US Debate

US Debate

MARK DAVIS: Gentlemen, welcome to the program.


You each have very divergent views on US foreign policy, but let’s assume for a moment that each of you welcomes the expansion of American power and influence. As we witness the ‘Bush doctrine’ in action in Iraq today, has that broader goal been well served?

THOMAS DONNELLY, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Well, obviously the war’s not over at this juncture when we speak, so we don’t know the final outcome of the situation in Iraq but yeah, I would say that removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq serves American purposes and serves the, I hope, larger human purposes and it’s a good thing.

MARK DAVIS: Stephen Zunes?

PROFESSOR STEPHEN ZUNES, UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO: Even putting aside the important moral and legal concerns that I and millions of other people around the world share about the US invasion, I fear it’s also going to weaken American power in the world. I’m afraid it’s going to provoke an anti-American reaction, both among extremist forces such as those of al-Qa’ida and Osama bin Laden, whom I’m sure is quite pleased about this course of events. But also, I’m afraid we’ll make it very difficult for the United States to pursue is policy objectives even among many of our erstwhile allies.

MARK DAVIS: Thomas Donnelly, would you agree that we’ll see large blocks of the world solidifying against the ‘Bush doctrine’, what you call ‘pax Americana’. This seems to be occurring – in cold reality, does it matter?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, look, I would say there’s already a certain amount of anti-Americanism in the world. I don’t see how we could define Osama bin Laden as being any more anti-American than he already is and look, you make an important point about power realities that are very difficult to get away from. America is a global power with global interests and with universal political principles and it’s hard to walk away from any one of those aspects of geopolitical reality today.

MARK DAVIS: Steven Zunes.

PROFESSOR STEPHEN ZUNES: I wish we were part of the forces of freedom and democracy. I wish we did support universal values – if we did, I think we would have support. But unfortunately, the United States is the number one backer of dictatorial regimes in that part of the world. The problem is, unfortunately, it’s not whether the United States should be the world’s policeman – in theory, a policeman enforces the law uniformly and has a mandate to do so – but by defying the United Nations and being so selective, we’re acting like the global vigilante. And that is what has led to such a great resistance, not because people support Saddam Hussein, but because they see what, in their view, is a Western imperialist power trying to invade the Arab heartland and we’ve seen throughout history, going back to Crusades, that Arab peoples will support their own petty tyrants against invading Western armies.

MARK DAVIS: Of course, Thomas Donnelly, you’d say there’s been no period like this in history, there’s never been a power as great as America and that it’s time to exercise that might?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Undeniably, these are the power realities of the world and either we will walk away from our responsibilities or we will carry them out as best as we can see, and if one of the acts that we think is the right thing to do is to remove a guy like Saddam Hussein and that provokes the response from people who allegedly share our political values, especially in Western Europe, that it has done, then there are – there’s a reckoning there that’s going to be difficult and the partnerships that we’ve enjoyed with the French and the Germans are going to require some pretty heavy construction to repair.

MARK DAVIS: Well, the political reality of recent events has seen international institutions falling apart by the day. We may see governments collapsing next. How are US interests served if there is a popular uprising in Saudi Arabia or Jordan or more likely Pakistan, where you would have radical Islamic clerics in control of one of the world’s larger nuclear arsenals.

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, look, if the current political arrangement in Saudi Arabia were to change – I would be very happy if that were the case. The Saudi royal family has made an awful compromise with the Wahabi clerics in Saudi Arabia and that is a compromise that the United States has already come to rue on September 11, and if that situation isn’t changed, I imagine the long-time strategic partnership that the United States has thought that it had with the Saudi royal family will be difficult to maintain. Also Americans can’t be indifferent to the simple internal repression that’s going on in Saudi Arabia and all the other countries that you mentioned. Pakistan is a very unstable place and, for all of General Musharraf’s helpful actions in the last year and a half, there’s still questions looming over the future of that country, to which we cannot be indifferent. If a violently anti-American, anti-Western regime came to power in Pakistan and had control of nuclear materials and nuclear weapons, that would cause our hearts to skip a beat and we’d be very concerned about that, and I don’t know that we could be indifferent to that.

