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A Case of Foreign Policy

 

Cullum: I am not introducing our speaker at lunch today, but I do want to tell you that the new Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the LBJ School is exceedingly lucky to get Jim Lindsay as its first director.  He will be an enormous asset to the university and to the state of Texas.

 

Ted Strauss will be introducing him today, and Ted now is associated with two institutes at the university:  one is the Robert Strauss center that I mentioned, the other, the Annette Strauss Center for Civic Participation.  Ted knows a lot about civic participation.  He is campaign chairman for one of the candidates running for mayor next year, Max Wells - the least I can do, Ted, is plug your candidate today - and he, of course, knows a great deal about the office of mayor.  His wife, Annette Strauss, was one of the great mayors of Dallas. Ted wanted to know if he could be humorous today, and not pompous like everybody else - I think he meant me - and of course, we wouldn't miss a chance at the Ted Strauss wit.  So Ted, you're on.

 

Strauss: I am delighted to be here and I'm surprised to be here.  I looked at the distinguished roster and it reminded me of the time at Stanford when my mother told me not to go to a certain place.  She never wanted to hear that I was in there.  I did go and I was surprised how many people I knew.  And I know that Dan Arnold is out there somewhere, my good friend from Houston, and Chuck Story and Jackie Blanton, and many, many others.

 

I have been selected, obviously, because this is my brother's namesake school.  My brother is an exceptional man.  I just wish my mother and father were still here to see the naming of this school.  My mother would have been thrilled; my father would have been shocked.  But so be it for the wit that I promised Lee I'd leave at home.

 

Jim Lindsay is our first director of this school, and I have been advised that I would find his bio quite interesting.  I also found it quite heavy.  He is a man who has accomplished so much and I can see why he has been chosen to be the director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas, where Jim holds the Tom Slick Chair of International Affairs in the LBJ School of Public Affairs.  He is a leading authority on the American foreign policy making process, and the domestic politics of American foreign policy.  And as you know, my brother has been pretty active in politics, so I know that Jim is more than just an appropriate choice; he's an excellent choice.

 

Before becoming director of the Strauss Center, Dr. Lindsay was vice president, director of studies and Maurice R. Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations.  He previously served as deputy director and senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution.  From 1987 to 1999, he was a professor of political science at the University of Iowa, where he was an award-winning instructor.

 

Dr. Lindsay has authored, co-authored or edited more than 15 books and 50 journal articles and book chapters on various aspects of American foreign policy and international relations - a great accomplishment.  His book with Ivo Daalder, America Unbound, the Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy was awarded the 2003 Lionel Gelber Award, named a finalist for the Arthur S. Ross book award, and selected as a top book of 2003 by The Economist.  His other books include Agenda for the Nation with Henry J. Aaron which was named an outstanding academic book of 2004 by the choice magazine, Defending America.

 

Dr. Lindsay holds an AB in economics and political science, highest distinction, highest honors, from the University of Michigan, and a MA, master of philosophy and a Ph.D. from Yale University.  He has been a fellow at the Center for International Affairs and the Center for Science and International Affairs, both at Harvard University.  This is some fellow.  He is a recipient of the Pew Faculty Fellowship in International Affairs and an International Affairs Fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations.  He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

With that formal description, I would say I've had the pleasure of talking with Jim and he's the luckiest guy I know.  He's getting ready to move to Austin, Texas, which is, I think, everyone's place they would choose; it would be mine.  I wish I were there with you, Jim, and I'm proud to introduce you to this distinguished group.  Thank you very much.

                       

Lindsay: Ted, thank you for that very warm and very kind introduction.  I must say it's an honor to be introduced by you and it's an honor for me to be associated with the Strauss family name.  I know how much you and your brother and Annette have contributed, not just to Texas, but to the country and, again, it's quite a privilege for me to be the director of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

 

I also want to say thank you to Lee Cullum for having invited me to come here.  I met Lee through my work at the Council on Foreign Relations where Lee did an absolutely outstanding job as a member of the board of directors. She is a role model for all of us.  So Lee, thank you very much.

