes that I believe dovetail with what you can get out of not just Herodotus, but also you can get out of Sophocles and a lot of the great dramas that were written in the period.

It's interesting that you showed the great parallel between the ancients and the morass that we are now in. Do the ancients give us any indication how we can get out of the problems?

This is why I brought up the example of the Learjet. You can get out of a problem. The question is can you get out in good shape. I think a fictitious pilot at 43,000 feet in a Learjet, realizing that "the speed is such that if I slow down bad things are going to happen, the plane will stall; if I speed up, the shock wave, bad things are going to happen"—there are no good choices here.

I like to believe I've an optimist, but I've come to conclude I'm optimistic basically on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I've become a pessimist on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. On Sundays I try not to think about all this stuff because it can be so depressing.

I see no easy way out. We're like the pilot at 43,000 feet. What we're looking for is the least bad way out. I think what that would be defined as is we don't want to exit in a way that we set certain precedents that will hurt our security and hurt our position as we proceed with the other problems that we'll face in the 21st century.

It's no longer an issue of are we going to create a robust democracy. We've held a couple of elections in Iraq. The metaphor I like to use about that is imagine, if you would, you have a next-door neighbor who owns a big plot of land. That person has always wanted to have a forest. So the person goes out to Home Depot and various garden centers and buys a lot of trees and plants these trees on this field. Does the person have a forest? No. A forest is more than a lot of trees. A forest is a complex ecosystem in which there are, not just trees, but various grasses and bushes, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds. There are a variety of things that make up a healthy forest.

Similarly, in terms of a democracy, you just can't hold a couple of elections and say, "Well, freedom's on the march, we've got a democracy." A democracy is a complex political ecosystem in which a lot of things are needed besides elections, including a civic culture that holds certain values in high regard.

So my thought is we're not getting out of this easily. It's going to be a mess any way we exit. So the best we can try to think of is exiting in such a way that it doesn't further erode our soft power and doesn't further erode our hard power.

We need to think like a master chess player. Right now we're thinking like amateurs, "What move do we make next?" Master chess players think about, "When I make this move, how does it position me to make another move which then positions me to do something else?" That's the type of thinking we need to engage in—not "how do we get out as quickly as possible?" but, rather, "how do we get out in a way that it doesn't jeopardize our position to deal with other problems that we will face down the road?"

QUESTION: Thank you, Professor, for the marvelous tour de raison historical, most appropriate. Were you able to express these metaphorical history lessons before the Administration invaded Iraq; and, if so, did anybody listen to you or did they just ignore the whole thing?

GREG RAYMOND: Although the book came out this past year and has a 2007 copyright, as all of you I'm sure are aware, it takes some time to write a book, in this case at least two years to write the book. Before the book was written, both my co-author and I had written a number of shorter papers and essays as well as made presentations at different gatherings.

We really began, I would say, probably as early as 2002. The trigger event that I remember was the National Security Strategy of 2002 that was put forward. That prompted us to begin thinking about what are the consequences of preventive action.

So Part 1 of your question, have we done more with this and earlier, yes, we've been doing it since 2002. The book, After Iraq, is simply the culminating project of that.

Has anyone listened? I would say perhaps not the right people have listened. Remarkably, even when public opinion polls were still very high for the president, when I have spoken publicly on this issue, the reception has been pretty good. My sense was there were people who were supportive of the president's policies, but it was sort of a mile wide but only about a half-inch thick. That support really wasn't very deep.

There were a lot of concerns, particularly after the first few months of the war. Initially, things seemed to be going quite well, but before too long they didn't. This parallels a lot of experience that the United States has had with military intervention, that we go into a place and we enjoy initial military success, but then we perhaps underestimate the responses of the indigenous population, we underestimate the difficulties of regime change and building solid democratic states, and then gradually we become frustrated with the endeavor; we adopt a limited war strategy with gradual escalation, and that doesn't seem to work; and then, over time, we begin to realize that there are other domestic pressing needs that we need to attend to; and then ultimately we withdraw.

What examples do you have of that besides Vietnam?

GREG RAYMOND: There are several recent studies. I've cited them in the book. One looked at 86 U.S. military interventions since 1945. The conclusion of the study is in most cases we did not achieve the lofty goals that we set for ourselves. In fact, in most cases, the level of democracy, as measured by the Freedom House Index, is roughly the same before and after we intervened, that we don't have a long-term effect. I certainly afterwards can show you that body of work.

There have been a number of scholars who have looked at this thing systematically and have concluded that there is a sort of pattern of this type that emerges.

