March 10, 2003

Notes: Hurlburt: Grand Strategy

Notes on Heather Hurlburt on the Grand Strategy of the United States of America

Heather Hurlburt (2002), "War Torn: Why Democrats Can't Think Straight About National Security," Washington Monthly.

Sandy Berger:

  • We had a good story to tell.
  • We had fought--and won--two wars under trying circumstances, deploying cutting-edge weaponry in Bosnia and Kosovo.
  • We had held NATO together.
  • We had boosted NATO's size and sense of purpose.
  • We had stitched together a new web of agreements and alliances to constrain potential enemies and control weapons of mass destruction.
  • We had seen the future of war: smaller-scale, higher-tech, faster and more diffuse.

In recent months, I've been thinking a lot about that speech.

As the debate over Iraq unfolded, I was dismayed:

  • to watch the Bush administration hawks nearly destroy the trust of our allies
  • whom we desperately need in our fight against al Qaeda
  • by pushing militarily insane plans to overthrow Saddam's regime unilaterally.
  • the suspicion that the White House timed the drumbeat to influence the November elections.
  • Bush won plaudits for shifting (apparently) to an approach that emphasized the need for U.N. approval and the involvement of our allies--but Democrats didn't lead Bush to that position, they were instead dragged to it,

We worry about how to position ourselves so as not to look weak, rather than thinking through realistic, sensible Democratic principles on how and when to employ military force, and arguing particular cases, such as Iraq, from those principles.

  • We need to think straight about war.
  • We will never learn to think straight about war until this generation of professional Democrats overcomes its ignorance of and indifference to military affairs.

In a jittery post-9/11 world, national security will overshadow every other issue.

In 1990 I was a young staffer detached from my Europe duties to write a Democratic senator's Gulf War floor statement. I considered pointing out that I knew little about the Gulf and less about modern warfare, but changed my mind--there didn't seem to be anyone around our office who knew any more than I did. When I worked up the courage to ask which position we were taking, the response came back: "Start writing, and we'll tell you later when we decide."

Clinton administration. The mix of NATO air strikes, tough negotiating tactics and cold-blooded acquiescence to the Croatian reconquest of the Krajina wasn't pretty. When the Kosovo campaign unfolded a few years later, it too was messy. But U.S. intervention turned the tide against Balkan adventurism and, just as important, united NATO behind a mission that married the maintenance of international law and human rights to hardheaded geopolitics.

The logic behind Clinton's resort to force never gelled into a doctrine that could be succinctly expressed, broadly supported, and used to guide future conflicts.

In hindsight, the underlying logic looks clearer: call it "advanced democracy internationalism." The United States would work when possible through the United Nations but in reality with alliances such as NATO to police minimum standards of international conduct. It would use force if necessary, but only in tandem with diplomacy, and largely, even exclusively, against threats to advanced democracies and the systems of laws and alliances that undergird them (with the hope of extending those laws and alliances to encompass and protect more and more countries). Thus, while the 1990s saw many bloody conflicts around the globe, from Africa to the Caucasus, the United States went to war only in the Balkans, because that conflict threatened the integrity of our most important security alliance, NATO. But such a doctrine was never articulated.

In late August and early September, the administration began grudgingly to admit--to itself, if not to the public--that its preferred strategy was unsound. It wasn't the Democrats who forced the hawks to rethink, however, but a combination of pressure from within by multilateralists like Colin Powell and pressure from outside by establishment Republican critics like Brent Scowcroft. Slowly it dawned on the White House that the United States couldn't hope to invade Iraq alone. Democrats could and should have called loudly for such a U.N.-based policy months earlier...

Take China. Conservative hawks, noting China's rapid drive to modernize its military, insist that the Beijing leadership is aiming to reassert control over Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, and then to end U.S. dominance in East Asia. Democrats and most China specialists, however, note that, whatever their intentions, the Chinese simply won't have the capability to challenge the United States for at least 15 to 20 years. But that doesn't mean Democrats shouldn't promote policies consistent with Democratic values that would give China extra reason to pause before acting aggressively--for instance, by urging Japan to commit forces outside Japanese waters for collective defense.

Posted by DeLong at March 10, 2003 07:50 PM | TrackBack


Somehow along the way the Republicans scared the sh!t out of the democratic leadership with their fanatical zeal and expensive array of pundits and commentators.

Clinton's presidency was reduced to fighting for survival for the last SIX years. This drove the rest of the democratic leadership to the right and to be scared of traditional republican domains like foreign policy.

Therefore, weak leaders like Gephardt, Daschle, and Lieberman need to go. Give me a Nancy Pelosi who goes down swinging while making the correct arguments over a Martin Frost who just goes down, anytime!

