JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I would like to welcome members and guests to our Books for Breakfast program with author Max Boot, who will be discussing his book The Savage Wars of Peace.
Since the founding of our country, we have fought a great many wars to maintain the political might of our nation, but if we were asked about our military history, most of us would probably only mention the highlights, such as the Civil War or World Wars I and II. We would be remiss, however, if we believed these big wars to be the norm.
For those of you who are military buffs, you know that there is another, less celebrated tradition in U.S. military history, and it is the practice of waging small wars. Mr. Boot tells us that today social scientists and soldiers would refer to them as either "low-intensity conflicts" or "military operations" rather than "war." But, regardless of what they are called, they are similar to many of the battles we are fighting today where we engage in campaigns to suppress rebellions and guerrilla warfare. In fact, even though the geography of Afghanistan may be somewhat new, the tactics employed by U.S. forces have long held a place in America's history of small wars.
In The Savage Wars of Peace, our guest argues that it is these small wars that have so solidly cemented America's reputation in the military realm. Rather than ignore our tactical successes in such engagements, he believes that today's defense leaders should embrace these methods to fight new battles wherever they may occur.
Max Boot is the Editorial Features Editor of the Wall Street Journal and is responsible for all the signed articles that appear on the editorial page. His writings have appeared in Talk, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, The Weekly Standard, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Prior to joining The Journal in February 1994, Max worked as a writer and editor at The Christian Science Monitor.
In addition to his book, Savage Wars of Peace, which has been chosen as a selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club, our guest is the author of Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption, and Incompetence on the Bench.
MAX BOOT: Thank you.
A few weeks ago, I was on a radio program and I was talking about the Barbary Wars, when from 1801-1805 the United States fought Tripoli, what is now known as Libya, and bombarded and blockaded the capital city of Tripoli. The radio host asked me a question which it had never occurred to me to answer in the book: why didn't we use aircraft carriers?
Because airplanes hadn't been invented then? I don't know. There are probably other reasons as well. But I am counting on you to ask better questions than that. It is not a very high bar, but I have set it nevertheless.
My book is about war. We are in the midst of a war right now. It is sometimes hard to remember, but American, British, Australian troops are currently conducting combat operations in Afghanistan, to speak nothing of the American fliers who are patrolling no-fly zones over Iraq.
But it doesn't feel very much like a war. We all have an image of what a war is like, and we think of the Civil War or World War II. We think of mass mobilization, of conscription, of major disruptions in our civilian life ¾none of which have happened so far. There have been minor disruptions at airports, where we have to deal with increased security, about which we can all gripe, but it hasn't been anything like the disruption which we've experienced in past wars.
The question, therefore, becomes: what kind of war are we fighting? The answer in my book, is that it's a small war ¾ "small war" being a literal translation of the Spanish word guerrilla, and being a term of art that was popular around 1900 to refer to encounters between Western troops and irregular or guerrilla forces in the Third World. These kinds of operations, or the kind we're now seeing in Afghanistan, have very little in common with the "big wars," with World War II or the Civil War, but they are commonplace in our history.
To give you an indication of how common they are, let me just throw out one figure, which is 180 landings of Marines abroad between 1800 and 1934. Between 1800 and 1934, American Marines landed abroad more than once a year. Unfortunately, we have forgotten about American landings in places like Sumatra in 1834, or in Korea in 1871, or in Samoa in 1899. What I try to do with my book is to resurrect that lost history and to show how it applies to our current dilemmas.
I was enthralled by what I stumbled across in the course of doing my book research, all these amazing stories featuring forgotten heroes of American military history. Sailors like Stephen Decatur, one of the great early heroes of the Republic, who battled first the Barbary pirates, then the British in the War of 1812, before dying, very romantically, in 1820 in a duel with a brother officer. Or Fighting Fred Funston, the great hero of the Philippine War from 1899-1902, who led a daring commander raid to capture Emilio Aguinaldo, the leader of the rebellion, and to end the insurrection almost single-handedly. Or, one of my very favorites, Smedley Butler, one of the great Marines of all time, two-time winner of the Medal of Honor. Between 1898 and 1930, Smedley Butler fought in every American war, big or small; and then, upon his retirement from the Marine Corps in the 1930s, he turned from being one of our leading imperial soldiers to being a leading anti-imperialist and pacifist, and denounced rearmament in the late 1930s and campaigned for staying out of all troubles anywhere in the world. When you read about the exploits of Butler or Decatur or Funston, it's like something out of a Patrick O'Brien novel. But it really happened.