MARK DAVIS: You’ve written of how the US military should be reorganised to match the desires and needs of American expansion. You’ve said that they need to become a 21st-century version of the cavalry of the Old West providing reconnaissance and security for the settlers as they move into potentially hostile territory. That’s a rather disturbing analogy for all of us Indians out here, isn’t it?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, I mean I can’t imagine that Australians think of themselves as the Indians in this admittedly overdrawn analogy. The point I’m trying to make through those remarks is to emphasise particularly that our Cold War basing structure in particular is not particularly useful or responsive to where the trouble spots are today. We find and have found over the past 10 years that American and indeed Australian military forces have been operating in places that they did not anticipate they would be operating and we could also expect that this is going to continue. There’s nothing that says this pattern of operations is likely to come to an end any time soon, and as we have all drawn down our military forces since the end of the Cold War, we ought to give our guys in uniform a break and make it easier for them to conduct the missions that we ask them to undertake on our behalf.

MARK DAVIS: Stephen Zunes, is the ‘Bush doctrine’ a departure in American foreign policy or is it really an extension of a period of expansion since the Second World War?

PROFESSOR STEPHEN ZUNES: Yes, and no. We’ve certainly overthrown governments and violated the UN charter before, but generally these were either covert actions or at least done in the name, or at least the veneer, of collective security, such as through the South-East Asian Treaty Organisation or the Organisation of American States or NATO. This is the first time, I think, the United States has done something so blatant as to launch an offensive war against a major country, without the authorisation of the United Nations Security Council. The UN charter is very clear that no single member state can enforce a resolution unless the Security Council as a whole specifically authorises the use of force. And I think it’s very dangerous, in fact, if we can redefine self-defence to say “Well, we have a right to invade another country because they might be developing weapons that they might some day use against us.” I mean, if every country gave itself the right to invade sovereign states on those grounds, you’d have a lot of countries invading each other and I fear this is a very dangerous precedent. Indeed, this is a literally a reactionary foreign policy. It goes back to 19th-century notions of right of conquest. This is Hobbesian in nature. This represents, I believe, the abrogation of the basic international legal principles that have been built up over the past century, ironically through the leadership of such American presidents as Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.

MARK DAVIS: Thomas Donnelly?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, look, Americans like me do believe that lots of parts of the world still are a Hobbesian world and not a Kantian world. If Saddam Hussein were controllable by Kantian means nobody would be more pleased about that than me and my colleagues.

MARK DAVIS: Let’s move beyond Saddam Hussein, which is where the world is heading now. What’s next, and what role does America play in it?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, that’s a very good question. I think one thing that we might agree on is that the past structure of the United Nations is out of sync with the power realities of the world. You may lament the fact of American might and you may be happy about that fact – but it is a fact. And part of the problem is to get international institutions in line both with political and moral realities. I differ very much from the Bush Administration and its presumption that we can sustain the peace that we’ve known for the past 10 years simply on an ad hoc basis done through coalitions of the willing. I do think it is necessary to have international institutions that can sustain this world to have the support of other nations in the world, yet I’m not willing to sacrifice our principles in order to achieve that. I do think it would be possible to reform the United Nations, to reshape NATO, for example, and to find other partners in the world who share our principles and share our agenda.

MARK DAVIS: You’ve written of the post-Cold War period, that it’s a testament to the futility of directly challenging the United States. That applies, I assume, to both American enemies and old allies like Europe and for that matter Australia.

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, the French have enjoyed something of an apparent victory in the United Nations and only time will tell how that will turn out.

MARK DAVIS: That’s a pretty harsh message to the world, isn’t it, that it is futile to resist?

THOMAS DONNELLY: Well, that puts it in rather stark terms.

MARK DAVIS: They’re your terms.

THOMAS DONNELLY: I don’t believe those are my precise words but I’m willing to argue the point at least for the sake of entertainment, if nothing else. Look, the French attempt to prevent us from removing Saddam Hussein from power has failed. Now the question is – in trying to put back together a decent international set of institutions, whether it’s going to go back to something that France would like, or is going to be more as we would like and as our closer allies – Australia and Great Britain – would prefer, whether international institutions are going to be institutions that sustain the status quo, which includes a world for Saddam Hussein and people like that, or whether it’s going to be a set of international institutions that promotes freedom and liberty.

MARK DAVIS: Gentlemen, we’ll have to leave it there – thanks for joining us.