Posted by: Dan on March 10, 2003 09:03 PM

> In a jittery post-9/11 world, national
> security will overshadow every other issue.

Which is exactly what Benjamin Franklin warned us about when he said that those who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security...

As long as the Western democracies continue to protect their minimum-wage jobs by imposing tariffs on agricultural products, quotas on textiles, etc., young people with higher-than-average intelligence who just happened to be born in developing countries will have no future as agronomists and engineers and will therefore wind up as terrorists and bombmakers.

Posted by: Nikolai Chuvakhin on March 10, 2003 09:24 PM

"urging Japan to commit forces outside Japanese waters for collective defense." Urging Japan to do that would likely anger Japan (Who is the US to tell us to change our constitution, THEY WROTE IT AFTER ALL!) without actually acomplihsing it's goal.

Pacifiscm is bone deep in Japan. The absolutly loathing and fear of any war, even one that Japan has no chance of getting even slightly hurt in, it very strong. To go from that to putting Japanese troops in potentially dangerous situations would be a huge volte face.

Posted by: Mike Ralls on March 11, 2003 03:17 AM

Ms. Hurlburt is so wrong she makes my teeth hurt.

The Clinton Administration and Sandy Berger had a few successes, to be sure, but the failures were more frequent and much larger than the successes. From the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 (note: Ramzi Yousef, the plotter of the first bombing is the nephew of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the plotter of the second WTC attack) the Clinton Administration was behind the curve in dealing with terror. Clinton never visited the WTC site after the fertilizer bombing and his administration considered the attack a criminal rather than terrorist attack. After the Black Hawk Down debacle in Somalia (where the fighting was organized by Al-Q'aida), we sent a signal of extreme weakness to the world by retreating with our tail between our legs.

In 1993 Clinton sent the peacekeeping ship Harlan County to Haiti, but had it withdraw when faced with several hundred thugs on the dock. US armed forces faced down by HAITIAN thugs, for gosh sakes.

The Sudan offered to give us bin Laden and the U.S. said no thanks. Then in response to the bombings of two American embassies in Africa, the Clinton Administration blew up a pharmaceutical factory in the Sudan that had nothing to do with terrorism.

I could go on, but why bother.

Posted by: Anarchus on March 11, 2003 05:07 AM


Great article.

A Clinton staffer articulates policy. How many Shrub staffers could come up with something so erudite without reaching for a thesaurus?

Sure, it's not politics of the moment.

"The United States would work when possible through the United Nations but in reality with alliances such as NATO to police minimum standards of international conduct. It would use force if necessary, but only in tandem with diplomacy, and largely, even exclusively, against threats to advanced democracies and the systems of laws and alliances that undergird them (with the hope of extending those laws and alliances to encompass and protect more and more countries)."

What's the ever-shifting justification for Iraq Attaq, Operation Inigo Montoya, for the day? What's the principle behind it?

Posted by: Nina on March 11, 2003 05:31 AM

There seem to be two related concerns in the Hurlburt piece. One is straight strategic thinking, the other partisan political thinking. From the purely strategic point of view, I don't think much was lost in the lack of a "Clinton doctrine." Getting it right in Yugoslavia meant, at least to some extent, building on Bush I getting it right in Iraq. The differences are instructive, and probably worth preserving, but it is unlikely the desire to foster alliances would have been preserved after Clinton, even had the September 11 attacks never taken place.

Each president along the way has made his own decision on how and when to use force, to engage US diplomacy and put US credibility on the line. Such "doctrines" often don't endure much past the inaugueration of a successor, so little is lost in Clnton not formalizing his. Each president has his share of failures, some have successes. I don't find Anarchus' list of Clinton failures overwhelming. Clinton's decision not to put US troops on that dock in Haiti was surely hard on the ego, but may have saved lives. Reagan's decision to compare rapists and murderers in Central America to our founding fathers, and all the real acts associated with that rhetorical nightmare, strike me as in every way a greater failure than anything Clinton did, but that has a lot to do with the eye of the beholder.

The partisan political concern is to stake out some territory that voters can recongnize as a Democrat foriegn policy. Well, if you happen to have a legitimate foreign policy position, it would be nice to put it to use. If, however, Democrats are so cowed that they won't point to any particular set of principals and say "those are mine," I'd rather they not waste my time pretending to offer an alternative to Republicans' foreign policy. An alternative is surely needed, but a politically motivated psuedo-alternative merely squanders further the credibility of opponents to the Republican view. When a legitimate alternative comes along, I don't want it burdened by being confused with prior, fake alternatives.