One of my favorite stories is of how the 1915 U.S.-Haitian Treaty came into being.
In 1915, President Wilson sent Marines to occupy Haiti, where they would stay for nineteen years. But, being a legalistic people, we wanted to put a legalistic gloss on this occupation, and, therefore, the State Department drafted a treaty that would ratify long-term, open-ended American occupation of Haiti. The question was how to get the President of Haiti to sign this treaty, because in the past when Haitian presidents had seen their poll approval ratings plunge, they had often literally been torn to pieces. Therefore, this was not something that the President of Haiti wanted to risk.
The job of getting the treaty signed was given to Major Butler, U.S.M.C., who was detailed to the Haitian gendarmerie. Major Butler went over to the Presidential Palace and asked for the President and was told that the President was in the bathroom, so Butler said, "Okay, I'll wait." And then, as one hour turned to two, it suddenly started to dawn on Major Butler that perhaps the President was not planning to emerge from the bathroom. But, being an enterprising Marine, he did not let a minor thing like this stand in his way. He just marched outside the Presidential Palace, grabbed a ladder, propped it up against the wall, climbed up to the second floor, and looked inside the window of the bathroom, where he saw the President sitting, fully clothed in his pinstriped trousers and top hat and morning coat, reading a magazine on the toilet. So Major Butler calmly opened the window, jumped into the room, took out a pen, took out the treaty, and said, "Sign here, Mr. President," and the President did.
I'm sure those of us who are diplomatic colleagues here today can only marvel at such direct action. Some of the details of that story might have been embellished a time or two in the telling by Marines, who have a tendency to tell good stories, but it gives you an accurate flavor of how the 1915 U.S.-Haiti Treaty came into being, and also a sense of the skills that are required in these small wars, skills such as flushing presidents out of a bathroom, which are not taught normally at West Point or Annapolis.
I don't know that American Special Forces are invading any bathrooms in Afghanistan, but they are certainly dealing with warlords and diplomatic negotiations, in effect, which are very far removed from what we think of as being conventional war-fighting skills.
The challenge that we face today in a place like Afghanistan would be very familiar to a Frederick Funston or a Smedley Butler, but it's very disorienting to many people in our Pentagon who do not think of this as being part of their duties.
When they think of war, they think of conventional conflicts. Their preferred style of war is World War II or the Gulf War. They don't like these lower-intensity conflicts, which don't have clear-cut outcomes, drag on endlessly, don't have exit strategies, force U.S. troops to act as social workers ¾all these other great taboo topics that we heard so much about in the 1990s.
The Bush Administration in some ways embodies that prejudice. You will recall that in 2000, Condoleeza Rice was complaining that U.S. troops had no business escorting children to kindergarten, a reference to the American peacekeeping role in the Balkans. And we see that same prejudice against peacekeeping today in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has won so far a tremendous unconventional victory but President Bush is very reluctant to get involved in any long-term policing role in Afghanistan.
That prejudice against peacekeeping is based on the historical myth that peace operations are something that the U.S. has not traditionally done and is not particularly good at, this notion, which was embodied in the Powell Doctrine, which holds that American should only fight if it is going to use overwhelming force, win a massive victory, and then leave immediately.
That sounds good in theory, but the reality is we have been violating the Powell Doctrine for 200 years, and fairly successfully. If you delve into history, you will realize that most of these things that we take to be holy commandments of military action are nothing but myths; they have no relation to how we have used force. Today I would like to briefly go over a few of these myths that I hope my book will puncture.
The first of these is the myth that there is something new about the United States fighting wars without a "vital national interest." The second is that there is something new about the United States fighting wars without significant popular support. The third is that there is something new about wars without a declaration of war. The fourth is that there is something new about wars without exit strategies. The fifth myth is that there is something new about wars in which U.S. troops act as "social workers."
1)There is something new about wars without "vital national interest." We heard much about this in the 1990s, when people screamed, "What's our vital national interest in Somalia or Haiti or Kosovo or Bosnia?", or all these other places where we were sending troops. We have often used troops where we see a vital national interest.