Benjamin Franklin said, "The things that hurt instruct." The things that hurt the most we remember, Vietnam being one.

QUESTION: Could you comment on the role of the UN, the IMF and the World Bank in the scheme of things?

GREG RAYMOND: If we think about those institutions, where did they come from? At the end of World War II, there was a feeling among many members of the Truman Administration and the previous Roosevelt Administration that the war had been caused by multiple factors.

At one level, what we could call the proximate causes of the war, were leaders who, like Hitler, embarked on extremely aggressive policies. So one way to prevent a future war from happening would be to adopt a policy to contain those leaders rather than to appease them. So at one level we have certain institutions that are built, like NATO, which is followed by this "pactomania" of SEATO and CENTO and so forth and so on.

But there were others who said, "War is also brought about by underlying deeper structural conditions." One of those conditions that was frequently pointed to was the idea of economic nationalism, that the period before the war was a time of protectionism, it was a time of currency speculation, and a time where victorious states typically demanded reparation payments from the defeated. It was felt by some that a policy of protectionism, speculation, and reparations contributed mightily to the onset of the Great Depression, and the Great Depression then provided the opportunity for extremists to come to power and ultimately wage war.

So if you want to prevent war in the long haul, you don't just contain extremists; you have to eliminate the conditions that might give rise to those extremists. And so a web of institutions and rules were set up after World War II.

Among them was the idea of, rather than protectionism, free trade. So we get GATT, later followed on by the World Trade Organization.

We have problems with currency speculation. You have the International Monetary Fund, as an institution, created. We have the World Bank created to move from reparations to a logic of helping states reconstruct.

So what we get in the period, starting, let's say, in 1944 is we get a series of institutions created, including the United Nations along with the ones that I've mentioned, a set of rules that are promoted. And we have something structurally that makes this work—we have the United States, at that point extremely powerful, both in hard and soft power, and it can get other states to buy into this. Now, we can get them to buy in in a lot of ways, including Marshall Plan funds.

This was a time where we were enjoying a kind of unipolar moment. Our economy was robust. All of our competitors were down and out from World War II. We were the only state that had what we now call weapons of mass destruction. We were in a unique position economically and militarily.

What did we do with it? We built a set of institutions and rules. Now, they were modified over time, but we created a web of relationships with the idea that that would help stabilize the future and prevent the return of another Great Depression, would dampen down demands of economic nationalism.

As I look back at that period, that was a period of marvelous innovation and creativity. As I look to the future, my concern is we are not building the institutions and rules perhaps that we might need as we move to the latter decades of this century. What we want is to embed rising powers in a cocoon of norms so that we all understand the rules of the game and we're not in a situation where you have two cross-eyed people coming down a road and they crash into one another. One person says, "Why don't you look where you're going?" The other says, "Why don't you go where you're looking?"

So I think institutions and rules are important because they set the rules of the road. There is no time more important to set them than when you have a power in a unipolar moment, and there is no more important time to set them than when there are peer competitors on the way up.

We don't want a repeat of the rear-end collisions of history. What we would rather have? Think about the 19th century. Who was at the top? Great Britain. Who was rising up? The United States. We didn't have a rear-end collision with the British. There were probably political scientists back in those days who might have predicted such a collision. After all, we had fought the British in the late 1700s and we fought them again in the early 1800s. Why wouldn't we fight them again in the latter 1800s? But, instead, we worked out rules of the road with the British by which a rising power and an established power didn't collide, but instead were able to work together for the betterment of, not only their own interests, but larger global interests.

So the point that you raise I think is important. With a rising China, with the United States currently enjoying this unipolar moment, the time is ripe to build these kinds of institutions and rules so that we don't collide with one another like the two cross-eyed gentlemen do.

Greg, thank you. I thought the word of the day would be "lucky."

You may also like

ChatGPT homepage on a computer screen

MAY 15, 2024 Article

Forecasting Scenarios from the Use of AI in Diplomacy

Read through six scenarios and expert commentaries that explore potential impacts of AI on diplomacy.

MAY 15, 2024 Podcast

Beneficial AI: Moving Beyond Risks, with Raja Chatila

In this episode of the "AIEI" podcast, Senior Fellow Anja Kaspersen engages with Sorbonne University's Raja Chatila, exploring the integration of robotics, AI, and ethics.

MAY 14, 2024 Article

A Conversation with Carnegie Ethics Fellow Bojan Francuz

This new interview series profiles members of the inaugural Carnegie Ethics Fellows cohort. This discussion features Bojan Francuz, a peace and urbanism expert.

Not translated

This content has not yet been translated into your language. You can request a translation by clicking the button below.

Request Translation