Posted by: K Harris on March 11, 2003 05:35 AM

Nina, the Clinton Administration went OUTSIDE the UN on Yugoslavia.

The language is pretty and flowery, but it's just flat wrong to say that "It [the Clinton Administration] would use force if necessary, but only in tandem with diplomacy, and largely, even exclusively, against threats to advanced democracies and the systems of laws and alliances that undergird them".

When the Clinton Administration sent US Special Forces to Somalia to attempt to capture Mohamed Aideed, we were intervening violently in the internal affairs of Somalia at the behest of UN Secretary General Boutrous Boutrous-Ghali, who'd developed a pathological hatred of Aideed. It had started out as a non-violent "feed the people" mission, but that's absolutely not what it was about when the Black Hawks went down.

Posted by: Anarchus on March 11, 2003 06:07 AM

I keep hearing that Clinton was offered bin Laden and turned him down. Do you have any evidence of that?

"Nina, the Clinton Administration went OUTSIDE the UN on Yugoslavia"

But worked within NATO - so yes, diplomatically handled.

Reagan's foreign policy failures have been discussed, and what about Bush I. He, after all, had an army in Iraq with no opposition and went home. He also sent troops into Somalia to feed people. By the time Clinton arrived it was clear that to accomplish the goal the warlords had to be dealt with. A failure by Bush I and Clinton.

Anarchus blames the 1993 WTC attack on Clinton. Opponents of Bush II don't blame him for 9/11. Do you see the double-standard Clinton is held to?

Posted by: Dan on March 11, 2003 07:15 AM

The worst failure of the Clinton foreign policy was represented in the ineffectual missile attacks in Khartoum and Afghanistan. The planning of these attacks bypassed the Joint Chiefs, which is not necessarily bad strategy, and involved the President working directly with the CINC of Central Command, Anthony Zinni. However, Zinni himself described the missile attack on Bin Laden as a "one-in-a-million shot", although it is not clear whether he described it as such to the President prior to launch.

If the President of the United States decides that a foreign enemy needs to be killed, the President of the United States damn well better not be openly seen as engaging in one-in-a-million shots in an attempt to accomplish the task, for such an approach is likely to be viewed as lacking seriousness, and thus encouraging contempt for the United States, and it is exceedingly dangerous for the citizens of the United States to have their nation held in contempt. The debacle of Mogadishu, where the military of the United States was half-heartedly committed, and the less than half-hearted attempts to kill Bin laden, convinced Bin Laden that the power of the United States could be viewed with contempt. The United States is the overwhelming power of the globe today, and cannot afford to viewed contemptuously. If the United Staes needs someone to die, the goal must be pursued with utter and complete ruthlessness. If the cost of engaging in such ruthlessness is perceived as being too high, then the United States should not be seeking that person's death.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 11, 2003 08:07 AM

Dan: Three separate sources on the offer by Sudan to give up Osama bin Laden:,1373,560675,00.html

AND PLEASE DO NOT PUT WORDS IN MY MOUTH. I do not "blame" Clinton for the bombing of the WTC in 1993, nor do I "blame" Bush for the attacks of September 11th. What I do hold Clinton accountable for is the lack of investigation and follow-up to the 1993 bombing, which the Justice Department insisted on prosecuting as a narrowly-based criminal investigation rather than as a broader terrorist act.

Posted by: Anarchus on March 11, 2003 08:27 AM

Some quotes from Anarchus' articles:

"The FBI did not believe we had enough evidence to indict bin Laden at that time, and therefore opposed bringing him to the United States"

"Sudan's president and intelligence chief. President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, who wanted terrorism sanctions against Sudan lifted"

"required only that Clinton make a state visit there to personally request Bin Laden's extradition".

In general negotiating with terrorists, like the Sudanese government, is wrong. And making them look respectable through state visits and normal relations is very wrong. Do you support such actions, Anarchus?

Sudan has lost 2 million people in civil war since the early 1980's with 4 million people displaced. Including massacres of entire villages in order to bring oil companies into "unpopulated" areas. The Arabic northern government is also known to allow the enslavement of blacks in the south. Pre 9/11 this kind of deal making with Sudan would have created a terrible precedent. And you psychopathic Clinton haters would have been all over him for it.

Posted by: Dan on March 11, 2003 09:21 AM

Anarchus characterizes Clinton I foreign policy pretty accurately. It struggled also with China, and it seemed naive on grand strategy. On economic policy, in contrast, it routinely did really impressive things.