To give you an example, the 1914 American occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, Mexico's largest seaport. How did that come about? The immediate precipitating incident was that in another Mexican port, a handful of U.S. sailors were briefly detained by the Mexican authorities, and released with an apology. But that wasn't good enough for the Admiral who commanded the local U.S. Naval Squadron offshore. He demanded that the Mexican Government fire a twenty-one-gun salute to the Stars and Stripes "or else." The salute wasn't forthcoming. The U.S. wound up occupying Veracruz, Mexico for seven months. Now, admittedly, there were other reasons for the occupation having to do with President Wilson's desire to topple the Mexican dictator Huerta, but that was indeed the precipitating incident.
Does anybody here think that getting a twenty-one-gun salute to the U.S. flag constitutes a "vital national interest?" Most of our small wars were fought for less trivial and less entertaining reasons, but many of them were equally far removed from traditional realpolitik conceptions of what makes for the national interest.
Many of our reasons for fighting previous small wars were as much moral as they were strategic or economic. That moral or idealistic component is sometimes hard to discern from our vantage point in the 21stcentury because the terms in which it is expressed have changed so much over the past hundred years. In 1900, Americans talked about "spreading Anglo-Saxon civilization" and "taking up the white man's burden." Today, we talk about "spreading democracy" and "protecting human rights." But, whatever you call it, this is the idealistic impulse which has often animated American policy, whether we were freeing Cuba in 1898 or Kosovo in 1999. There is absolutely nothing new about wars that were fought for less than "vital interests."
2) There is something new about wars without significant popular support. Again, this is something we heard a lot about in the 1990s ¾"where is the popular support for what we're doing in Somalia or Kosovo or Haiti?" Or this was used as an excuse for not acting in Rwanda, claiming that there was no popular support for military action.
The need for popular support is much overrated. It is absolutely necessary to fight a major war that conscripts millions of citizen soldiers. But it is much less necessary when you are only sending a handful of professional, long-service, volunteer regulars to some nasty trouble spot far away.
With most of our past small wars, the public, far from giving massive support, was often very unaware of what was going on.
I mentioned the occupation of Haiti in 1915. The day after the Marines landed, readers of the New York World ¾ which was Joseph Pulitzer's mass-circulation daily, the Daily News and New York Post of the time ¾who were looking for news of the beginning of the occupation of Haiti would have had to turn to page nine where the item was buried. On page one, there were far more important stories that had to be covered, one of which caught my eye, a headline that said: "Elsie Ferguson, Actress, Will Be a Banker's Bride." So as you can see, we in the press had our priorities straight even in 1915.
That is very much the norm. There wasn't any huge buildup of public support. President Wilson just sent the Marines into Haiti and they did the job.
And, very often, our troops abroad did their job even when there was opposition to what they were doing, which was particularly notable in the case of the Philippine War, which was opposed by Mark Twain and, I note, since we are in this forum, also vigorously opposed by Andrew Carnegie and a virtual Who's Whoof prominent Americans. But, despite all of this opposition from the Anti-Imperialist League, which was quite significant, 70,000 professional soldiers and Marines were still able to get the job done in the Philippines. And there are many other similar instances throughout our history, which also suggests that the need for popular support for these interventions is overrated.
3)There is something new about wars without a declaration of war. We have heard proposals for a declaration of war in the war on terrorism, which begs the question of against whom will declare war. It's hard to see a declaration of war against al-Qaeda, which is not a nation state.
There is absolutely nothing new about undeclared wars. We have been sending military force abroad in that way since the first days of the Republic. My very first chapter, for example, is about the Barbary Wars, when in 1801 President Thomas Jefferson sent the American fleet to the Mediterranean to fight the Barbary pirates and didn't bother asking for Congress's approval beforehand. That is very much the norm, because the President, as Commander in Chief under the Constitution, has discretionary authority to use military force.
Now, that is not to suggest that Congress has no role to play. If Congress is truly opposed to how the President is using military force, it always has the power of the purse strings. It can always cut off funding for that operation, as it did for our operations in Indochina in the early 1970s, which effectively ended the undeclared war that we had been waging there. So Congress does have a role to play, but it doesn't need to declare war every time we use force abroad.
4)There is something new about wars without exit strategies. This is one of the great taboo phrases of the 1990s: "Where is our exit strategy in Somalia or Kosovo or Bosnia?" and the Pentagon is always vociferously opposed to going anywhere without a "exit strategy."
The notion that we always need an exit strategy when we use force would certainly be new to most of the presidents in the past who have deployed American force abroad. We still haven't found an exit strategy from World War II or the Korean War, because, decades later, American troops remain stationed in Japan, Italy, Germany, South Korea, with no prospect that they will be brought home, no exit strategy.
