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Surprise, Security, and the American Experience

Presider: James M. Lindsay, vice president, Maurice R. Greenberg chair, and director of studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Speaker: John Lewis Gaddis, Robert A. Lovett professor of history, Yale University; author, "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience"
May 14, 2004
Council on Foreign Relations


New York, N.Y.

JAMES LINDSAY: May I suggest to people in this room, first off, if you have cell phones or other electronic devices that suddenly go off, we would appreciate if you could turn them off right now. Thank you very much. I actually left mine upstairs, because I had the embarrassment of being in one of these meetings telling people to turn off their cell phones, and not turning off my own, of course—and so my son called me. Second thing, I'd like to remind everybody here that this meeting is on the record. This is a public event, so the usual Council rules on non-attribution do not apply.

I must say it is my great pleasure to preside over today's meeting, to come and talk with Professor John Lewis Gaddis, who, as you all know, is the Robert A. Lovett professor of history at Yale University, just up the Metro North line in New Haven. I think it is safe to say that Professor Gaddis is considered one of America's great historians. I think he was widely seen as being the leading historian on Cold War history. You have written the definitive book, "The United States and the Origins of the Cold War," along with a number of other books. And, of course, the subject of today's book, which is "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience." And before I forget, I should say I'm Jim Lindsay, and I'm the vice president and director of studies here at the Council. I knew I'd mess something up. Also, I should point out that since—[inaudible]—Professor Gaddis works as a professor right now, and it is the end of the academic year, I just want to assure everybody there will be no quiz at the end of today's talk—particularly for people sitting back there who only recently passed through the travails of taking exams.

John, you've written a wonderful book. It has been very highly praised by lots of different people. During lunch we were talking about it, and I had asked you if any of the reviews had surprised you, and your response was, "Yeah, they're all positive."


LINDSAY: So let me compliment you on that. What I guess we'd like to do here is spend a few minutes, you and I talking, and then we'll open it up to questions and answers. And I guess, as I understand it, reading the book, you really do have two main arguments. One is that [President] George Bush's foreign policy is not so much a radical departure from the practice of American foreign policy, as it is reclaiming or building on a number of themes or issues in the American practice of foreign policy in the past. I think the second argument is that you consider George Bush's grand strategy—we'll talk a little bit about what that means later on—to be something worth serious study, and far more so than many of the president's critics have given it. I guess where I'd like to start, if we could, is the question of history.


LINDSAY: It seems to me that in reading the book you spend much of the first part of the book pivoting off of [former U.S. President] John Quincy Adams as, in some way, anticipating some of the themes that come or appear in George Bush's presidency. Now, I was reading, there are obviously some striking parallels—they're both sons of presidents, they both were elected in very controversial elections. But I'm wondering, as you talk about this, arguing about some of these older themes in American foreign policy, particularly unilateralism, pre-emption—I guess it's unilateralism, pre-emption and hegemony—

GADDIS: Right.

LINDSAY: —that why begin with John Quincy Adams, rather than someone like George Washington, who—normally when I hear people talking about themes in American foreign policy, [they] begin with Washington?

GADDIS: Well, Jim, first of all, John Quincy Adams did not invent unilateralism. That tradition was certainly there, and it certainly is articulated in Washington's farewell address—although there is an intriguing document that indicates that George Washington was reading young John Quincy Adams before he wrote that address. So, that's an interesting connection.

But the real argument that I was trying to make in this book, which really is an effort simply to go back and look at the entire American experience from—as a whole, and from a somewhat distant perspective, what really struck me is a pattern that had not struck me before when I had been teaching this subject in some detail, basically that American expansion correlates with surprise attack. It tends to be surprise attacks that lead to significant expansion of American interests, of American responsibilities. And that really is the key to John Quincy Adams, because the argument is that, in this first case, the surprise attack was the British burning of Washington in 1814. In response to that demonstration of vulnerability—that demonstration of not having a significant army or navy, which was basically [Thomas] Jefferson's policy, this is what could happen to you. Over the next decade, Americans did have to rethink national security. And John Quincy Adams was not the only person involved in that process. And the process itself was much more drawn out than it has been since 9/11. But things happened slower back in that period. But, I think, he was the intellectual—he provided the intellectual basis for this rethinking. This is not a new interpretation. If you go back and read the famous Samuel Flagg Bemis, the very distinguished Yale diplomatic historian from half a century ago, Bemis was certainly making this argument about the importance of John Quincy Adams. But I think this has been lost somewhat in intervening years. So, to an extent, I am trying to rediscover John Quincy Adams, in that sense.

LINDSAY: Now, I'm curious. You emphasize continuities from Bush all the way back to John Quincy Adams, and, if I may sort of give you a sort of friendly push on this, I'm wondering how much of this is similarity and how much are differences. I mean, I think if you go back to—all the way back to Washington's farewell address, it talked about how the United States should not become involved in the affairs of others. But as he offered up, it was really—it's the argument for unilateralism that was the strategy of the weak. We were the small, fragile democratic experiment on the edges of the known world, and we shouldn't get involved, because we would get, sort of, torn asunder by a much bigger storm. For George Bush, the argument about unilateralism was not the strategy of the weak—it's the strategy of the most powerful country in the world.