Clinton II struck me as a reversal: not much to brag about on the economic policy front (remember the WTO Ministerial in Seattle?), but the administration had learned a few foreign policy lessons in its first term, and things on the international front went much more smoothly. Still, the record on nonproliferation and terrorism was pretty ordinary at best.

Bush seems determined to learn the hard way on the foreign policy front--China, the "axis of evil" speech, the fumbled alliance politics of the war against Iraq--but we can hope and pray it learns enough to rethink its scary national security policy before we fail spectacularly at something even more important (North Korea?).

Posted by: Jim Harris on March 11, 2003 09:29 AM

Much of the article deals with the use of the military. That is fine, but some of Clinton's greatest foreign policy successes were economic. For instance, the bailout of Mexico. A lot of Clinton foreign policy was driven by economic reasons: Haiti to end the flood of boat people. The Balkans to end the flood of refugees into Europe. Africa, to address AIDS and other problems that are causing economic calamity. Also there was the GATT and WTO, although many Democrats do not support these initiatives.

Compare that to the Bush policy of ignoring the Argentina crisis. That is not a good policy for the US, Argentina or South America.

As for Afghanistan, the military could not provide any ground based options to attack bin Laden prior to 9/11. It was only after 9/11 that political support in the region made it possible to use ground bases in the area. Clinton exercised those options that the military made available to him.

Clinton was quite successful in using international police cooperation to find and arrest those terrorists that were part of the many bombing plots. Clinton also had a good plan to attack al Qaeda economically through banks and financing, but was defeated by GOP senators led by Phil Gramm.

Other potential foreign policy triumphs in the Clinton administration were thwarted by isolationist GOP Senators like Jesse Helms that blocked treaties and other international agreements. Clinton did negotiate with North Korea and opened the way to the sunshine policy that earned a Nobel prize for the South Korean president. Compare that to the train wreck of Korean policy of the Bush administration. Certainly Clinton made a few blunders in foreign policy. However, none of them turned out to be major blunders.

As for Iraq, it is not clear that a military attack that Bush seems ready to unleash is the best option or even a good option. A more permanent solution to the Iraq problem needed to be found. Even Clinton admitted in a speech that he thought his successor would have to deal with Iraq. Containment worked, but was enforced by a no fly zone that saw the US bomb Iraq on most days of the year and an embargo that has devastated Iraq economically. However, unilateral efforts at regime change ignore history. It is easy to invade a country. It is more difficult to impose rule. The British learned that lesson in the colonies in the 1770s, it is the lesson of Vietnam. A multilateral approach would already have in place consensus regarding the peace.

Democrats have been emphatic that Bush needed to consult with allies and build a coalition. Perhaps no Democrat has been more emphatic on that point than Kerry, going back to the original debate last fall and heating up with his constant criticism of Bush unilateralism since the beginning of the year. How SH is removed matters as much or more than the removal.

In a speech by Senator Lugar the other day, he mentioned that he keeps pressing the administration on making plans for after SH. The sheer unpreparedness for the aftermath of Afghanistan and allowing it to fall into chaos is criminal. A similar unpreparedness for a post Hussein Iraq could be more devastating.

It is no secret that Kurds want a homeland out of what is now parts of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. Iranians are already setting up camps in Iraqi Kurdistan. Turkey is moving troops toward Iraqi Kurdistan. Neither Turkey nor Iran is prepared to allow an independent Kurdistan.

Clinton never would have made that error because he allowed all sides to resolve the issue before moving forward. The use the military first, negotiate later philosophy of means that important aspects of settling the peace will have to be made in the midst of political crises.

Posted by: bakho on March 11, 2003 11:28 AM

"Some quotes from Anarchus' articles:

"'The FBI did not believe we had enough evidence to indict bin Laden at that time, and therefore opposed bringing him to the United States'"

Which is something to note, being that the same article says ...
Internal State Department talking points at the time described him as "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today" and blamed him for planning a failed attempt to blow up the hotel used by U.S. troops in Yemen in 1992.

"Had we been able to roll up bin Laden then, it would have made a significant difference," said a U.S. government official with responsibilities, then and now, in counterterrorism.

Looks like Ms. Reno's Justice Dept. had other priorities than preparing cases against top foreign terrorists who had tried to blow up hotels full of US troops. If you don't bother to prepare a case, you'll never have the evidence, of course.

"It was a decade during which the Clinton administration neglected too many unresolved problems. During the 1990s Afghanistan under the Taliban turned into the base from which al-Qaeda plotted its attack on the twin towers. North Korea signed an agreement forswearing nuclear weapons, which it went on secretly to break. Saddam Hussein locked out UN arms inspectors and punched gaping holes in the wall of sanctions around Iraq..."

