This book joins dozens of others that have been written over the past two years with the goal of subjecting President George W. Bush’s foreign policy to critical scrutiny. Clyde Prestowitz’s objections are often justified—notably on the Middle East—and stated with clarity. His recommended remedies reflect a strong One World liberal bias, however, while failing to make a useful contribution to the necessary and long-overdue debate on the purpose, use, and limits of American power.
Rogue Nation—a title the author admits to be deliberately provocative—is an indictment of the present administration for “soft imperialism” and in-your-face unilateralism. In the aftermath of September 11—when Le Monde proclaimed “Nous sommes tous Améri-cains”—Mr. Bush missed an opportunity, Prestowitz claims, to “come to reason together” with his European partners and to cooperate in the creation of “a new, better, world order.” The United States opted for a quest for supremacy instead, and the President’s West Point speech in June 2002 marked the adoption of a radical new doctrine of preemption and global dominance.
Prestowitz admits that national egoism is a natural impulse that has guided the foreign policies of powers great and small for centuries, but he contends that the haughtiness and arrogance of the present national-security team are detrimental even in terms of an enlightened, if amoral, self-interest. The assumption that “they need us more than we need them,” he contends, should not be made so openly even if it were true—which, Prestowitz argues, it is not. He perceives the same assumption behind Washington’s contempt for the United Nations, its abandonment of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, its pursuit of a National Missile Defense system, its refusal to ratify the Kyoto Agreement on Global Warming and to accept the International Criminal Court, its ambivalence toward a “one-China” policy, and its imposition of protective tariffs on steel imports.
Prestowitz is right to lament the attack on the international order established by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, but he is wrong to blame Bush for its undoing. That was accomplished by Bill Clinton’s doctrine of “humanitarian intervention” and its use to justify the U.S.-led attack on Serbia in March 1999. Prestowitz’s account of Clinton’s interventions in Bosnia and in Kosovo is sketchy and flawed: Far from being “hopelessly unable to cope with the situation,” as he contends, the European Union was repeatedly on the verge of brokering peace-saving agreements (notably over Bosnia in Lisbon in early 1992 and in Geneva in late 1993) only to see its efforts subverted by the likes of Warren Zimmermann and Richard Holbrooke. The set-up at Rambouillet that preceded the Kosovo war was another example of the cold-blooded mendacity of Bill Clinton’s foreign policy that escapes Clyde Prestowitz’s censure.
A remarkable feature of the book is its authorial silence on the nature and magnitude of the Islamic threat to Western interests and the Western way of life. (Islam does not even figure in the book’s Index; dozens of other movements and issues do, however, from abortion to water.) The sense of alienation felt by America’s erstwhile friends in the Arab world is treated in passing; but can it be explained solely in terms of Washington’s passionate attachment to its “unsinkable aircraft carrier”? Would the problem of global Islamic militancy vanish, or significantly diminish, if the United States adopted a more evenhanded course in the Middle East? We are not told—a glaring omission in a book that aspires to offer diagnostic tools, as well as authoritative advice, to the decisionmaking community.
Prestowitz’s softness on Islam is curious and telling, considering that Mahathir Muhammad, former prime minister of Malaysia, pays a lavish compliment to this book, calling it essential reading “[a]t this critical time in America’s relations with the Muslim world.” This same Dr. Mahathir received a standing ovation at last year’s Organization of Islamic Conference summit when he urged Muslims everywhere to promote science and technology—not in order to make their own cars, air conditioners, or computers but to produce their own “guns and rockets, bombs and warplanes, tanks and warships.” Prestowitz mentions both Mahathir and Malaysia approvingly several times but omits Mahathir’s proclamation of Malaysia as an Islamic state (September 2001) and his declaration in parliament (June 2002) that Malaysia had been mistakenly identified as a “moderate” Islamic state rather than the fundamentalist Islamic state she is proud to be! The reason for Prestowitz’s leniency seems to be that he needs Malaysia as an example that some Muslims, somewhere, are capable of reform, progress, and economic development. In reality, Malaysia is not a “Muslim” country at all but a multiethnic, multireligious state in which the Malays, who are Muslim, control the government and systematically discriminate against non-Muslims.
Prestowitz detects the seeds of the imperial impulse in the duality of the American character, embodied in the adventurers who went to Virginia with John Smith and the Puritans who went to Massachusetts with John Winthrop. He claims detachment from both; he exhibits, however, a utopian longing for the time when “we once defined our national interest in terms the whole world could embrace, as witnessed by our support for strong global institutions, due process, and the rule of law.”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Prestowitz’s book is his insistence that he is a “true conservative.” The claim is silly: On each and every significant world issue—with the exception of Israel—Presto-witz advocates policies indistinguishable from the views of leading Democrats. He could have penned John Kerry’s speech in support of a “multilateral cooperative tradition of democratic internationalism forged in the course of two world wars and the cold war,” in contrast to the dangerous mix of isolationism and unilateralism that characterizes the Republicans. While Prestowitz lambasts neoconservative grandomania, he glosses over Madeleine Albright’s idiotic dictum that, “if we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”
No conservative, of whatever shade or shape, can support—as Prestowitz does—the concept of global justice embodied in the International Criminal Court, a monstrosity that claims universal jurisdiction to try individuals charged with “crimes against humanity” anywhere in the world. Such assertions of authority and jurisdiction are clearly contrary to the U.S. Constitution and American law. Prestowitz does not know, or perhaps care, that the ICC has no intention of limiting its jurisdiction to genocide or “human rights” as conventionally understood. Its advocates already seek to criminalize “enforced pregnancy,” defined as the denial of the right of a woman to obtain an abortion—a new crime against humanity. And no conservative could write a book on world affairs and globalization that completely fails to assess the effect of collapsing birthrates among Europeans and their transoceanic offspring or the parallel invasion of their lands by untold millions of Third World immigrants.
Neither Prestowitz’s multilateralism nor the neoconservative Republican uni-lateralism he criticizes can help us define policies that will enable America to remain secure and free, while ceasing to threaten the security and freedom of others. These goals are inseparable from the preservation of this nation’s identity and liberty at home, and this is the crucial point Prestowitz fails to address. Hence, perhaps, the ringing endorsement of Rogue Nation as “a compelling analysis of the current geopolitical situation and America’s role in the world” from that noted “philanthropist” George Soros. With such illustrious friends, this book needs no detractors.
[Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions, by Clyde Prestowitz (New York: Basic Books) 328 pp., $26.00]