 

And I also want to thank all of you for coming here and putting up with me this afternoon.  As Ted mentioned, I have recently moved to Texas. Yes, I'm one of those Yankees who migrated down from up north. I probably should let you in on a little secret – you have a great state.  I've had a chance to travel around much, but not all of Texas. It’s quite wonderful.  My only regret is that it took me 47 years to get the sense to come down here. So I'm looking forward to being at the University of Texas.

 

Now, I am a professor by training, a job that a student of mine once defined as somebody who talks while other people sleep. I'm going to try not to live up to that definition here today,    though I realize I may be at a disadvantage after that very nice lunch which can tend to make people's eyes a little heavy.

 

Lee asked me to talk about foreign policy. That is obviously a very broad and very deep topic, far broader than anyone can do justice to in a luncheon talk. So in my remarks here today, I'm going to leave out a whole lot more than I'm going to put in.  We'll try to remedy that at the end by having time for question and answer.

 

What I'd like to do in my time here today is to address what I see as the great danger and the great challenge facing the United States in foreign policy.  The great danger is that we will overreact to our problems in Iraq by replacing an overly ambitious foreign policy with one that is overly timid.  The great challenge that we face in the next several years is to restore trust in American global leadership.

 

But in keeping with today's theme of immigration,  I'd like to begin by talking about what I don't think will be a significant problem for the United States in foreign affairs going forward, and that's America's foreign-born population.  I think actually it's a great strength for America in foreign affairs and not a great weakness.

Now, I understand that concern about immigrants and their impact on foreign policy has spread in recent years. It has come in two broad forms, both of which we heard a little bit about earlier this morning.

 

One strand argues that immigrants undermine social cohesion which in turn undermines national identity and national interests.  This argument has been presented in its most presentable form by Harvard Professor Sam Huntington, who Jim Hollifield referred to this morning. Caroline Brettell also mentioned Professor Huntington in one of her power point charts. In a book called Who Are We? Professor Huntington worried at exceedingly great length that the growing number of Mexican-Americans was going to be the undoing of America.

 

The other strand argues not so much about immigrants undoing social cohesion, but that ethnic groups will distort our foreign policy.  Cuban-Americans exercise veto power over U.S. policy toward Cuba, Armenian-Americans do the same thing with U.S. policy toward Armenia, and most famously - or notoriously, depending upon your perspective - Jewish-Americans control U.S. policy toward Israel.

 

Now, these arguments provoke great passion - sometimes you can hear them being talked about on talk radio - but both of them melt under reasonable scrutiny.  Fears of immigrants coming into the United States and undermining social cohesion are as old as the Republic.  Strike the word "Mexican" where it appears in Professor Huntington's book, substitute the word "Italian," and Professor Huntington's book could have been published in 1910; strike "Mexican" and substitute "Irish" and it could have been published in 1860.  American national cohesion is far more durable and far more accommodating to influxes of immigrants than the nay-sayers acknowledge.

 

But what about ethnic lobbies?  They're certainly nothing new.  For those of you who remember your American History books, Irish and German lobbies fought to try to keep the United States out of, first, World War I, and then out of World War II.  In the United States, global politics is often local politics, and local politics can frequently be about ethnic politics.  Nothing new about that; that's the way our political system works.

 

But I would want to also point out that most ethnic groups never become significant foreign policy lobbies.  You can search in vain to find the French-Canadian lobby or the Italian lobby or the Dutch lobby or the Norwegian lobby in American foreign policy.  It's not because these people did not come to the United States in large numbers.  It's not because they didn't settle in geographically defined areas where they would have had the opportunity to exercise clout. It’s largely because these immigrants came to the United States primarily for economic reasons. They were not motivated by political reasons, and so there was never any issue around which they could mobilize.

 

Moreover, many ethnic groups or ethnic lobbies that we read about in the paper are actually far less successful than they are active, and they generally accomplish little.  Just to single out one classic case, the Armenian-American lobby in the United States is very active and very vocal on Capitol Hill.  Their great success has been to turn Armenia into the largest single per capita recipient of U.S. foreign aid.  But in terms of the broader agenda of trying to get the United States to rethink its relations with Turkey, it has been a failure.