GADDIS: Right. So it was for John Quincy Adams, because his—we had to be the most powerful state on the continent, and this is where his idea of hegemony comes in. The idea is—he's very explicit about this: We cannot tolerate the emergence of a balance-of-power system on the North American continent, because look what that has done to Europe. So we have to be dominant on the North American continent. Being an Adams, he best lays this out in a letter to his mom, Abigail, in 1811, where he—which I quote in the book—and he says, "If we allow a balance-of-power system to develop on the North American continent, politics will simply descend into competitions over rocks and fish ponds. We have to be the dominant power. We have to have strength beyond challenge on the North American continent." And that's the connection with [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz and with Bush, who, I think, are thinking similarly, but in global terms.

LINDSAY: But if you look at the course of 19th century American history, and the expansion westward, were people going out there, sort of, thinking they were carrying on John Quincy Adams's missive, or was it simply land hunger, where people could, sort of, gin up lots of very sophisticated things, but this is really a war—these were wars of expansion?

GADDIS: No, I don't think my ancestors who came to Texas did so with John Quincy Adams in mind, no. But, nonetheless, there was the sense of a frontier being a permanent zone of insecurity. This is an area beyond law, beyond police powers. This is an area where you could be attacked in your own home. And so a certain amount of pre-emptive action against such attacks, I think, was the key to understanding what we did along the frontier. John Quincy Adams articulated this very well in defending [former President] Andrew Jackson's pre-emptive attack into Spanish Florida to deal with raids by pirates and Indians. And, it seems to me, that notion of pre-emption, that where a power vacuum exists, where there is no law, where Americans are moving into the area but are insecure in their own homes and communities, there is the right to pre-emption. Certainly we did this with Native Americans. And, I think, where we perceive power vacuums into which other European powers might move, as in Texas or California, we actually provoked a war with Mexico and seized quite an amount of territory as a result of this doctrine.

LINDSAY: As you look back at John Quincy Adams as a, sort of, foreign policy thinker, are there any key differences between he and Bush? I mean, I think of the famous monsters to destroy speech that John Quincy Adams gave, what, July 4th, 1821, when there were a lot of calls within the United States for American foreign policy to support the new republics, these struggling democratic republics in Latin America, and his speech was designed to basically lay down a reason why we shouldn't [intervene]. And, I think, isn't that the opposite of what the Bush doctrine is? Because John Quincy Adams is saying we shouldn't go abroad because we'd forfeit our spirit and what makes us special. And it seems to me that George Bush's argument is we must go abroad, otherwise we'll forfeit what makes us special.

GADDIS: The key to this is the word abroad. John Quincy Adams meant that we don't go to Europe to do this—stay at home—but we'd be dominant in the North American continent. Where there are monsters along the periphery, he certainly had no compunction, initially, about defending pre-emptive action. Adams later developed serious qualms about the treatment of the Indians and serious reservations about the Mexican war because of the complications for slavery. So I'm not saying that he favored all of these ways in which his policy was extended. I'm simply saying that the idea of pre-emption and hegemony comes from him, and then is built upon by others.

But as for the comparison between John Quincy Adams and George W. Bush, they were both sons of presidents, and I think there are some similarities in terms of these very broad views. But in terms of personality and scholarly attainment, I do think that there are significant differences. [Laughter.]

LINDSAY: Fair enough. Let's go to more recent history. On your way of getting from John Quincy Adams to George W. Bush, you stop off at a variety of presidents. And, I guess, if I could talk a little bit about your assessment of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who clearly departed from these trends—and more recently, Bill Clinton, because you, in the second half of the book, play George Bush off of Bill Clinton. One time you liken them to Presidents [Warren] Harding and [Calvin] Coolidge.

GADDIS: Well, first of all, FDR. The point about FDR is, simply, he's the second American president to have to cope with the implications of the surprise attack on the American homeland. And if you think about it, this John Quincy Adams strategy of unilateralism—translate that word into isolation—hegemony, dominance over the North American continent, pre-emption, intervention in places like Central America, for example, Mexico or whatever, the Caribbean—that tradition very much continues through the early 20th century. And it seems to me that it is [the attack on] Pearl Harbor that shapes the assumption that that is enough. What Pearl Harbor shows is that the new developments in air and naval technology—let me say, this is not enough to keep us safe. We are going to be vulnerable. We do have to do something that goes beyond that old strategy of continentalism. And it seems to me, this is where Roosevelt significantly defines the next 50 years or so. And what he's saying is, America has to act beyond its borders, beyond its oceans, to restore a balance of power in the world between the authoritarians and the democracies. But we certainly did not have the power in 1941 to do this on our own. Our military is still quite small at this point. So reliance on allies is very important in that context. So that with Roosevelt, there's much more of an emphasis on multilateral action than one sees with John Quincy Adams or that one has seen, it seems to me, with George W. Bush. [Coughs.] Please excuse the allergies, which are consequences of pollen.

LINDSAY: I feel your pain.

GADDIS: So [there is] the emphasis on multilateralism, the emphasis on building alliances, and the emphasis on wielding power. But finding a way to wield power with consent, to bring people along, I think is the key to understanding Roosevelt's policy. And it was a matter of necessity. He had no choice. But it's also a matter of artful diplomacy. It's a matter of assessing the situation correctly and playing it, it seems to me, very skillfully.

LINDSAY: Now Bill Clinton and Calvin Coolidge.