If you look at the interventions that I write about in my book, many of them were very long-term. We stayed in Haiti for nineteen years, in the Dominican Republic for eight years, in Nicaragua for twenty-four years; we had more or less continuous military operations in China from the 1840s to the 1940s, roughly 100 years ¾ no exit strategies in sight ¾and, despite that, those operations were all reasonably successful. Much more important are strategies for success.
5)There is something new about U.S. troops acting as "social workers." Again, we have heard many complaints about this in the 1990s, most famously from Condi Rice, with her complaint about U.S. troops escorting children to kindergarten.
But there is absolutely nothing new about that kind of mission. In 1956, the 101stAirborne Division was escorting children to school in Little Rock, Arkansas, and did so successfully.
Throughout our history, Marines, both here and abroad, have done "unconventional duties," whether guarding mail trains or acting as colonial administrators in places like Nicaragua. They have been the norm for the American military.
The exception has been the handful of major wars that we have fought for which the Pentagon is intent on preparing, and rightly so. But, in fact, our forces have often been called into doing other jobs, whether providing famine relief or inoculating children or teaching school. Those have often been judged to be an important part of American missions in places like the Philippines or Nicaragua, and they have, by and large, been done successfully.
The bottom line is that most of the Pentagon's traditional conceptions, about the proper use of the American military are false. I can sum up that myth with one sentence, which is that the job of the U.S. armed forces is limited to fighting wars in defense of vital national interests. It's just not so. It has always been much broader than that.
Contrary to the warnings of post-Vietnam alarmists, America does not risk disaster every time it strays into these other missions. We have a good example of this now in Afghanistan, which is one of the many places where many people predicted that American forces would go to their doom, that we would be stuck in a quagmire. If you think back to last fall, there were dire predictions about the Afghan winter, which turns out to have been a lot like the winter in Key West, as far as I can tell. Just about the time that everybody was saying that American forces were bogging down and not getting anywhere, the Taliban were toppled, about two months after the U.S. began combat operations.
It was a tremendously successful campaign, but hardly a textbook operation. It was using a combination of Special Forces, the Northern Alliance, and American precision air power in very successful ways that have much in common with our small wars tradition, but are very much at odds with the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force. We did very well in Afghanistan without having to fight a major conventional conflict, and that again is very much the norm in our history.
It is just as well that we do know how to fight these kinds of small wars, because there will be many to fight. It was striking to me in the course of doing my book research how many small wars we've fought and for how many different reasons.
It occurred to me that what was going on is what economists call a yield curve, which is that when cost is low, demand is high. For the United States, the cost of exercising its power virtually anywhere in the world has always been fairly low; therefore, we are likely to use our power even when the intervention might not fit a traditional realpolitikconception of our national interest.
There are more opportunities in the world than ever before for all sorts of interventions. Ever since the fall of the Berlin War, America has stood head and shoulders above all other nations, possessor of the world's most dynamic economy and most powerful military. In some ways, the current world order resembles that of the post-Napoleonic world, with the United States thrust willy-nilly into Britain's old role as "global policeman."
Unlike 19th century Britain, 21stcentury America does not preside over a formal empire. Our empire consists of a family of democratic capitalist nations that seek shelter under our security umbrella. The inner core of our empire in North America or in Northeast Asia or in Europe remains fairly stable and prosperous, but unrest and disorder lap at the periphery in regions like Central Asia or the Balkans or the Middle East, regions that are full of failed states, criminal states, or simply a state of Nature.
This is where America has found itself being drawn into small wars and will be in the future, because if the past is a prologue to what is to come, these small wars, which you might call imperial wars, constabulary wars, policing wars, will be the main occupation of the American military for the foreseeable future, and so we had better prepare for that. We have a lot of savage wars of peace ahead.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: I'm sure you know a lot more about Smedley Butler than I, but as I remember his speeches, you did not mention his chief criticism of the wars in which he fought. He was criticizing the fact that the United States went in to protect the economic interest of specifically U.S. corporations.
Isn't that what the criticism of many of the U.S. wars today is, that it is not for national interest, not for democracy, but to protect the trade zones, protect the economic interests, and to make it possible for corporations to freely invest in different countries?
MAX BOOT: You are right to a certain extent, that that was, indeed, Smedley Butler's critique of what he himself had done in Latin America and the Caribbean. He claimed "I was a muscle man for big business; I was a muscle man for Wall Street; I was a gangster for Brown Brothers Harriman."