Posted by: Jim Glass on March 11, 2003 11:46 AM

“Democrats might have helped shift the debate in a more sensible direction earlier, and served the country by limiting the negative international fallout from the hawks' unilateralism.”

This is utter nonsense. Isn’t it about time we put a stop to this blame America for everything mindset? The United Nations is for the most part nothing but an anti-Semitic and anti-American institution. These nations opposing us at the current time are not doing so for rational reasons. They are motivated primarily out of envy and bitterness.

Posted by: David Thomson on March 11, 2003 12:42 PM

Jim, based on your latest post I think we can imply that you are in favor of negotiating with terrorists like the Sudanese government. Not surprising since the Reagan Administration was a big proponent of negotiating with terrorists (and lying about it too). But even more pernicious, we can imply you are in favor of stately visits to terrorists and normal relations with them. I'm not even surprised anymore to find people who are willing to cozy up to Sudan in their efforts to criticize Clinton. Why are you so anti-American?

Posted by: Dan on March 11, 2003 12:56 PM

Guessing how history will judge recent or current Administrations is a tricky business, but it can be said with some confidence that 1993 was probably the most favorable year to inherit the Presidency since at least 1925, and perhaps in all of the 20th century. The economy was growing, having come out of one of the most mild recessions of the post-war period, inflation was in check, the Soviet Empire defunct, with meant pressure on defense spending was reduced, and potential foreign enemies of U.S. interests had thus lost one of their major sponsors. What the Clinton Adminstration did with this opportunity will be fodder for debate for partisans on all sides for some time, which means it will not be able to be debated with clarity for some time.

What I perceive was the major long-term domestic issue of the day, the reform of middle class entitlements, was largely ignored or positively demagogued by the Clinton Administration. I think the Clinton foreign policy was mixed, with the Balkans being in the end a success, NAFTA an unqualified success, and North Korea being impossible to evaluate at this time. Clinton's record in dealing with terrorist entities that threaten Americans suffered from the lack of purpose and ruthlessness that I describe above. The Reagan Administration had some of the same weaknesses, as evidenced by what happened in Lebanon, but that Administration's primary foreign policy challenge was managing the relationship with the Soviet Empire, an area in which it had great success. Each Presidency must be evaluated in the context of the particular difficulty of challenges that were inherited, and in the this regard Clinton's was more fortunate than those that preceded his, and likely will be seen as being more fortunate than the one that followed his.

Posted by: Will Allen on March 11, 2003 01:01 PM

One of the worst foreign policy decisions of Bill Clinton was the Kosovo War. In violation of the NATO charter, he organized the alliance to attack a nation that had not attacked any NATO member nation.

During the war I fantasized that Boris Yeltsin would send a column of tanks to Belgrade, having conned Milosevic that they were being sent to deflect American attacks away from their positions - which would be true, but not describing their full mission. Upon their arrival, Yeltsin would deliver the following speech:

"Bill Clinton is not an asset to your people. Military action against the United States cannot be considered as an option; Yugoslavia is not worth another world war, and such a war would bring about much greater damage to your country than otherwise. You, Mr. Milosevic, are also not an asset to your people, and military action against you carries miniscule risks. We do not declare war on our historic ally. Mr. Clinton aims his missiles all over Yugoslavia; our tanks have their turrets aimed at one man. Surrender yourself to us, or we will send in our soldiers to get you. As the Americans say, 'You have the right to remain silent...'"

Posted by: Alan K. Henderson on March 12, 2003 12:47 AM

Hurlburt's piece was important and excellent and I said so when I blogged it in, um, September of last year.

Oh, right, you don't enable HTML links in your comments. Which seems kinda weird for a *blog*: why is that, Professor deLong?

Anyway, link at -- sigh, this will distort the size of the whole entry --

Better to discover her piece late than never, of course.

I must say, some of the commenters are very, well, strange. Claims that Japan is "pacifist to the bone," which will be news to the "engrained to the bone" militarist right-wing (hint: what has the Prime Minister been doing at the Yasukuni Shrine each year?). Claims that Bill Clinton's saving of so many Kosvars from genocidal ethnic cleansing was wrong. "Much of the article deals with the use of the military. That is fine, but some of Clinton's greatest foreign policy successes were economic." This is about as relevant as suddenly dodging off into a discussion of Clinton's taste in art, though I suppose it's hardly surprising you attract readers eager to discuss economics.

Even when the subject of the article has nothing whatever to do with economics (gasp!; not possible! ;-)), but is about military policy.

Posted by: Gary Farber on March 13, 2003 02:25 PM
Post a comment