Back in 2000, when Condoleezza Rice published her prescriptions for future US foreign policy in the influential Foreign Affairs magazine, we could perhaps have forgiven the soon-to-be US national security adviser for laying out a strategic blueprint that would later be partly responsible for the calamities that have become synonymous with the administration of US President George W. Bush.
After all, her article had been written before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that purportedly “changed” the world, and everything that followed, from the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 to that of Iraq in 2003.
Eight years have passed since that article was published, and once again Rice, now as secretary of state, is gracing the pages of the magazine (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2008), where she makes the argument for a “new American realism.”
In light of the disastrous eight years of the Bush administration, one would expect that Rice’s paradigms would have changed to reflect a humbler stance on her country’s policies abroad. Instead, her article is infuriating in its failure to grasp the extent of US deficiencies in foreign policy and, if applied, is a prescription for decades of costly failure.
Rather than a new departure, “Rethinking the National Interest” perpetuates the longstanding US policy, first implemented in the early 1940s, of hegemonism through a mixture of democratization abroad, US-led security alliances like NATO, and the expansion of the US military to every corner of the planet to act as a “stabilizing” force as part of a “global counterinsurgency” to forge a “democratic path.”
It is a policy grounded in American exceptionalism that brooks no opposition and leaves no room for other models of governance. American values are assumed to be universally applicable, and when they are not, the US is expected to shape the world — often through the use of force — to make it fit the model. It is a philosophy based on the theory that democracy and liberal capitalism abroad ensures security at home.
Rather than explain why it is so — it reinforces the US “Open Door” policy of equal access to all markets, and, as it expands, further integrates the world into a global economic system that benefits the US — Rice argues that the US must “bring” democracy abroad because it is the right thing to do.
“What real alternative worthy of America is there?” she asks, as if competing models of governance somehow had to “pass” the American test and be worthy of it.
While ostensibly accommodating to China and Russia, Rice’s blueprint for future relations with those states has at its core the magnetism of NATO, which, as it continues to take in new members, is increasingly encroaching on areas that have historically been of strategic interest, or “spheres of influence,” for Moscow.
The Atlantic alliance’s expansion, along with plans for the deployment of a missile defense shield in Europe, has embittered Russia, which for good reasons feels encircled and isolated in its own backyard. Still, Rice sees Moscow’s recalcitrance as unreasonable, as if the US should be given carte blanche to do as it sees fit, even when it involves areas that, for economic and security reasons, are of interest to regional states.
Rice also fails to note that NATO expansion has pushed Moscow and Beijing closer together, partly out of a desire to counterbalance what they perceive as US hegemony in Eurasia. This could also explain why Beijing, aware of the congealing effect NATO has had in Europe, has been reluctant to allow the US to participate in, or become a member of, nascent regional security organizations in East Asia.