But you have to place that in the context of what else he was doing in the 1930s. In 1936 he was named "shadow Secretary of War" in Huey Long's Cabinet, just before Huey Long was assassinated. Then, he was sharing speaking platforms with members of the Communist Party. By the end of his life, he was saying that we should pass a constitutional amendment that limited the use of American military force to the forty-eight continental states, leaving aside even Hawaii or Alaska, and he was absolutely opposed to any American involvement in the European or Pacific wars, didn't want anything to do with it, became a pacifist.
My theory is that this was his religious beliefs coming to the fore, because Smedley Butler was known as "the fighting Quaker," and during most of his career, the fighting part predominated, but in the 1930s, upon his retirement, his Quaker pacifist beliefs once again came to the forefront.
Now, his charges about what he had done in Latin America and the Caribbean gained a lot of currency because they fit in with this economic determinist critique of American policy. He wrote War Is a Racket, in which he suggested that all wars are fought for economic interests. If you look at the historical evidence, you would have to conclude that that is a gross oversimplification.
There is no question that American economic interests played some role in our interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean, but if you look at where we were intervening, they were not the areas where we had the most investment. They were countries like Nicaragua or Haiti, where we had very little investment. In some ways, that makes sense because in the countries where we had the most investment, the big companies were able to look after their own interests. It was in the places where we didn't have so much economic interest that there was unrest and we often intervened for reasons that were strategic or idealistic, having to do with protecting the approaches to the Panama Canal.
Woodrow Wilson was our most interventionist president, and it would be hard to argue that he was a stooge of big business. When he came into office, he declared, "I will teach the Latin republics to elect good men." That was the impulse for many of the intervention in Latin America under the Wilson presidency.
So the charges that Smedley Butler threw out there, which have become a defining cliché about those early interventions in Latin America, are inaccurate, and the reality is much more complex, just as today there are not many people who claim that we are intervening in places like Bosnia or Kosovo or Afghanistan for our economic interests. It is hard to see any economic gain that we could possibly achieve from that.
John Hobbes and Lenin and others charged that imperialism was driven by the search for markets. But, in fact, most historians conclude that most imperialism wasn't economically profitable. A few colonies were, but most were not. There are much deeper causes why imperialism took place.
QUESTION: The term "national interest" is fascinating but hard to define. National interests may be economic, military, or moral, depending on the perceptions and the politics of the country using them.
In the United States our national interest has always been perceived somewhat differently than other countries, where a defensive aspect is the major one.
MAX BOOT: I completely agree with that. All I meant to say was that this narrow realpolitikdefinition of national interest as being a very narrowly conceived strategic interest is not a viable definition of the American national interest. We have always conceived our national interest in much broader terms to also include moral considerations.
The phrase "vital national interest" are the code words that realpolitikers use to say we should only be fighting if we are protecting oil but that nothing else is worth fighting for. That is not a tenable definition, and it has never been a definition of how we have limited the use of force.
Many nations have also taken a broader idea of what constitutes a "vital national interest."
Look at the British. In 1807 Parliament outlawed the slave trade. For the next sixty years, the Royal Navy took an active role in destroying the Atlantic slave trade ¾ catching slave ships, raiding slave stations in Africa. It's hard to see how that was in the "vital national interest" of Britain, because many British fortunes were built in the 18thcentury on slavery, and so it was a painful and costly exercise. But Parliament did it because it was convinced to do so by William Wilberforce and by the force of moral conviction, that it did what it considered to be the "right thing to do."
QUESTION: Would you address the historical situation in Vietnam and our rationale? There is a great deal of revulsion in American public opinion about that dimension in Vietnam. How do you look at it now in terms of the national interest?
MAX BOOT: I have a chapter on the Vietnam War. I don't really reach any conclusion about whether we should have fought in Vietnam. You could certainly justify fighting, and many people did so in the early 1960s, including many who later turned against the war. In 1964 people like David Halberstam were arguing for escalation of the war but not pull-out. Clearly with the benefit of hindsight, if we know everything that we know now, we should not have gone in because it turned out to be a horribly costly mistake.