 

But of course, some lobbies do become significant, and in those cases what's really remarkable is oftentimes their successes have as much to do with events beyond their control or the actions of other actors than their own activities.  Cuban-Americans have always benefitted from the fact that Fidel Castro refused, despite much advice from Latin American leaders, to engage in a rapprochement with Washington.  Cuban-Americans also benefitted from the fact that they inherited the policy of isolating Cuba.  It was instituted before Cuban-Americans were a significant factor in American politics.  One of the lessons of American politics for any lobby, foreign or domestic, is that it is a lot easier to defend the status quo than it is to change it.

 

Or take the existence of the Israeli lobby. Two political scientists, one from the University of Chicago, another from Harvard University, wrote a paper that created a lot of commotion earlier this year. The paper talked about the Israeli lobby exercising excessive control over American policy toward Israel.

 

One of the more remarkable things about the paper is that it defined the Israeli lobby so broadly it included not just Jewish-Americans but virtually every evangelical living in the United States. That’s actually much of the population.  Indeed, one of the things that those Jewish-Americans who have been active on Israeli issues have always benefitted from is that they are advancing a political agenda that resonates with most Americans.

 

Finally, much of the discussion about the role of ethnic lobbies in American foreign policy tends to focus on feared costs, costs that are often imaginary, and to miss very real benefits.  The immigrant transmission belt works in reverse as well as it does in forward:  it injects American perspectives into the deliberations of lots of other governments.

 

I'll just cite one example because of its significance.  If you've watched the evolution of American and Indian relations over the last decade or so, it has been enabled by and partially driven by the prominence of Indian-Americans living in the United States. They recognized that the strategic disassociation or estrangement between Washington and New Delhi did not make sense.

 

So I'm not worried - or my fear is not that the United States is going to be undone by its new immigrants and their offspring.  My fear instead is something different. It's that our excessive exuberance in foreign policy is going to give way to an excessive timidity when it comes to events overseas.

 

Mark Twain tells the story of the cat that sat on a hot white stove.  It was burned so badly that it never sat on anything white ever again.  America's hot white stove today is Iraq.  Whether you supported the decision to invade Iraq or not, whether you blame the Pentagon for failing to send enough troops to Iraq or blame the Iraqis for failing to seize the opportunity to remake their country, Iraq is now in crisis.  Sectarian violence is exploding and Washington's ability to influence events is shrinking.

 

Indeed, if you needed any sort of visible testimony to that reality, the president of the United States recently went all the way to Jordan to meet with the Iraqi prime minister, who decided to not go to the first meeting.  No one in Washington these days is talking about victory in Iraq.  Most of the discussion in Washington today is about how to prevent a catastrophe or how to pick among bad options.

 

The American public understands that Iraq is a hot white stove, and they are understandably reluctant to touch anything white any time soon.  That was the lesson of the 2006 midterm congressional elections.  Democrats gained control of Congress by running against the administration's handling of Iraq. They implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, promised a smaller, less exhausting foreign policy. To be honest, it's not just the public that feels this way.  In my business of writing about American foreign policy, professors and pundits have weighed in with a whole bunch of new concepts - offshore balancing, the return of realism, the importance of prudence in foreign policy - largely because they understand and in part feel that America needs a foreign policy that requires us to do less and requires others to do much more.

 

Now, this desire to retrench is nothing new.  After most wars, and especially after wars that are perceived as not having gone well, Americans have sought to step back from global affairs.  In some sense it's in our political DNA; it's part of the rhythms of American history.  It happened after World War I; it happened after World War II, and as everyone in the room no doubt remembers, it happened after the Vietnam War.

 

What history also tells us is that those retrenchments are usually overdone.  The pullback after World War I eventually gave rise to isolationism, generally regarded nowadays as one of the great strategic missteps in American foreign policy history.  It happened immediately after World War II.  The great desire to bring the boys back home created a strategic opening in Europe and elsewhere for the Soviet Union. And again, it certainly happened in Vietnam.