GADDIS: The connection that I see with the Clinton administration—and I would even, to some extent, include the first Bush administration in this—is really the failure to fully understand the implications of the end of the Cold War. Since the purposes of containment have been achieved, it seems to me at this point, there was the sense in the early 1990s, as there was at the end of World War I, that we had emerged victorious, we had emerged relatively unscathed compared to the other competitors in these contests, and there were no visible signs of danger out there on the horizon. Things were going our way. And the things that seemed particularly to be going our way at the end of the Cold War were the trends towards democratization in the world and the trends toward economic integration. In a lesser sense, it seems to me, within the Clinton administration that you just didn't have to think very hard about foreign policy and national security. The whole slogan of the 1992 [presidential] campaign—"It's the economy, stupid"—the resistance to trying to come up with the new grand strategy, the quote in [former Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott's book ["The Russia Hand"] from Clinton saying, "We don't need a grand strategy—FDR and [Harry] Truman didn't have one. We don't need one either"—thus indicating one of Clinton's strengths was not history. But, anyway. [Laughter.] There was a sense that global trends were going our way. And I think that is similar to the perception that existed in the 1920s. It's simply a failure to see where new sources of danger might come from.

LINDSAY: Grand strategy. Much of the second half of the book is taken up with assessing the Bush administration's grand strategy. Perhaps it would be useful just to get you to take a little bit of time on this. What is a grand strategy?

GADDIS: Well, we have a working definition of grand strategy at Yale, where I co-teach a course in this, as [former Senator] Gary Hart [D-Colo.] knows, because he's joined us for this course with my colleagues Paul Kennedy [director, international security studies, Yale University] and Charlie Hill [distinguished fellow, international security studies, Yale University]. And for us grand strategy is simply the calculated relationship of means to large ends. A small end would be something like going out for a pizza. But a large end would be perhaps the fate of a nation or the fate of a corporation, or something really important in the world. And there is a tradition of thinking about grand strategies that goes back 2,500 years to Thucydides and Sun Tzu. And this is pretty much the way we try to teach it at Yale. But that's our very generic, very broad definition, which we do mean to apply to more than just statecraft, but in a broader sense as well.

LINDSAY: What do you see the Bush administration's grand strategy as being?

GADDIS: I think the Bush administration's grand strategy was best articulated in the national strategy statement of September 2002, which is a really interesting and significant document, and I think it does bear careful reading. I think it is the most interesting statement of American national security strategy perhaps since [American diplomat George] Kennan's "Sources of Soviet Conduct"—his X article in 1947. The basic argument was simply that strategies that had won the Cold War for us—containment and deterrence—were not enough to protect us in this new situation, which, of course, Gary Hart and [former Senator] Warren Rudman [R-N.H.] in the now almost-forgotten Hart-Rudman report>, very presciently laid out before any of this happened. And I can very well remember our discussions, Gary, in the [inaudible] common room in January of 2001, in which you were explaining to me exactly what this danger was. But, unfortunately, this was not foreseen, and the strategy is a response to that demonstration of what the danger was, the demonstration that took place just a few blocks from here.

The basic argument [of the 2002 National Security Strategy] is that containment deterrents are not enough in this kind of situation, because you cannot contain people you cannot see. You cannot deter people who are prepared to commit suicide. Something else is required. And this really is the basis of the strategy. The other thing, I think, that was important about the strategy is that the dangers now come not just from tyrants, which is what FDR would have said of authoritarian regimes, but the dangers come from terrorists as well. Terrorists are as dangerous as tyrants in this new post-Cold War world. So this was the strategy for dealing with both terrorists and tyrants. And I think it was interesting in its re-conceptualization of the threat and its reassessment of the means that are necessary to deal with the threat.

It was also interesting for a reason that has been largely forgotten in the wake of Iraq events, and that was the extent to which it was multilateral in character. There was a surprising amount about multilateralism in this document. It was quite clear—the document made it very clear that, if multilateral action is not possible, the United States will proceed unilaterally. And that is what has gotten most of the attention. But the intent was to try to build an international consensus in support of going after both terrorists and tyrants, and to do this on a multilateral basis. That was the original conception. And pre-emption was the novelty that was here, because this was something that had not been visible—it was never absent, but it was not visible in our strategies during the Cold War.

LINDSAY: Now, I know at the end of the book you talked about how there are good grand strategies and bad grand strategies. And I guess you place Napoleon and Hitler in the category of not being good grand strategists, in part, because they didn't require what you'd call reassurance. And I think that—

GADDIS: Putting it mildly.

LINDSAY: I think that's a fair statement to say. I was shocked by what you wrote about the Bush administration. Again, the book, it was published in September of last year, so I'm not sure when you—

GADDIS: Finished in September of last year. [It was] published, actually, this spring.

LINDSAY: That's right, finished in September. But you wrote, quote, "It's too soon to say into which of these categories the United States' victory in Iraq will fall, but the early indicators have not been encouraging." Do you want to update us on that?


LINDSAY: But also, to the extent you think that it's become even less encouraging, is it a problem with the execution of the grand strategy or with the grand strategy itself?

