- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

The split in Republican ranks over whether to invade Iraq represents themes that are both old and new in the party's foreign policy. Though Ronald Reagan dominates the popular image of the GOP, historically the party's leaders have had a disdain for the costs of world leadership and an aversion to power politics. These traits were most apparent in the "no more land wars in Asia" school that followed Korea and Vietnam.

In 1953, the Eisenhower administration told the military to think in terms of "greater reliance upon our allies for the provision of indigenous forces, particularly ground forces" while the U.S. concentrated on more "bang for the buck" nuclear weapons as a deterrent. In 1969, President Nixon said that in future crises, "we shall look to the nation directly threatened to assume the primary responsibility for providing the manpower for its defense" with the U.S. only providing support with air and naval forces.

Yet, the reason Washington had sent large armies to Korea and Vietnam and would do so again in the Gulf, was precisely because local allies could not match the onslaught of better armed neighbors who were not deterred by "over the horizon" threats.

But this reluctance for overseas involvement extended even to popular wars than ended in victory. The first Bush administration not only failed to march on Baghdad, it rushed the troops home before disarming Iraq. Then, in pursuit of a post-Cold War peace dividend, Army force levels were sliced by more than a third from what had been built up under President Reagan, sending a clear message that America was not preparing for any new (or renewed) conflicts.

The current Bush administration still suffers from the GOP's traditional reluctance to deploy ground troops or engage in "nation-building" to convert defeated enemies into allies. There are persistent reports that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld still wants to make major cuts in American ground forces, perhaps eliminating one or two Army divisions and canceling weapons programs.

War is about politics, the governing of land and people. Precision-guided weapons make for wonderful television, but technology is not strategy and wars are about more than just blowing things up. When the smoke clears, it still takes "boots on the ground" to gain a victory that really matters by creating a postwar order that is better than that which provoked the war.

There is thus something of a mismatch between Bush administration defense budget calculations and the doctrine of "decisive warfare" advocated by Mr. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Decisive warfare is defined as the ability to march on an enemy's capital and impose fundamental political change. In Iraq, this means overthrowing Saddam Hussein as the only sure way of stopping Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism.

It is this goal of removing the Iraqi regime that has sparked the latest wave of criticism from "conservative" notables like Brent Scowcroft, Lawrence Eagleburger, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey, Texas Republican. Their concept of "realism" has an ideological foundation. They are from the "economic" or more precisely the "business" wing of the GOP. This wing has been ascendant since the end of the Cold War when a supposed "new world order" was born in which global economic integration would bring stability and peace, making the kind of geopolitical analysis and military preparations favored by the national security wing of the GOP obsolete.

The buzz word for this vision was "engagement," and it was to be applied everywhere from China to Cuba. Even Iraq was to be brought onboard, with an early push by Secretary of State Colin Powell to lift many of the economic sanctions on Baghdad and provide more oil money to Saddam's regime for "civilian" use. The "smart sanctions" agreement Assistant Secretary of State John Wolf signed in Moscow last March 29 was a step toward the $40 billion economic cooperation deal Russia and Iraq are reported close to finalizing.

The idea of purposeful regime change, especially by the use of military force, is a direct threat to the very foundations of the "engagement" doctrine.

Republicans are more vulnerable to this appeal than even New Democrats like Bill Clinton, because of the undue influence that classical liberal notions have on modern conservative thought. The British Conservatives suffered a similar split in the 1930s when faced with Adolf Hitler. Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain were both members of the Conservative Party, but represented very different principles.

Chamberlain was, in the words of realist scholar Kenneth W. Thompson "the archetype of bourgeois conservatism [which] is derived from a decaying liberalism." In his day, engagement was called appeasement. Churchill was, in contrast, a "classical conservative" heir to a long tradition of state-centered power politics and unending rivalry among nations. Mr. Thompson's conclusion is that Churchill's "Tory tradition having suffered less disillusionment and dismay over the abrupt and violent reappearance of barbarism and violence, was better able to meet the threat by organizing resources of power against predatory foes."

As shown by his resolute actions since September 11, President Bush is a Churchillian by instinct. He must hold to the old Tory view of a divided and dangerous world as being the more realistic assumption on which to base policy. He must act against evil-doers like Saddam Hussein before they pose the kind of threat Winston Churchill had to clean up after the failure of Neville Chamberlain.


William R. Hawkins is senior fellow for national security studies at the U.S. Business and Industry Council.

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