Two unrelated but thought-provoking seminars in Brussels, plus a Presidential address from West Point later today, have put American foreign and security policy on my mind. If the spin is accurate, we are told to expect the announcement tonight of an Afghanistan surge by the President from the US Military Academy.
Bob Herbert in the New York Times today ("A Tragic Mistake") calls escalation - to use a Vietnam-era term - in Afghanistan "the easier option"
It would have been much more difficult for Mr. Obama to look this troubled nation in the eye and explain why it is in our best interest to begin winding down the permanent state of warfare left to us by the Bush and Cheney regime.
Non-lawyer that I am, I was most interested in one of the assertions in the book/conference by Van Waeyenberge: that the European human rights concept of "human dignity" - curiously - is not a concept that is enshrined in the US Constitution, though I suppose the Bill of Rights goes some way towards rectifying the omission. But even there, the enumerated rights don't really address human dignity.
Maybe that's why there is a discipline called Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies (HumanDHS), "Breaking the cycle of humiliation." Remember how the general public in the US appeared to be less than horrified at the revelations of Bush/Cheney-approved torture? Perhaps they have become inured to the routine hand and foot shackling of even non-violent suspects in the American judicial system, the fitting of slavery-evoking "spit guards" on young minority defendants, the chaining of women prisoners as they deliver babies... yes, "exceptionalism" can include lots of affronts to human dignity.
One shining example of taking exception to Bush/Cheney legal and moral exceptionalism was in the JAG corps, the military's judicial and prosecutorial cadre in the Judge Advocate General branches of each of the services. If the US still claims adherence to the Geneva Conventions, it is in large part thanks to several senior military lawyers and judges, who put their careers on the line.
Venerable Realists, and Realistic UpstartsExceptionalism, and Madeleine Albright's "indispensable nation" were also the subject of an IERI conference that I moderated on readings of three prominent American strategic thinkers: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Samuel Huntington. I was relieved that the analyst, Jacques Lippert of IERI, took issue with Huntington's "clashing civilizations," as his amalgam of Chinese/Islamic threats to the West always sounded like the lumping together of deadly enemies Iran and Iraq with outlying crazies in North Korea to form Bush's "Axis of Evil."
But lest the audience of European Union functionaries and diplomats get the impression that American strategic thought is caught in a Kissinger-Brzezinski time warp of the Seventies, I harped on about Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich and his take on realism as an antidote to the dark ages of neoconservatism. In "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced By War" (my review), Bacevich builds his argument against military adventurism, and against the bipartisan tendency to look to military solutions for thorny world problems. A musclebound muscle man is like a one-note song. Bacevich's most recent book, "The Limits of Power: American Exceptionalism," should be required night table reading for Obama Administration advisers.
Just as Kissinger, Brzezinski, and Albright incarnated the mid-20th century European exodus to the safety of the United States, so do some of today's brightest thinkers on international affairs - Fareed Zakaria and Parag Khanna - represent another, southern, diaspora of growing importance in 21st century USA. Their books point to "the rise of the rest" or a dynamic, resource-rich "second world" that has come up out of the old Third World. Neither would sign on to the "realpolitik" definitions of national power that narrowly focus on troop strength or missile range. They would, however, see merit in the DIME construct that the US military likes to inculcate in its strategic thinkers, that Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic pillars constitute crucial elements of national power. Not in isolation, but collectively.
Colin Powell, soldier and diplomat that he has been, knows a thing or two about the bases of national power, and was a keen believer in that phrase "all elements of national power." His Powell Doctrine, which includes overwhelming force coupled with national purpose and an exit strategy, may be due for a revisit, as we learn in today's post from Diplopundit.
If so, it couldn't be more timely.