GADDIS: I think the grand strategy itself still makes sense. But the execution, particularly in Iraq, has been bordering on wretched, really. I supported the war in Iraq. I supported it for a reason that I think was consistent with what the administration was trying to do. But the administration gave a lot of different reasons for going into Iraq—enforcing U.N. resolutions, dealing with weapons of mass destruction, securing oil supplies, promoting democracy in the Middle East, stopping terrorism, et cetera, et cetera. All of these reasons were there. I don't doubt that they were all sincere. But I do think that there was another big reason that lay behind all of this that was not articulated, and this was basically what I called in the book, shock and awe. The idea was to repeat what we had done in Afghanistan. Afghanistan had been a relative cakewalk compared to what has happened to everybody else who has tried to invade Afghanistan in the past. It sent an impressive signal about American strength and American capability. I think there was the sense that the same signal needed to be sent by deposing Saddam Hussein, and that the effect would be simply to scare the pants off of anybody—any tyrant anywhere who might in the future be harboring terrorists, or be thinking about harboring terrorists. And I like to use the comparison to [former New York City] Mayor [Ed] Koch's parking policy around here some years ago. Remember his signs? "Don't even think about parking here." [Laughter.] I think something like this was what was intended with the Iraq strategy. Don't even think about harboring terrorists in the same way that the Taliban harbored terrorists. I think that was the signal that was intended. And I think it was useful to try to send that signal. The problem is that, in trying to scare the pants off of future supporters of terrorism, I am afraid we have scared the pants off ourselves and our allies by what we've gotten into in this situation. This is where it seems to me the execution has been wretched in the sense, first of all, that there was no thought given to what to do with Iraq once we got it. This is known in the strategy business as the dog and car syndrome. Dogs spend a lot of time thinking about how to chase cars, but they think very little about what to do with cars if they actually catch one, you see. And something like this, I think, was going on here. There just was not enough thought given—and this was quite obvious from day one after we got in there—to how to run this place. And I fault the role of theory in this regard. I fault, in this case, the neo-conservative proposition that democracy was simply going to be automatic once we went in there, toppled that statue. Then it was going to be easy. And that was a lamentable misjudgment, from which then, it seems, there are other misjudgments—

UNKNOWN: We're having trouble hearing you in Washington.

GADDIS: —still trying to catch up at this point. So back to the point—I mean I think the basic diagnosis, the basic diagnosis of this post-9/11 problem is still accurate. I think the importance of sending signals to those who would harbor terrorists is still there and is still vital. I think the importance of dealing with brutal regimes that violate human rights to the extent that this one did is extremely important and is consistent with the trend that did not begin with the Bush administration. It really began as early as the Helsinki Conference [on Security and Cooperation in Europe] in 1975, and has been carried through on a bipartisan basis through the Clinton administration and to this administration. I think all of these things are important, but what's been lost is the sense of what to do on the ground in Iraq. And what has been lost, as well, has been the multilateral consent, which was a strong element of the original strategy. And I think this is what we have to get back to now, is find a way to hold on to what seems to be—need to be a legitimate, strategic vision, a legitimate set of priorities, but to get it back on a multilateral basis. And that's not going to be easy under the current circumstances, it seems to me.

LINDSAY: John, if I may, I'd like to bring everybody else into our conversation, both people in the room and the people who are listening to this on the telecom. I believe we are going to be bringing a microphone around. So I would ask people [to wait] for the microphone to reach you, and to please speak directly into it. In keeping with traditional Council policy, we would appreciate it if you could tell us—please stand, state your name and affiliation. And one last thing: I suspect we're going to have a lot of questions for Professor Gaddis, so if we could actually have shorter questions, that would be terrific. So, Gary?

QUESTIONER: Gary Sick, Columbia University. I'm interested in the strategy, because it seems to me the strategy itself—the document—which I have read and which I actually refer to everybody that I talk to, says, one, that we will accept pre-emption. Well, pre-emption has always been there. That was something that was available to people if they see themselves under threat. It seems to be not really new; and, secondly, it says that we will do everything we can to keep any combination of forces in the rest of the world from getting bigger than we are. We were the most powerful country in the world. There was no question about that going in. So my question really is, from a strategic point of view, what has really changed? And is raising these two principles to a high level of principle in our foreign policy actually useful? Or does it, in fact, sort of rub our neighbors' noses in our ambitions, and maybe cause more problems for ourselves?

GADDIS: Well, I think, Gary, you've hit one of the interesting paradoxes. Because it seems to me that what you're saying is the cost of honesty in this. You're right, pre-emption has always been there as an option. And I was with my friend and cultural history colleague Mel [inaudible] just last week. He was actually quoting from previous national security documents of the [Dwight D.] Eisenhower administration, for example, that were outlining how pre-emption was there as an option—as was unilateralism—if allies did not go along with us. In that sense, there's nothing new. However, those were top-secret documents. They were not public documents. They were not announced in the thing the way this document was. So that's one difference.

Secondly, American hegemony, the fact that we are stronger by far than anybody else—this also is nothing new. This condition persisted through most of the Cold War, and certainly was not invented by either the Clinton or the Bush administrations. But, again, we didn't talk about it in the same way. So you can play it two different ways. You can say Bush has been honest and simply is recognizing existing conditions, and being candid about this. And you might say that that's praiseworthy. But you might also say it's really dumb, that this is what the most powerful nation should not do, is to flaunt its strength and rub its allies' noses in their own lack of strength. I think I'd tilt somewhat to the second point of view, that there has been too much of this kind of honesty, which has come across as arrogance, which is never a good idea for the most powerful nation in the world, it seems to me. And this gets back to how power was used by the Americans in the Cold War, which I think was with a good deal more restraint, because our power was pre-eminent through most of this conflict. And yet we didn't do nearly as much flaunting as we do now. And that's a really interesting question. Where, whence cometh this urge to flaunt? It's a good question, but I wish it would go away.