We fought the wrong way in Vietnam. There was a debate in the early 1960s within the American military establishment on how to fight. This was less noticed than the more popular debate about whether we should fight. But within the question of how to fight, there was a huge divergence of opinion between the Marines, the CIA, a few people like John Paul Vann, who had experience in counter-insurgency, who wanted to draw upon the lessons of small wars past and fight the way we had fought small wars in places like Nicaragua or the Philippines, where we emphasized counter-insurgency, village security, population control, cutting off the population base from the Communist insurgents ¾a long-term, low-intensity effort.
But that was not the approach that was chosen by William Westmoreland and the Army high command. They tried to fight a big war, a big-unit war, in Vietnam. They tried to re-fight World War II in the jungles of Vietnam, dropping more ordnance than we had in all of World War II, producing big-unit search-and-destroy operations, which were very costly for both sides, produced big casualties, but didn't bring us any closer to the goal of ultimate victory.
And so the lesson that I take away from Vietnam is we'd better figure out how to fight small wars in the appropriate manner, because if we try to fight them like a big war, we're setting ourselves up for a lot of grief.
QUESTION: I was fascinated with your comment about the role of being a social worker. I want to come back to that issue, because when I was in Thailand, the Seabees jumped into some villages during the counter-insurgency in the northeast of Thailand during the Vietnam War, and they were there for a very short time and then they flew out. There was no attention whatsoever when they built schools or clinics as to how to continue that. It was very much a cosmetic activity.
Would you comment on the issue of the role of the military in counter-insurgency or in small wars to take on the role of developer?
I worked for thirty-five years with nongovernmental organizations and with USAID, and one of the real problems is that that social work role is very tentative and not very effective.
MAX BOOT: It should be an important aspect of our military strategy when we're talking about these small wars, because you're trying to do more than just defeat an enemy on the battlefield. You want to create stable conditions for the long term to prevent the enemy from gaining adherents and to create a friendly population. To do that you have to offer the people hope. You have to do more than kill the enemy. You have to offer them a reason to support your side.
In the past, we have done a good job of that in places like the Philippines, where we fought a very bloody counter-insurgency ¾with many excesses on the American side. After 1902, the bulk of the Philippine population became reconciled to American rule, because of the many benefits that the American occupiers delivered. We had thousands of idealistic young Americans returning to the Philippines to teach school in a precursor of the Peace Corps, the Army ran inoculation programs and stopped infectious diseases, and we set the Philippines on the road to self-government much faster than any other Asian nation. For many of those reasons, the Philippines were not rising up against American rule in the 1920s or 1930s. In World War II many Filipinos fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American GIs against the Japanese.
Today, I am afraid that we may have lost sight of that in places like Afghanistan, where we are very much focused on hunting down al-Qaeda and less focused than we ought to be on trying to build up stable government structures that will ensure that Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorism in the future.
The Special Forces who are in the field, who are directing some of the aid money that we are sending in there, have a hard time getting requests approved, even for paltry amounts, like a few million here or there, but that makes a big difference if you are going to be offering hope to people in a village, that they don't have to team up with a warlord; that if they team if up with the central government and the United States, that they will have a better life for themselves. We need to do much more to offer that and we need to do much more to support the Karzai government so that they can offer those kinds of services.
It's the old Vietnam slogan of "hearts and minds," which became discredited in some quarters, but there is a lot of currency to that. You can't completely avoid that in counter-insurgency operations. It has to be an important part of your overall strategy. Along with hunting down the guerrillas, you have to convince the bulk of the population not to join the guerrilla cause, to side with you, and you do that by being more attractive than the opposition.
QUESTION: If there are legal wars that are continuing, shouldn't the government make the population aware that they are wars and that they have to make some sacrifices, that we do have to have allies, and we cannot have allies, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, give insurgents billions for the agriculture people, or increasing the tariffs on steel or energy?
MAX BOOT: I agree with that. The steel tariffs or the farm bill are tremendously counterproductive for American foreign policy because we are hurting the people who should be our allies.
With the farm bill, we hurt poor agricultural producers around the world. We are trying to send aid to Africa, but more effective than aid would be if we opened our markets and didn't subsidize our farmers to keep African farmers out of our markets.
Or, with steel tariffs, we're hurting steel producers in places like Russia, where we're trying to build up a Western democracy.
So that's tremendously counterproductive, and looking to short-term political gain instead of our long-term foreign policy bills.
We live in a political system, a democracy, where you do have the rule of the people, and so you have messy political compromises being made all the time.
I will say in defense of the United States that it is often fashionable to say: "American foreign policy is a mess; it gets made by interest groups; it doesn't look at the long-term interest; it's not this wise policy that other nations like the European states have." If you look at the record of the past 200 years, it doesn't always support that contention.
