Stanley Hoffman just keeps chugging along. I was on nodding terms with him 37 years ago at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and he already was a well-established political scientist then. Born in 1928, Hoffman (see photo) has been professing at Harvard since 1955, latterly as the Buttenwieser University Professor, with insights of continuing acuity.
Just now I am admiring his fine piece in the August 10 New York Review of Books, “The Foreign Policy We Need.” Recently I noted here that many writers are searching for magic tricks that will rescue the Democratic Party from its self-inflicted debilitation. Hoffman does not belong to that crowd of political commentators. On the rare occasions when he mentions American political parties, he does not systematically elevate the past mistakes of the Democrats above those of the Republicans or seek ways of saving their skins. Though he is looking for a foreign policy that will save America, he does not address the pragmatic challenge of translating his suggestions into a winning combination of votes. Were he to do so, that challenge is so daunting that he might never get past it to address the policy issues them.
Yet Hoffman certainly heaps hotter coals on the younger President Bush than on any of his recent predecessors, and he has been doing so all along, just as he had also criticized the older President Bush’s own Gulf War in its time. In a 1992 New York Review of Books article, “Bush Abroad,” he blamed that war (though it was far more successful and defensible than the Iraq War that the currently presiding Bush would later start) on a long series of bipartisan American foreign policy mistakes that made it all but inevitable. Hoffman wrote:
“Just as much as World War II, the Gulf War was, to use Churchill's words, an unnecessary war, which only became "necessary" because of the very mistakes made by those who, having tolerated and even encouraged the growth of a monster, had to fight him in order not to be further damaged by their creation. The record of American policy toward Iraq between the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988—a war in which the US at times supported both sides, and later fully tilted toward Iraq out of an understandable fear of Iran, while remaining willfully blind to Saddam Hussein's crimes, methods, and goals—and August 2, 1990, is beginning to be known.”
Elsewhere Hoffman has summed up his pervasive, sweeping concerns:
"The anti-Americanism on the rise throughout the world . . . is, more often than not, a resentment of double standards and double talk, of crass ignorance and arrogance, of wrong assumptions and dubious policies."
His new article is about Dubya’s foreign policy failures — a topic that has commanded all of Hoffman’s attention lately. Ostensibly, as all articles in the magazine, it is a combined book review, but those books simply provide a jumping-off point for his summary of his own momentarily forthcoming book, Chaos and Violence: What Globalization, Failed States, and Terrorism Mean for US Foreign Policy.
Hoffman’s review of Francis Fukuyama’s book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy, focuses on that author’s abandonment of neoconservatism, which is defined here as having four components: (a) “a belief that the internal character of regimes matters and that foreign policy must reflect the deepest values of liberal democratic societies,” (b) a belief that American power “has been and could be used for moral purposes,” (c) “a distrust of ambitious social engineering projects,” and (d) “a skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international law and institutions to achieve either security or justice.”
Probably none of us would intuitively balk at the first two of these postulates; it is only the third and fourth that would raise any eyebrows. And apparently Fukuyama himself became distressed mainly by the inconsistency of US policies and their violation of American principles, as evidenced by the support given to dictatorship and the failure to aid the people in Darfur or the African AIDS victims. Such contradictions have turned Fukuyama against neoconservatism and have made him embrace “multi-multilateralism” — the engagement of the US with the needs of the global economy. Of course, he still wants to promote democracy abroad, but now while avoiding the excessive use of American force abroad. Instead, he prefers such approaches as the European Union has adopted: the stipulation that new members will be admitted only if they satisfy democratic requirements.
While welcoming Fukuyama’s newly enlightened views, Hoffman asks an obvious question: “Why did Fukuyama, in view of his emphasis on multilateral institutions, ever sympathize with neoconservatism in the first place?”
Stephen M. Walt’s traditional realist book, Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy, analyzes the attempt in other countries to limit American supremacy, as for example by refusing to back the war in Iraq. Walt has recently violated a taboo by exposing the power of the Israel lobby, and he builds on that observation by insisting that the United States should pursue a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians; if the Israelis refuse that resolution, the US should stop providing military and economic support to them. Hoffman accepts these recommendations. In fact, to judge from his tone, I inferred that he may even consider them too moderate. Certainly he joins Walt in deploring American militarism, especially as regards nuclear weapons. He writes, “The US should also deemphasize its nuclear weapons programs so as to decrease ‘other states’ incentives to get nuclear weapons of their own.’”
Finally, Hoffman reviews John Brady Kiesling’s book, Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower. That author resigned publicly from his career as a Foreign Service officer in the Near East and Greece when he foresaw the US invasion of Iraq and watched the US alienate its friends. Kiesling deplores the habitual sacrificing of innocent victims in bombing attacks and the resort to torture by a country claiming to promote a rule of law. As Hoffman writes, “Kiesling argues that US insistence on expanding its own nuclear arsenal destroys any effective nonproliferation strategy.” And the war on terrorism “has turned the most powerful nation into the most frightened one.”
So what does Hoffman make of these three critical books? He builds on them by proposing a decent, effective American foreign policy, beginning with the improvement of American’s own economic and moral condition.
“This would mean a return to the rule of law and the protection of civil liberties, and an end to efforts to escape from the obligations of international law in the fight against terrorism. The US should accept, despite its flaws, the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and try to improve it; and it should sign the International Criminal Court treaty.”
Hoffman also urges a break with the foreign policies of both Republicans and Democrats, which have assumed that the world benefits from having the US as the world’s only superpower. That view is unrealistic, for our world is increasingly multipolar and marked by different types of capitalism.
“Military power, in short, can serve as a deterrent, but America should avoid using it to destroy cities, people, and regimes. For the most part, only soft power, and the power of state-building and of promoting economic development, can have beneficial results.”
In the Middle East, Hoffman sees the occupation as the root of the trouble. “Cutting off aid to the Palestinians because they voted for Hamas was exactly the wrong thing to do: it was punishment for exercising democratic choice.” Instead, the US should work hard for a two-state solution similar to the one almost reached at Taba in 2001.
American demilitarization would enable the country to address many problems at home and abroad, Hoffman argues.
“A reduction of 50 percent in military expenditures would allow the US to take better care of its poor, to establish a decent health care system, to improve education, and to invest in conversion to more efficient fuels. It would also liberate funds for urgently needed nation-building, health care, and development in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.”