LINDSAY: Yes, right here.

QUESTIONER: Mia Bloom, Rutgers University, Office of Counter-Terrorism. I want to press you a little bit on this issue about a grand strategy and the execution of grand strategy, vis-a-vis Iraq. I think given what we know now, and especially what came out in [former White House counter-terrorism adviser] Richard Clarke's testimony [before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States] and stuff that Mr. Lindsay has written with Ivo Daalder [senior fellow, Brookings Institution], op-eds, I really have to question whether or not some of the things he wrote in the book are a little bit too defensive of the president with regard to the strategy on Iraq. And I think that when you're looking at the war on terrorism, it's not just a question of torture and abuses [by U.S. troops of Iraqi detainees] at Abu Ghraib prison, but it's also—the whole war is questionable with regard to relationships with the allies and to democratization of the Middle East.

GADDIS: Is that a question? [Inaudible]—oh, it's a provocation. OK, thanks. Got it. [Laughter.] All right, well, first of all, two or three things. Terrorism. The record just makes clear—I mean, the evidence that Saddam Hussein was supporting al Qaeda is non-existent, as far as I can tell—or highly questionable. The evidence that Saddam Hussein was supporting Palestinian terrorists was irrefutable. So, you know, that was there, it seems to me. Weapons of mass destruction—there were a lot of people who believed, in good faith, that they were there, right up to the actual outbreak of the war. So I do not so much fault the Bush administration for having gotten that one wrong. This was a new problem—may well turn out to have been a new problem in the history of intelligence, which is the possibility that Saddam Hussein's own people were lying to him about his capabilities in this regard, and that certainly complicates the task of doing intelligence assessments from the outside.

On the democracy issue, I really do think that this administration is sincere about trying to promote democracy. I think it has made the judgment—and this is another very important aspect of the national strategy statement—I think it has made the judgment that the long-term solution for this problem is really one of remaking the Middle East, not something that can happen in a year or even, perhaps, in a decade, but a long-term problem, a long-term aspiration to resolve this issue simply by bringing the Middle East into the modern world so that—the administration has been reading [Middle East scholar] Bernard Lewis. I find Bernard Lewis plausible in this regard. And I find this, as a long-term aspiration, not implausible, because it seems to me that it is no more implausible than the aspiration that George Kennan articulated in 1947—[inaudible]—as a long-term aspiration it seems to me this still makes sense. And I would not be at all surprised to see a [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John] Kerry administration sticking to most of these long-term objectives, because they make sense in this situation. That's what's important about this document. It's a document whose scope goes beyond the current administration.

How you do this, however, and the extent to which your own immediate strategies can interfere with your long-term strategies—this is an old problem in the history of grand strategy. And, obviously, a successful grand strategy is one that has a long-term vision. But it's also one that carries out short-term actions that do not inadvertently subvert that long-term vision. Well, we did this during the strategy of containment. Not everything that we did during the Cold War was successful in advancing the objectives of containment. I would surely argue Vietnam—which cost us a lot more than Iraq has or will come close to costing, it seems to me—was a misguided diversion from the original objectives. And I can think of a lot of others along the way. So these things happen, but this is also why there really has got to be debate, there has got to be scrutiny, and, in my opinion, there has got to be the ability within those—among those who will wield power to recognize and acknowledge error. And this is my biggest concern right now about the Bush administration, because I simply do not see the ability to go to the American public and say, this has not worked out as we had planned. We are rethinking. I don't doubt rethinking is going on behind the scenes, but I think this has to be conveyed to the American people. This kind of attitude of, you know, waiting for Tinkerbell to inspire you or something like that, is not a good approach to this. I think the American people are owed some sense of the reassessment that has got to be taking place. If the reassessment is not taking place, we are in bad trouble.

LINDSAY: I want to go all the way to the back of the room, the gentleman next to—

QUESTIONER: Roland Paul with Ivey, Barnum, and O'Mara. I'm a Yale history graduate—[inaudible]. I'd like to offer you a slightly different grand strategy that, I would think, was the Bush administration's, from what you said, and see if you agree with that: that it really was a fear of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear, that concerned them—not just a message a la doing the same as the Taliban. In fact, Bush said in an interview—I think it was with David [Frost], who had used the words, "Well, if Saddam ever got nuclear weapons it would be horrendous." Maybe you saw that. They did use the word horrendous. And related to that though, if you knew what Wolfowitz was thinking—I mean, that would kind of focus it—or maybe [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld. But the time is right because of 9/11. The American people—we can sell the American people to take this man out now, because they're ready to go to war. And the third aspect—and I'll be done—is they didn't really think he'd use nuclear weapons against the United States, but if he got them—or biological or chemical—and incidentally, he was a lot closer to WMD than the press would like you to believe—he would completely change the dynamics of the Middle East.