Walter Russell Mead, in his excellent book on the history of American foreign policy, points out what ought to be obvious but which isn't, which is that American foreign policy has been tremendously successful. We have evolved from being thirteen small colonies to the most powerful nation in the history of the world, and that wasn't just dumb luck or happenstance; it wasn't just natural resources. Much had to do with American foreign policy, which, despite many wrong turns and mistakes along the way, has turned out to be pretty good in the long run. Whereas those states who had brilliant, Byzantine statesmen at their helm ¾ Talleyrand or Metternicht or Bismarck ¾have been left by the wayside as American power has taken off.
So there is something to be said for the democratic system of foreign policymaking that we have, that it does produce good results in the long run, but in the short term there are problems. The only answer is to work through the political process and to correct that.
QUESTION: Please comment on the political international arrangements which we have now, the UN and Security Council from one side and NATO, and especially the NATO/Russia Council. This NATO/Russia Council could be more important than the Security Council, and be a real force.
MAX BOOT: NATO is important, and certainly the Baltic states should be part of it. We cannot, however, place all of our trust in coalitions. We certainly ought to use coalitions as much as possible, and it is important that you don't have to do the heavy lifting yourself all the time. It makes good sense to get your allies to pitch in.
In many interventions we don't even send American ground troops. If the Australians, for example, want to go to East Timor, that's great ¾they can do the job; we don't need to do it. Or if the British or Nigerians want to go into Sierra Leone, that can work out.
But, ultimately, I would be dubious about the ability of any international organization to take on this global policing role that the United States has taken on, because nobody else has the kind of military capabilities that we have. It is very hard to get coalitions to act together, to coordinate independent entities. Even NATO had problems during the Kosovo War.
It is even harder to get the UN Security Council to sign off on something where now you have not only China as a Permanent Member, but as one of the Rotating Members you have Syria. So if you are debating terrorism, what will the Syrian Representative say about taking action against terrorism?
This distinction between unilateral and multilateral is a false one. It should not be the distinction. We should do what makes sense, not because it's multilateral or unilateral.
Some things which are trumpeted in the name of multilateralism don't make sense, such as the Land Mines Treaty. That's fine for countries that don't deploy their forces around the world. But at the moment, we have troops in Kandahar, a rather dangerous place, and they are being protected by land mines. If they couldn't plant land mines, they would be more open to attack by the Taliban or al-Qaeda. It would be suicidal for us not to use land mines.
We should not embrace the treaty just because it goes under the rubric of multilateralism. But, at the same time, we should not stick to a policy of being unilateral either. We should try to get allies as much as possible. Even in the war on terror, there are a number of nations that are fighting directly in Afghanistan. There are far more that are cooperating with American anti-terrorism efforts around the world.
So we can have a successful foreign policy using our allies, without thinking that everything has to be "multilateral."
QUESTION: I would like to contrast the position of the United States versus a country like the Netherlands. In the case of the United States, there are simply many more options to achieve your foreign policy goals, whatever they might be and how national interest is defined, compared to a country like the Netherlands. For us, it is important to have an international institutional framework that can serve as the channel for our foreign policy interests. That is why we attach enormous importance to the European Union, to NATO, and to the UN as a system.
When it comes to the composition of the Security Council, interesting remarks have been made, but the response by the UN system, and the Security Council in particular, for example, to what happened here on September 11th, has been very prompt and very effective indeed, and the UN system , as structured, is working hard to wage the anti-terrorism battle on another field, financing for international terrorism. So the UN as a system presents much more interest to the United States than was just reflected in your answer.
MAX BOOT: I don't have any problem with the UN, but the bottom line is that on the hard international questions, nothing will happen without American leadership. We saw that in Bosnia and Kosovo, there was no European intervention until the United States was willing to go ahead. And it wasn't the UN that was acting in Bosnia or Kosovo; it was really the United States and our ad hoc allies ¾and, likewise, in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq.
It makes sense to get UN support for those actions, but let's be honest about this and acknowledge that these are actions in which America is taking a leadership role, and if we don't, the UN will not do anything of significance.
QUESTION: As you look at what's unfolding in Iraq, would you describe that as the small-war model or regular war?
