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February 01, 2009


Shawn  白翔雲 백상운

Hi David,

How have you been? I think you are spot on with most of what you say here, and I hope that the Obama Administration not only comes up with a solid 'grand strategy' for the Asia-Pacific, but also puts the right people in place to execute it successfully.

I am only surprised by two points in your post, 1) that you subscribe to the myth that neoconservative unilateralism alone has caused a trans-Atlantic rift and 2) that the Bush Administration was not inclusive or aggressive in building multilateral security frameworks.

In the first instance, the main rift was with France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder. Their decisions in Bush's first term were made while in the background their governments were involved with corruption in the Oil-for-Food scandal and involved the hope of reviving lucrative contracts with Saddam Hussein. In actuality, despite not having France and Germany on board, the coalition supporting the the Iraq theater of the GWOT was larger than the one assembled in the first Gulf War.

Of course this coalition broke down over time as the Bush Administration bumbled into the post-war/winning-the-peace phase, but with changes in leadership during Bush's second term, the relations with Germany and France have been mostly repaired heading into Obama's first term.

On point 2, it doesn't get much press, but the Bush Administration has privately had very strong cooperation across the world on issues of global security. Publicly, this cooperation can be found in such programs as PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative). One year into the initiative, 60 nations gathered in Poland to mark the anniversary. Security exchanges have strengthened with both India and China, as well as with other allies in different regions such as Australia/Philippines in Southeast Asia and Columbia in South America.

Probably the most disappointing is NATO; years of peace and the decline in violent conflict across borders as Tom Barnett notes, has I think led to many member nations relaxing on their defense budgets while the U.S. continues to reinvest in its military and take a more assertive role in leading global security initiatives. It is just natural that member states outside of the U.K. will hesitate on upping the ante on issues like Afghanistan, in many cases simply because they no longer have the capability to do so, or lack the will to shift their defense strategies.

Another very multilateral approach by the Bush Administration is the Six-Party Talks on North Korea and the extreme deferrence the Bush Administration showed to the EU and Russia on talks with Iran, both which the Obama Administration has labeled as too multilateral.

There are plenty of problems and faults to reflect on in the Bush Administration's handling of world affairs, but I believe it is not necessary to use the same harsh labels that the Obama Administration is seeking to do away with, the sort of too "black and white" lack of nuance Bush was often criticized for deploying in his speeches.

Sorry to rant, but had to respond with my 2 cents. :-)

All the best,




Delighted to hear from you, and thanks for commenting. I think that you will agree that, even were i to grant you your point, it would not detract from the validity of mine, which is that the president has more pressing matters at this time on his agenda than China.

That said, however, your point is well-articulated, so let me try to respond.

An alliance of any sort can only be strong when the allies all share a common perception of an external threat, in terms of its nature, its urgency, and its severity: not just the leaders of those nations, but their peoples. This is the mortar that cemented the alliance that opposed the Axis in the Second World War, that bonded NATO for four decades (with France as the exception), and that unified the coalition in the first Gulf War.

That common perception must be founded on a case that takes into account the differences in national politics and attitudes that exist among each of the allies. Just because something is an immediate threat to you and your interests does not mean it is a threat to your allies, who face threats and have interests of their own.

When approached intelligently, the differences in interests and perceptions can be overcome. America had already stepped out from behind its neutral isolation well before Pearl Harbor; NATO held together in the face of vocal domestic opposition across Europe and even in the U.S., and the Gulf War coalition did as well.

The unilateralism of the Bush administration was a failure to communicate, not a failure to confer or collaborate. Team Bush failed at at least two points in Iraq. First, as you correctly point out, was what happened after the fall of Baghdad and their underestimation of what it would take to put Iraq back together again.

But long before that, Bush failed to make a credible case for the war to both the American people and to the world. In so doing, he set the stage for a collapse of domestic political support for the war among the allies once his justifications were proven false and the cost of involvement in the coalition escalated. Bush had failed to build a genuine case for the threat of Saddam, its urgency, or its ultimate relevance to NATO, robbing America of credibility in Europe.

The Bush administration did much to repair the government-to-government relationships as you note, but it never rebuilt the support of the peoples of our allies. This oversight left the leaders of Europe ready to help the U.S., but constrained by a lack of popular support for engaging in costly US-led efforts. Those constraints were evinced by the gradual withdrawal of nearly all of Europe from Iraq, NATO hesitance to commit to more forces for Afghanistan, and an embarrassingly slow response to piracy in the Indian Ocean.

The administration did not make the same mistakes in Asia with the Six-Party talks, and I would argue the lesson and demands of Iraq had much to do with it and with the U.S. ceding the leadership of those talks to China.

Franklin D. Roosevelt understood the importance of political will in even the noblest of causes. He spent much of his second term carefully building a case for America to play a role in opposing destabilizing and expansionist ambitions of Italy and Germany.

As Barnett points out and I know you agree, there was a real case to be made for Iraq, and Bush failed to make it. The results were bad enough at home, but among the peoples of the NATO countries they sowed distrust which Obama must assuage if the North Atlantic alliance is to return to full health.

This will surely not be an easy task.

Sorry so long - I saw your two cents and I raised you five.


Shawn in Melbourne

Thanks for the quick response, David.

Actually, I agree with your follow-up and much of the added detail to your criticisms of the Bush Administration--particularly that much fault can be found in piss poor communication to the American people and peoples around the world. It was continually frustrating to me as well. I just think you gave Bush too short thrift in your post by grabbing onto the loaded and overused terms "neoconservatives" and "unilateralism", so the added detail/context in your response is much appreciated.

Cheers from down under!

Mike Meng

Yeah David, you'd better be right. As a Chinese, I personally hope Obama administration focuses on the issue of economic crisis, rather than Sino-US relationship.

The real problem is, we Chinese are not get used to a weak and modest US. No, it is not only about the export, it is more a psychological issue.

Before the crisis, the attitude of Chinese toward US might vary from resentment to respect, to insane adoration, but everyone agree that US is a truely powerful, mighty country. The crisis has broken this consensus. While some people, me for instance, believe US can get through of it and even get stronger, many others think that this is the end of long, long American centuries, which began from late 19th century. And I believe it is difficult to develop Sino-US relation under such situation, because Chinese people do not know on which direction should this relation goes. To punish the biggest fraud in world's history, or give a hand to the old buddy who just slipped unintentionally?

Therefore, Obama administration should better first show us his ability of recovering the US economy, then tell us what kind of relationship he want to have between the two countries.


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