QUESTIONER: And you did allude to that. I wonder—

GADDIS: I would not argue with any of that. I mean, we know that he was very close to nuclear weapons back in '91, and the capability got then phased out. We know that the inspections were actually quite helpful in that regard. I don't think it matters what kind of weapon he might have got—any one of the three—chemical, biological, or nuclear. Had he used them in the same way as the terrorists in 9/11 used them, this would have been completely—no question that this would have been a disaster. Any one of the three would have been sufficient grounds, it seems to me, for taking this very seriously indeed, and for action.

But I think it's broader than this. I don't think that's the only reason that the Bush administration has followed the policy that it is following—or has followed. And I give equal weight on a slightly different time scale—that is, the longer-term time scale—to the democracy business, because this, again, was not intended by the Bush administration, but has been little commented on, it seems to me—is the extent to which the Republican Party over the last quarter century has moved toward a concern for human rights, toward an optimism—Republicans, remember, are supposed to be conservatives and therefore pessimists—but toward an optimism about the capacity to remake the world in this regard. This goes back at least to Ronald Reagan and this tradition of seeking to promote human rights and democratization. It was something that was not invented by this current administration. Nor was it invented by the neo-conservatives as such. So this trend is there, and is deeper than the current administration. And I think it simply reflects the inadequacy of our political labels these days that we still use these terms—right and left and conservative and liberal—without recognizing the slippage that has taken place in what these words mean. And that's part of the story, as well.

QUESTIONER: James Sitrick, Coudert Brothers. You said your problem was not with the grand strategy, but that there seemed to be too little thinking about what to do when the dog caught the car afterwards.

GADDIS: Right.

QUESTIONER: It's my understanding that the State Department spent a couple years thinking about this and reporting on it, but that when President Bush gave control of postwar Iraq to the Defense Department, the State Department studies were rejected and discarded. Is that your understanding?

GADDIS: That is largely my understanding as well. And this is where a lot of my concern at present resides, is with the dominance of the Defense Department over our strategy. Because it seems to me that the track record has not been good in this regard. And I think there are two particular areas of concern that are very much, or ought to be very much, on our minds now. One is the policy on the treatment of prisoners, which goes well beyond what happened in Baghdad, but it's the whole international legal position on the status of prisoners, which is something that comes out of the Defense Department, and is—I think there's every reason for concern because of the precedents and the problems that this is likely to cause us in the future, it seems to me. So I'm extremely worried about that aspect of the situation.

The other is what seems to me to be a gap that is developing between the attitudes of the civilian leadership in the Pentagon and the professional military. And we only see glimmers of this, but if you watched the testimony of Wolfowitz the other day, or [the testimony of Major] General [Antonio] Taguba and [Under] secretary [of Defense for Intelligence Stephen] Cambone, you see distance between these two. You see signals being misunderstood. You see a different story. You see the military be a lot more candid about what's going on, and saying there are real problems here. And you see less of a tendency on the part of the civilian leadership in the Pentagon. This is not healthy for the civilian leadership in the Pentagon to be at odds with the military leadership. And these are the two great grounds for concern that I have about the Rumsfeld Pentagon and the way it's being run right now.

LINDSAY: Mr. Zirin.

QUESTIONER: Professor, I'm Jim Zirin, and thank you for your remarks. Suppose there is a Kerry administration, and suppose that it pursues, as you suggest, a less arrogant course, and is successful at wooing the Spanish, the French, the Germans into the coalition. The practical matter—and I think that's an unlikely scenario—but as a practical matter, if that were to happen, suppose we had a less arrogant presidency, a less arrogant government—what as a practical matter would change on the ground?

GADDIS: Well, a lot. Things might not change on the ground. The things that are happening on the ground in Iraq are determined by—to be redundant—what's happening on the ground. But what's important is the context in which these things happen. And I would be much happier for us to be running into difficulties on the ground in Iraq if we had allies there, if we had some multilateral basis or United Nations-sanctioned basis for being there. That is, [if there were] some greater sense of legitimacy than was present for the original operation, if the international community were engaged in this enterprise of trying to remake Iraq. Because it seems to me this is only to go back to the original vision of the September 2002 NSS [National Security Strategy]. And you can argue that was window dressing—they weren't really serious about it. Probably some people in the administration were not really serious about it. Probably some other people were. I happen to think the people who wrote the document were serious about it. But what happened from the ground plays out very differently depending on this larger context, it seems to me.

LINDSAY: Professor Gaddis, if I may, I want to ask a question of one of our Council members, Jeff McAllister, London bureau chief of Time magazine. I got this question all the way from London. And the question is that the 60th anniversary of D-Day will shortly be upon us, which reminds us of the large range of problems the transatlantic alliance has faced. Are there particular lessons that can be drawn from the alliance, how the alliance functioned in the early postwar years and [how] the basic architecture of the current international order was created in response to Soviet communism? Illuminate how it might function better now, respond to international jihad and other 21st century problems. Since you know everything there is to know about the early Cold War years, what are the lessons we can take?

GADDIS: This is a wonderfully softball question. [Laughter.] There are always lessons to be learned from history, at least in the minds of historians. I think what is striking about the way the alliance worked in World War II, and particularly the way in which it evolved into the Cold War, is that it was never an alliance of equals. There was always disproportionate power. [Inaudible]—from the moment that the Americans landed in Normandy all the way through, because our power had eclipsed that of our allies, and was now, of course, except for the Russians, it was determining what would happen.