MAX BOOT: It's hard to know so far. It could go either way. The small-war model would be to do essentially what we did in Afghanistan, which is to perhaps put in a small number of American advisers, use air power and help our allies on the ground. In this case, it would be the Kurds and the Shiites and the Iraqi National Congress, just as it was the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon is very uncomfortable with this model. They are still very much in the thralls of this Powell Doctrine mindset, and they would prefer a big conventional war, and so, therefore, the leaks that you get out of the Pentagon are that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops ¾ a replay of the Gulf War of 1991 ¾to topple Saddam Hussein.
It's probably worthwhile to try a small-war model, and if that doesn't work, we can always go to the big-war model later. But if you look at the experience in Afghanistan, we might find the small-war model is tremendously successful and much faster than anybody had expected.
Toppling Saddam Hussein will be much easier than anybody thinks. He is tremendously unpopular. There have been numerous revolts against him in the past that he has managed to repress. But once you put American power on the table, there will be no reason for anybody to be afraid of Saddam Hussein; the whole population will rise up and refuse to fight for him.
But if the Republican guard is going to hold out, we certainly have to be prepared for that major conventional option, which the Pentagon is ready for. A small-war model might well succeed in Iraq.
Beyond how we overthrow Saddam Hussein, we must think very hard about what happens in Iraq after Saddam Hussein, because many people in the region and in the Pentagon would be perfectly satisfied if a "junior" Saddam Hussein took over, a new military thug took over as a new dictator of Iraq. That would be a disaster. It would send exactly the wrong message and it would not lead to a safer region.
We need to think about democratic transformation in Iraq. Many people might say, "Oh, that's crazy, that's unrealistic," but people could have easily said that about Germany or Japan or Italy before 1945. Those countries were not exactly hotbeds of liberal democracy when we defeated them in World War II, and we managed to transform them in a dramatic and impressive way, which has really been the cornerstone of Western security for the last half century.
We need to think about that same ambitious goal in Iraq, how do we transform Iraq from being a "thugocracy" into being perhaps an exemplar of liberalism and representative government, the only one in the Arab world. The opportunity is there, but we have to be ambitious and seize it.
QUESTION: Can you foresee any American vital interests in the India-Pakistan conflict that might result in an American intervention?
MAX BOOT: I'm not sure what kind of intervention you have in mind. It's hard for me to see an American role militarily between the Indians and the Pakistanis, any more than I can see an American role between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Those are both areas where you have two sides that are bitterly at loggerheads and have irreconcilable differences which can only be solved on the field of battle ultimately, as unpalatable as that may sound. We hope that war is avoided, but whether it is through diplomatic negotiation or war, I am not sure there is an American role. Ultimately they have to make a peace that they can both live with. We do not have the power to impose a peace from without on situations where countries feel that their vital national interests are at stake.
We can play a role in facilitating negotiations or pressuring the sides to avoid war, but ultimately we should not be inserting American troops in the middle because it's hard to see what good they can accomplish, aside from getting shot at.
I'm in favor of peacekeeping. We ought to do it in certain situations, especially where we have won a battlefield victory and need to convert that into long-term political victory, in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, or Afghanistan, or Iraq after Saddam Hussein is toppled. But in the Middle East, there is no peace to be kept.
Likewise, nobody has seriously proposed putting American troops along the line of control in Kashmir. We can't stick American troops into every trouble spot, but we need to pick our spots and use them judiciously.
QUESTION: I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines and agree that we have contributed enormously to the democratic transformation process there. But, on balance, if we were to weigh the effect of the Peace Corps against our support of Marcos for eighteen years, on the whole we have done more damage by supporting Marcos.
And lastly, about Afghanistan, we shouldn't simply say that we are there for military reasons. We know there is an important oil pipeline being discussed.
MAX BOOT: I am not a big fan of Mr. Marcos, but we have to place that in the context of the time, which was the Cold War, and the U.S. Government thinking, rightly or wrongly, that by supporting Marcos we were helping to keep Communists out of the Philippines. We did the right thing in the end by helping to ease Marcos out the door and creating a democratic transformation in the Philippines, for which the Reagan Administration should get a lot of credit.
We did the same thing in South Korea, where we helped to ease allies out the door. And also in Chile, yet another example. There many examples where we have helped to create democratic transformation, even with our allies, and that is the right policy. Since the end of the Cold War, we have much less need to make compromises to support unsavory regimes.
In places like Saudi Arabia, for example, we need to rethink our policy and realize that we don't have to be in bed with every unsavory regime in the world. We ought to be working on democratic transformation which is in our long-term interest.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you for joining us.