By Graham Allison
If we had known then what we know now, would we choose war again?
In the real world, foreign policy-making often requires hard choices, sometimes between bad and worse. After the fact, even the most objective analysts have difficulty determining what might have been. Understandably, those who chose A rather than Z are not likely to be analytically objective in defending their views. In the case of significant choices, they are fighting to shape a narrative that enhances their personal reputations, even their place in the history books, as well as fighting ongoing policy debates in which these choices are ammunition. Read more
The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.
Richard A. Clarke
Richard A. Clarke, who was the White House counter-terrorism adviser on Sept. 11, 2001, offers a withering critique of the American response to 9/11 in the decade that followed.
In an essay published on The Daily Beast website, Clarke writes: “Our nation was stunned and wanted to unify in response. That desire for unity kept too many voices silent when they should have been contributing to a public debate about how to react. Wretched excesses were proposed and barely opposed.”
Those included the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, Clarke says, leading to more American deaths in Iraq than on 9/11 itself. “Constitutional protections that generations of Americans had struggled to achieve for our own people were eroded in the name of the new cause.” Read more
By Meghan O'Sullivan
There is no question that Libya would be better off without Qaddafi. The more poignant question is whether his removal warrants more extensive use of American power and action – and whether the United States is willing to bear further responsibility for what comes after Qaddafi.
Just weeks into the intervention, the lack of clear goals is already muddying the waters and further complicating an already complex situation. Most Americans, and presumably nearly all Libyans, interpreted President Obama’s statement that it is time for Qaddafi to go not as an indication of the president’s personal preferences, but as a declaration of U.S. policy. President Obama is not the first U.S. president to call for a regime’s removal, but to be unwilling to commit extensive U.S. resources to the purpose. Nor is he the first U.S. president to hold a more ambitious goal toward a recalcitrant regime than the United Nations or U.S. allies. President Clinton made regime change an explicit American objective vis-à-vis Iraq in the 1990s, even while the international community was focused on disarmament. President Reagan, for a time, openly called for regime change in Libya in the 1980s, later softening this stance. Read more
By Meghan O'Sullivan
Last week, President Obama made a compelling case for why he authorized force in Libya. In doing so, he sought to assure the American people that this intervention was prudent and bore no resemblance to the controversial and costly wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He pre-empted such comparisons by explicitly stating, “to be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq” as a counterpoint for explaining why he would not seek to overthrown Qaddafi by force.
It may be both easy and convenient to dismiss the Iraq and Afghan experiences at this stage of U.S. intervention in Libya. But neither President Obama, nor the American people, would be wise to ignore the hard-won lessons that have emerged from these conflicts. In fact, while acknowledging the very different circumstances surrounding each intervention, America’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest more than a few cautionary notes and morsels of advice. Read more
By Graham Allison
As a colleague who has been learning from Joe Nye for many years, I join the chorus applauding his latest in a string of pearls of wisdom about power in international affairs. The Future of Power is a must-read. Imaginatively, judiciously, Joe tours the horizon of current debates and offers thoughtful, policy-relevant advice.
From questions about the rise of China and decline of the U.S., to cybersecurity and changing metrics of power in 21st century international affairs, he advances the debate. (Read Joseph Nye’s inaugural Power & Policy blog post)
With so much to agree with, what’s to disagree? While my major difference is more one of emphasis than fundamentals, let me overstate it for the sake of clarity. Consider the core question: what is the single biggest threat to American power today? Read more