Certainly in the history of NATO, our power was far disproportionate to that of anybody else who was a member of the alliance. And yet NATO functioned for a half a century in defense of the smaller members and the weaker members—meaning everybody except for the United States. But this alliance was in their interests, as well as in the interests of the United States. I think there were several reasons for that. The most obvious reason was that there was something worse out there, and that, of course, was a big change from the current situation. As long as the Soviet threat was out there, that excused a lot of arrogance on the part of the Americans, because however arrogant the Americans have been or had been—not going to be worse than a [Joseph] Stalin nor a [Nikita] Khrushchev nor a [Leonid] Brezhnev. We don't have that situation anymore.

But I think there was more to it than that. I think that there really was a tradition of careful, sensitive diplomacy, bipartisan in character, that extended pretty much all the way through the Cold War. We worked hard to make this an alliance of consent. This was not unrelated, again, to the presence of the Soviet Union, because we always feared defection on the part of allies. We worked at the alliance together in this regard.

But I think there was something else that was going on here, as well. I've suggested this, partially, in this book, but more extensively in the larger book that I did six years or seven years ago. And that is that the American domestic constitutional traditional of federalism somehow, almost unconsciously, transferred over to the running of the NATO alliance. The key principle of federalism within the American domestic structure is that, in certain parts of the government, notably the Senate of the United States, small states have just as much power and just as many senators as big states, and carry just as much clout. And the system works in this way. There is the recognition of sovereignty, even as there are great disproportions in population and wealth and so on. It's always fascinated me that one of the key architects of the NATO alliance is Dean Acheson, whose chief responsibility before he did that, and before he became secretary of state, was congressional liaison for the Truman administration. And it seems to me that it fell quite naturally to the statesmen of that era to take their understanding of how the Congress worked and extend it to an understanding of how the alliance should work. And without anyone having articulated it in this way, without anyone having laid out a grand design—just, I think, simply because it felt natural to us, this is the way in which we did these kinds of things—it seems to me that it worked really quite brilliantly. I think that's an aspect of the American tradition that we really do have to get back to in thinking about alliance relationships. But I would also say—and here I do say something briefly, if somewhat cryptically, about this in the new book. I do think that there may be some value in reviving this notion of federalism as a way of characterizing what we really are trying to do in the world. Because even though I think the Bush administration is sincere about democratization, and I think as a long-term vision this probably is the solution for the Middle East, at the same time I'm very much impressed with [editor of Newsweek International] Fareed Zakaria's arguments about how you can't do instant democracy, about how every democracy has had to go through some kind of an authoritarian phase to establish a constitution, to establish law and order, to establish civil government. You can't do instant democracy. And so it seems to me that some system that would be tolerant of different forms of constitutional organization, just as some system that would be tolerant of disparities in power, but working within a common structure, perhaps may be the better way of characterizing what we're trying to do. So this is why I wound up suggesting that maybe the better term for the moment is a word, say, for federalism with democracy as a long-term endpoint, than the other way around.

It puzzles me that the American federalist tradition is not given greater weight than it is—although I'm looking at Gary [Hart] who has written quite eloquently, of course, about this. But I think there is something in this legacy that we could do more with.

LINDSAY: Sir? We're going to bring you a microphone.

QUESTIONER: I have two related questions, and the title is—

LINDSAY: Could I get you to identify yourself, sir?

QUESTIONER: Nicola Khuri. I'm a physicist at Rockefeller University, and I just returned on Monday from a meeting at the American University of Beirut. I have two related questions about—one about the future and one about the past. And they are very much—you set me up for them. The first question is related to the following: remember our mayor [former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani] gave back $10 million to Prince Al-Walid [bin Talal] when he gave it to New York [following the September 11 terrorist attacks]? Well, I was delighted later to learn that the $10 million now—$5 million went to the American University [in Beirut] and $5 million went to the American University of Cairo to start centers of American studies. So I was very happy with that, just because of what I call the Wilson-Madison issue. Now I go to Beirut and I find that American studies is all sorts of things—jazz, and there are these different schools in the academy of what American studies is, the issue of American studies. So my first question for you is, I make you a dictator, you have the control over the academic direction of these two centers—in the important time we have today, how would you guide them?

The second question—why I'm bothered by this—and that has to do with James Madison. I went to the American University of Beirut—so did my father. I guarantee you that any graduate of any university in the Middle East or the Third World knows who Woodrow Wilson is. I did not know anything about James Madison until I got to Princeton. I went back, checked with my father, all his classmates—no one knows anything about James Madison. And you look at the catalogue of the American University of Beirut, the courses—nothing about the—what started this democracy, especially federalism. And my question to you is these very fine idealistic Americans who founded the American University in 1866—why didn't they teach about all political movement in Europe—in England, in France—but nothing about Madison? And to me the Middle East is Wilson without Madison. [Inaudible.]

LINDSAY: Take your federalism hat off—and now the dictator—what do we do?

GADDIS: Well, the last thing I would do would be to turn this over to American studies departments in American universities these days—[laughter]—because Americans themselves—or at least elite American universities—do not know what American studies is anymore. American studies has basically been taken over by a post-modernist tradition, which is not something you would approve of, it seems to me. So there's that first problem, which is the whole concept of American studies has drifted fundamentally from where it was when it was founded largely at the end of World War II—and Yale is a very good example of what's happened in that regard.