The lesson is clear:  a smaller foreign policy is not necessarily a wiser one.  I'll even go further and argue that the temptation to retrench today is especially strong.  It is strong because globalization is producing competitors overseas who are raising a very real challenge to American middle class prosperity.  That's one of the great concerns the public has as it looks ahead, the fear that tomorrow may not be better than yesterday.

 

Very clearly in both parties, among Democrats and among Republicans, you can see the rise of economic nationalists – or less charitably, populists - who are arguing that they have policies that will solve the problem.  These tend to be policies that seek to protect Americans from competition rather than giving them the tools to compete. The debates over immigration in the United States could turn even more controversial if we see a global economic downturn that aggravates our existing economic problems.

 

The situation today is especially dangerous because in a globalized world the philosophy of live and let live does not work.  Problems no longer stay home, they cross borders.  Indeed, as you look at September 11, you talk to many people who do work on the roots of Islamic terrorism, what they will tell you is this is less about the United States and the Islamic world and more about a civil war within the Muslim world.  Likewise, think of the great challenges out there today: climate change, flu and other pandemic diseases. These are problems that do not respect borders.  As powerful as the United States is - and we are an enormously blessed and powerful country - we do not have enough guards, guns or gates to keep every problem from coming home.

 

We can, of course, hope that somebody else will pick up the slack and take care of the problems for us. But, they can't and they won't.  The fact is Madeline Albright was right:  the United States in many ways is an indispensable nation. Collective problems are required to solve global challenges, but collective problems only get solved by leadership, and if the United States doesn't lead, who will?

 

But that immediately raises a different question, and it's not a question I would have thought several years ago I would ask, but it goes as follows:  If the United States leads, who will follow?  Sadly, far fewer countries than we need to accomplish what needs to be done.  That is why the great challenge for American leadership is to restore international trust in the United States.  With Iraq, Abu Ghreib, Guantanamo, the departure from Kyoto, and a whole other set of foreign policy missteps, the foreign policy approach of the past five years has destroyed the good will that many around the world feel toward America.  The Pew Center for the people in the press have made a living of doing polls, going around the globe asking people about their attitudes toward the United States. They're clearly far less favorable towards us than they were a decade ago.

 

Now, I raise this not because popularity is the goal of foreign policy. It isn't.  Good will matters not as an end but as a means, a means to achieving our goals abroad.  Simply put, countries, especially democratic countries, follow those whom they trust. They don't follow those whom they distrust and resent.  And quite honestly, given the plate of problems for this administration and its successor, we need others to want to follow our lead.

 

The importance of good will is something that our adversaries understand - some far better than we do.  Hugo Chavez, up for reelection this weekend in Venezuela, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran have been quite open in manipulating and inflaming anti-American passions to advance decidedly anti-U.S. agendas.  Russian and Chinese leaders are far more subtle in the practice, but they're playing the same game.  Even some of our closest partners are working to distance themselves from Washington.  I would submit that you know you have a problem when the new leader of Britain's Conservative Party, the party of Margaret Thatcher, uses one of his first speeches to distance himself and his party from the United States.

 

Now, restoring international trust is not easy to do. As the saying goes, you don't get a second chance to make a first impression.  But doing so is, in my judgment, essential.  Now, I'm not going to lay out an entire agenda for doing that, but I think broad brush, we need to do three things.

 

One is to renew our commitment to creating a better world for others as well as ourselves.  If you travel a lot outside the United States - as I've had the good fortune of doing - the complaint that you commonly hear, both from elites and non-elites, is that Americans in recent years have spent far too much time telling others what they can do to help America and spending far too little time talking about how we can help them.  Indeed, one of my concerns about the rise of nationalist or neo-isolationist strategies is that they would ultimately end up confirming this view that America is self-interested and is only worried about things that directly affect it.

 

Second, it's important to be generous and interested in the rest of the world.  Abe Lincoln liked to say that a drop of honey works better than a bucket of gall, and he was on to something there.  That advice applies not just to personal relations, but also to international relations.  Not surprisingly, the United States is most popular and has the warmest relations with countries where it has done the most to help.

