American Presidents are often maligned for their rhetoric. U.S. leaders’ words are not to be trusted: they will use whatever language allows them pander, to bluster, even to deceive their audiences. Yet as Ronald R. Krebs demonstrates in this impressive new work, presidential rhetoric is far from cheap. Indeed, it lies at the core of national security politics: under the right conditions, a leader’s rhetoric tells the public a story about national security, in the process creating a narrative that shapes the president’s understanding of the political world, and lays the foundation for grand strategy.
Tag: national security
In Democracy Promotion, National Security and Strategy: Foreign Policy under the Reagan Administration, Robert Pee explores the United States’ attempts to promote democracy abroad during the Reagan administration. The title of Pee’s book captures a central challenge Washington faced with this issue not only during the 1980s but also throughout the Cold War after 1945. Security considerations frequently clashed with efforts to promote democracy, representative government, and human rights versus authoritarian regimes that were allied with the U.S. around the globe. After an overview of the emergence of democracy promotion and its relationship to U.S. Cold War policies under containment and a discussion of problems that disrupted cooperation between Washington and private groups as well as a decline in support for modernization as an effective solution, Pee focuses on debate within the Reagan administration on how to integrate the promotion of democracy with U.S. foreign policy goals, most notably the perception of increased challenges of communism aided by the Soviet Union spreading in the Southern hemisphere. In several chapters Pee explores the debate within the Reagan administration over how to respond to issues such as the effort by the Polish government in 1981 to ban the Solidarity labor movement and whether the effort to promote democracy should be aimed at reinforcing Washington’s national-security goal of challenging the Soviet Union and regimes identified as Communist allies of Moscow from Fidel Castro’s Cuba to the new Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and the Soviet- and Cuban-backed government in Angola.
In “NSA: National Security vs. Indivdiual Rights,” Amitai Etzioni examines a challenging set of questions surrounding the existence of National Security Agency’s (NSA) clandestine data collection programs including whether the threat to national security justify them, whether the programs are effective, to what extent they may violate the privacy of Americans, whether such programs are in line with the Constitution and laws, and whether there is sufficient accountability of oversight of these programs.
From the very beginning of the nation’s history, intelligence has been set aside as a conspicuous exception to James Madison’s advocacy of checks-and-balances, spelled out in his Federalist Paper No. 51. The ‘auxiliary precautions’ that this key participant at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (and later America’s fourth President) — the safeguards he had helped build into the Constitution — were never applied to America’s secret intelligence activities. It has been the norm around the world for nations to treat their intelligence services as something special and apart from the rest of government. These agencies wear a cloak of secrecy, have unique access to decision-makers, and are given considerable leeway to carry out their duties without the usual review (in democracies at least) of programs, personnel, and budgets by overseers in the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. A nation’s leaders were expected to avert their eyes as the secret services broke laws overseas (a routine occurrence) and engaged in unsavory activities, even assassinations and coups d’état, that would be deemed highly inappropriate for other government agencies.
The past decade has seen a renewal of interest in the international history of the 1920s. This interest is apparent in what might be called traditional state-centred studies of international politics. But it is also evident in the burgeoning scholarship on international and transnational movements and organizations, many of which were not (or not simply) state actors. The recent surge of work on the League of Nations offers a prominent example: once viewed as a failed inter-state security institution, the League is now portrayed as a dynamic, innovative, and multi-faceted experiment in international governance that drew into its orbit both state and non-state actors.
One of the perennial questions of the nuclear age is ‘How Much is Enough?’ In the late 1950’s, Admiral Arleigh Burke and the U.S. Navy argued that the American arsenal could be much smaller than the massive one that had been created over the course of the decade. The Navy position, which came to be known as one of ‘minimum’ or ‘finite’ deterrence, never prevailed during the Cold War; the American nuclear arsenal during the Cold War contained over 30,000 warheads by the late 1960’s. In his thoughtful and provocative new book, Tom Nichols argues that the time for the adoption of a minimum deterrent posture is now. Despite the large reductions in the American arsenal since the end of the Cold War, Nichols argues that further reductions in the size of that arsenal are long overdue. In his view, the 1550 warheads provided for by the ‘New Start’ treaty can and should be reduced much further.
The community of national security scholars benefits whenever Richard K. Betts publishes a new article or book, because his work is consistently well researched, gracefully written, thoughtful, and provocative. I find this work to be no exception and said so on the jacket cover when the book was published. The distinguished reviewers gathered here agree that Betts has produced another worthy volume, although some are disappointed at what they see as an overly shrill tone in some chapters. One of the most remarkable aspects of this book is that Betts emerges as an avowed dove—sort of—after a long history of sounding rather hawkish (although never extreme). Betts in fact refers to himself in the preface as a Cold War hawk, now converted into a post-Cold War dove—even if, he tells us, this “recent dovishness is of a crusty sort” (xi).
The U.S. intelligence failures associated with 9/11 and with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction generated renewed interest in the question of intelligence failure, the study of which had been disproportionately influenced by the study of the failures at Pearl Harbor, Barbarossa, and Yom Kipper. The Iraqi WMD case in particular focused more attention on the question of the politicization of intelligence, an age-old problem but one that had been neglected in studies of the classic cases. The subsequent scholarly literature has focused on the policy question of the proper relationship between intelligence and policy, and on the causal questions of where and when politicization is most likely to occur and the role it plays in the processes leading to intelligence failure.
International crises often give rise to commissions designed to assess the origins of the crises and to generate reforms that might improve American foreign and defense policies. Jordan Tama’s exceptional study assesses the impact of fifty-one Congressional and Executive commissions established between 1961 and 2006 that focused on issues of national security and terrorism.
My copy of Julian Zelizer’s book Arsenal of Democracy arrived in the mail at about the same time late in 2009 that Barack Obama gave his address at West Point expanding U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. Obama had inherited the war, and his choices ranged from bad to worse. But the one he selected, a middle-course option that would send 30,000 additional troops and called for removing them in eighteen months, was difficult to comprehend if the geopolitical stakes in Afghanistan were really as high he claimed they were. It was hard for me to see how an increase of that size, even if accompanied by a boost in NATO troops, could really do the job in the vast and forbidding Afghan terrain. By announcing a deadline, moreover, the president signaled to anti-American forces in Afghanistan (and Pakistan) that they could count on a U.S. withdrawal in 2011 and hence could bide their time until then.