Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Case for Benevolent American Imperialism by Paul Wolfowitz

In view of annoyance to long War on Terror and the global recession, the American public is becoming critical to global commitment as shown in the ABC-Washington Post Poll on Afghanistan. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argues against such isolationism, and says that the United States be more actively involved in democracy promotion throughout the world. Let me review his article in Foreign Policy.

In this article, he criticizes realists’ understanding that the Bush administration was so belligerent as to impose American ideal of democracy on Iraq by force. Contrary to their viewpoint, Wolfowitz insists that the war was intended to remove a threat to the United States and the global community. Instead of installing another dictator or prolonging American occupation, President George W. Bush decided to establish a democratic regime there. The US-led coalition fights in Afghanistan for the same reason.

Quite importantly, Wolfowitz comments that the United States can push reform while dealing with unfavorable regimes. He mentions the Reagan diplomacy with the Evil Empire of the Soviet Union had led to perestroika. Moreover, he points out that Libya has given up the nuclear weapons program for fear of American will, not because the Bush administration spoke nicely to the infamous dictator Muammar Khadafy. Even modestly in some cases, Wolfowitz insists on continual push for reform in China and Middle East nations.

Based on the above perspective, Wolfowitz argues that the United States not compromise with Asian or Islamic values cited by dubious autocrats in those regions. He points out that Arab citizens are willing to hear the United States champion democracy, and criticizes that foreign policy realists dismiss this.

I agree with him. Remember what I said in “Islam and Democracy” and “Five Questions on Islamic Radicalism”. People in the Islamic world, even radical Muslims, admire Western freedom.

While some realists are cautious of destabilization as a result of democracy promotion, Wolfowitz argues that this is not so dangerous. Rather, he regards it as a positive catalyst for change, as seen in the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and recent movements against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran (“Think Again: Realism”; Foreign Policy; August 2009).

Contrary to widespread wrong understanding, the article by Paul Wolfowitz articulates that neoconservatives are pragmatists, not belligerent idealists. Realist foreign policy does not necessarily serve American and global security.

Furthermore, Paul Wolfowitz appeared in “Weekend All Things Considered” of NPR on September 5 this year. In an interview with the radio host Guy Raz quoted a counterargument to Wolfowitz by Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard University, "Idealistic wars of choice like Iraq invariably force policymakers to engage in threat inflation and deception, and Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of this art." In reply, Wolfowitz expressed his wholehearted support for democratic reform in the Arab world.

Quite importantly, Wolfowitz says that it is American interest to get involved with internal affairs of other countries, and argues that the Obama administration’s foreign policy is more aligned with neoconservative thoughts rather than realist ones. Like American presidents throughout the history, Barack Obama does not leave internal issues of other countries untouched, but willing to drive reform as shown in Afghanistan (“Wolfowitz on U.S. Role in Other Nations' Affairs”; NPR; September 5, 2009).

Paul Wolfowitz presents invaluable analyses and commentaries in the era of new security challenges, such as Islamic radicalism in the Middle East, nuclear proliferation by rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and the rise of cult nationalism in Russia and China. It is necessary to understand the fundamental idea of American interventionism from long term perspectives. The article and the interview will be of much help for this objective (also, listen to 1 and 2).