 

I'll just give you one example because I spent a week there talking to senior officials, and that's Indonesia.  The change in attitudes in Indonesia toward the United States after the tsunami, after Indonesians saw American generosity, saw what the American military was capable of doing, is quite remarkable.  I was there about a year after the tsunami, and the message that I heard from Indonesians - again, both inside government and out of it - was why don't you do more things like that? You are capable of doing more than that, but usually what we hear from you is what you need us to do.

 

The third suggestion I would offer is to be committed to the rule of law.  As long as the United States continues to be seen as saying to the rest of the world, effectively, the rule of law applies to thee, but not to me, we will have a problem.  We will find it difficult to advance our agenda; we will find it particularly difficult to bring our European allies along. This is one of their standard and most vocal complaints.  The United States needs to stress working with others, and also working to build effective international institutions.  Indeed, part of the great challenge is that most of our partners expect us to work through institutions and to help build them. Americans, however, have tended, historically to like institutions when they work and to go around them when they don't think they are going to give them the outcome they desire.

 

But I would add that in terms of working to build more effective international institutions, there's clearly a lot of work that needs to be done. Competent international institutions are desperately needed to deal with the problems unleashed by globalization. As I have said, we're increasingly facing problems that cross borders. In such a work we need the cooperation of others to achieve our ends.  In addition, one of the benefits that comes with establishing and shaping an international framework is that it creates the opportunity to build a world order that will push others closer to our interests and values.

 

Now, none of this will be easy to do. I make no argument that it will.  It will be necessary, though, if we are to be spared the misfortune of discovering that doing too little can be as damaging as trying to do too much.  As for now, I hope that I have neither said too little nor talked too long.

 

Male Speaker:  Can you apply what you just said specifically to NAFTA and our relationship with Mexico?  Our conference theme here is immigration and that's one of the big topics out there.

 

Lindsay: President Bush, when he ran for the White House in 2000, talked about the United States having no bilateral relationship more important than Mexico. In many ways, he was right.  The fact is that we share a 2,000-mile long border. The United States is a very wealthy country, while Mexico is aspiring to become one. Among other things, the very dramatic difference in wage levels that exists in the United States versus Mexico creates a very long term dynamic in which peeole travel in search of jobs and to make more money.  It's a very common and very old tradition.

 

But the United States and Mexico haven't always had the best of relations.  The shadow of the past weighs very heavily over the relationship.  And it seems to me that further integration of the Americas is natural.  In part it's going to be driven by the realities of globalization, as other regions begin to integrate more and more.  There are many obstacles, however, to making that happen. The fear on this side of the border is that they will take over. The fear in Mexico is quite different. Their fear is that we will take over.

 

What this points to is the importance of working out an immigration policy that we feel comfortable with and that the Mexicans feel comfortable with. When we talk about immigration, the tendency is to talk about it as a domestic issue. But it's also a foreign policy issue. The decisions we make on immigration will have very real ramifications for the U.S.-Mexican relationship.

 

Again, as you know, Vicente Fox, when he was elected, part of his pitch to the Mexican people was: I know Americans, I have very good relations with them, I'm going to go and be able to produce a better policy that will serve our interests and that will advance the cause of democratization and economic growth in Mexico.  For a variety of reasons, most of them beyond President Fox's control, that hasn't happened.

 

As we discovered this morning, immigration is an extraordinarily complicated topic, both domestically and in foreign policy terms.

 

Male Speaker:  What steps should be taken in the World Trade Organization?

 

Lindsay: You raise one of the great debates among people who are interested in trade, and that's the question to what extent should you work through universal, multilateral organizations like the WTO versus pursuing bilateral deals.  And here the real challenge lies with countries other than the United States.  The current Doha round[i] was intended to provide a leg up to impoverished countries by bringing them further into the international trading system. The idea was that developed countries would get rid of the policies, subsidies and protectionism that tended to be more destructive or harmful for economic development overseas.  For a whole variety of reasons, that hasn't happened.  The whole Doha round has come to a halt.

 

The position the United States took was, in my judgment, reasonable. The problem now, as one Brazilian official put it to me, is that Brazil and the other emerging powers, including India, have to stop thinking of themselves solely as developing countries looking to get something. They need to think of themselves as global powers that have a stake in creating a more open economy.