Secondly, in terms of education overseas and how one would seek to do this—it's hard to design, if you were the dictator, what to do. I think I would do two things. I think I would surely try to see that the universities overseas had the capacity to teach American history, culture, and institutions adequately. And this would certainly be a worthy cause to pursue. But I would even give greater weight to the importance of having students from overseas come to this country and study. And I think, in the long run, that does more good and pays off more. And, of course, that tradition has been going on in a huge way. For some countries—Yale and China for over 100 years or so. The great problem that we face right now is the extent to which, with our new security requirements and visa requirements and what-not, the flow of students from precisely the part of the world where we should be getting the flow of students, is simply not happening. I am particularly sensitive about this, because I was involved with some of the first Chinese students who came to the U.S. as graduate students in the 1980s, at a time when this was a very unusual procedure, and I trained some of these students. And to see where they are now and to see where China is now—[inaudible]—our security requirements, which I take seriously, obviously, against the need for openness and the need to take advantage of what the United States still does better than anyone else in the world, which is higher education.

LINDSAY: Senator Hart.

QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]—unilateralism and pre-emption as a grand strategy, and particularly given the following facts, we are—it's very unclear in the national security strategy, which you mentioned, whether we're at war with terrorism—[inaudible]—and unilateralism and pre-emption don't even begin to address that. I found in the national security document very vague language, imprecise language—discussion of things like "sufficient threat." I have no clue what—that's a very subjective standard. And then, finally, I think what troubles people about the application of this strategy—grand or otherwise—in Iraq, is that it was a nation we could easily push over. And the same doctrine is not being applied to a much greater threat in North Korea, as many others have indicated. Are we in the business of overthrowing dictators everywhere? And, if so, where does that stop?

GADDIS: Well, three good questions. Let me take the last one first. Are we in the business of overthrowing dictators everywhere? Obviously not. This is an administration that is selective in the dictators that it chooses to take on—thank goodness, because it has quite enough to do with the one that it's after right now. I think, on this score, the administration has gotten a bad rap, because it seems to me that the—although it confused the issue itself with the unfortunate axis of evil speech, which I saw no purpose for whatever—but this is an administration which is nuanced and selective, at least in terms of the way that it is dealing with dangerous states and its policy toward Iraq—not its policy toward Iran, and it is not its policy toward North Korea. So I don't have a lot to criticize apart from simply the careless rhetoric of the axis of evil speech in this regard.

With regard to the larger question of multilateralism and pre-emption, and how one deals with these kinds of problems, it seems to me we did confront with the Iraq situation something that we are likely to run into in other situations as well, and that is, quite simply, the inadequacy of our current multilateral institutions to deal with major problems that are out there. This is nothing new. We've seen this before. We saw it in Bosnia. We've seen it in Rwanda. We've seen it in other places. The international institutions that were created half a century ago for this purpose simply are not up to the task. With the United Nations, the Security Council reflects the configuration of the world as it was half a century ago. That is a great dilemma that, I think, we have to take seriously. I do not think we can seriously look to the United Nations for actions on these issues under these circumstances, because it's an unrepresentative institution in that regard.

I think that there are going to be times when we're going to have to have coalitions of the willing to deal with this. I want these coalitions to be as broad as possible, obviously, but we have had coalitions of the willing. Basically that was Kosovo, which took place without United Nations' approval, as you recall. We had an interesting small coalition of the willing in support of pre-emptive action, although hardly anybody has treated it this way, in Haiti just earlier this year, in which we cooperated with France to take pre-emptive action against a regime that looked like it was going to perpetrate a bloodbath. So these things are happening, and they are happening outside of the framework of the United Nations. And it seems to me that trend is surely going to continue. And I think the operative principle here would simply be to have these coalitions be as broad as possible. I'm not holding my breath for the reform of the Security Council of the U.N.

Back to your first question: Are we dealing with the terrorist threat to ourselves or to the world? I would hope that it would be to the world, because it seems to me this is the way that we must think about it, that this is a threat. What was demonstrated on September 11th was a point of vulnerability for the entire world. The very fact that 19 terrorists expending half a million dollars do that much damage, that level of asymmetrical warfare—the level of vulnerabilities that was demonstrated in that attack is totally unprecedented. There's never been anything like that degree of asymmetrical damage done. That's just a point of vulnerability, a condition of vulnerability. It is not just American, but it is there for any society. This could have happened in any society. Any society could be subject to this. It seems to me this provides the strongest of all reasons why the international community has got to take this problem extremely seriously. And it seems to me this problem, the problem of terrorism, really cannot be separated from the problem of tyrants, because I don't think terrorism exists independent of tyrants who support them. And on that score, I think the national strategy statement has got it right. But I think this has to be treated as a danger to the entire global community. And this does get back then to the importance of tact and sensitivity and diplomacy and multilateralism, federalism, lack of arrogance, all of these things that we have all been talking about here today, it seems to me.

LINDSAY: You know, one of the duties of the presider is to take away the punch bowl as soon as the party starts getting going. And unfortunately I have to bring this one to an end. I very much enjoyed our conversation. Congratulations on the book. On behalf of the Council, I want to say thank you for sharing your thoughts about it.

GADDIS: Thank you. [Applause.]




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