 

My great fear is that the WTO will break down. It’s unlikely that the Doha round will resume. That’s in part because next July 1, the president's trade promotion authority expires. Trade promotion authority is a procedural device in which Congress gives the president authority to negotiate and limits itself to holding an up or down vote on the final agreement. TPA makes other counties more willing to negotiate because it limits Congress’ ability to reopen any trade deal.

 

President Bush found it very hard to get Congress, even when Republicans controlled both houses, to give him TPA. My guess is that for Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, giving President Bush trade promotion authority is not at the top of their list of priorities.

 

So if the United States can't negotiate, no one else will negotiate and efforts to open the global economy will stall. Then we'll start to see more bilateral and regional deals. My friends who are trade economists argue that these kinds of deals are less efficient and will impede growth internationally and domestically.

 

For the United States, this compounds the problem I’ve already talk about, namely, the challenge of maintaining American global leadership. The United States can do deals with small countries because it is in a very strong bargaining position given the size of its economy. It can make tough demands, and many smaller countries will feel they have no choice but to accept Washington’s terms. However, this can create very real resentment among their populations.

 

What is playing out here is one of the most interesting trends in global affairs.  More and more countries have become democratic. That is good.  But in many ways it was a lot easier for Washington to deal with the Soviet Union than to deal with a democratic country.  Why?  Because when the politburo made a decision, it could enforce it.  When you are dealing with democracies, you're often engaged in what political scientists like to call two-level games.  You negotiate with the leader of another country, but you have to hope that he or she can keep his or her domestic coalition together. Sometimes, however, those coalitions fall apart.

 

More broadly, one of the real challenges for the United States, particularly in Europe, is that even countries who want to do right by the United States can face constraints. Leaders that want to do right by the United States also want to get reelected. And the desire to get reelected can overwhelm the desire to do right by the United States.

 

Male Speaker:  What would be your recommendation to stay away from the white hot stove and still deal with Iran and Korea?

 

Lindsay: I think, personally, that it makes no sense not to engage with Iran.  Our ability to prevent the Iranians from getting a nuclear device is low. Now, others would dispute that. If that is your operating assumption, then you probably would not favor engagement.

 

One of the questions that historians will ask down the road is why the United States and Iran didn’t find a way to reestablish a working relationship.  We once had a very good relationship with Iran, and it wasn't based on similar religions or similar cultures or similar visions of a just world. It was based on pure realpolitik.  They lived in a neighborhood in which many of their neighbors didn't like them, and we made a very good friend.

 

As we all know, the Iranian revolution ended that friendship. What we are less sensitive to is that when we made Iran part of the axis of evil and decided to invade Iraq, we created, just in pure geopolitical terms, a real problem for the Iranians.

 

One of the great concerns that Iranians have is that if Arab Muslims think of themselves more as Arabs or more as Sunni Muslims than as Muslims than Iran faces a threat. One of the ways that the Iranians have reacted, most clearly with Mr. Ahmadinejad, is to redefine the terms of debate in the Middle East by emphasizing Islam over sect or nationality. Mr. Ahmadinejad has, in essence, said I'm going be more Muslim than anyone else and take up every pet cause of Muslims, particularly by denouncing Israel. This has created a very real problem for the United States in the region.

 

The United States would have been in a stronger position to engage the Iranians three years ago when we were winning than we are right now.  The general rule of international relations, as well as in the rest of life, is that you have a stronger hand when you're winning than when you're losing.

 

But the critical thing is whether you believe that you can stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.  I haven't seen anyone make what I would consider to be a credible case that we can. But if you believe otherwise, you would look to a whole different set of policy recommendations.

Cullum: Thanks, Jim.  I would like to say thank you to Jim Lindsay.  He just moved to Austin two weeks ago with a wife and four children, and in those two weeks they have acquired two dogs.  The deal was their kids would move to Texas if they could have a dog and they now have two.  But he will be with us tomorrow morning so we can continue this conversation; I think there's a lot more to talk with Jim about.


[i] The Doha Development Round is the trade-negotiation round of the World Trade Organization. It focuses on a core concern that the current multilateral trading system should benefit the developing countries that constitute over three quarters of WTO members.