Friday, October 24, 2008

"America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11" by Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier

I read several chapters of the book America Between the Wars, a history of United States foreign policy from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 2001. The premise of the book is that 9/11 didn't really "change everything", but rather that the attacks that day finally focused American attention--not just the public, but the governing elite--on new realities which had been developing since the fall of Communism.

It is an interesting and worthwhile thesis, one which places the Balkan wars of the 1990s into a larger context. In the authors' opinion (which I share), the battle between internationalist/interventionists on one side and neo-isolationist/non-interventionists on the other defined this era, and the current debates over American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan must be viewed in the context of continuing the struggle from the immediate post-Cold War period.

The authors essentially view events strictly in that framework, so the Dayton agreement is considered a "success" since the war was ended through American leadership, and improved the Clinton administration's standing globally and domestically. Little to nothing is said about Bosnia itself. Kosova gets rather more attention, since the war was, after all, Clinton's from the get-go, and the authors spend more time examining some of the ambiguities of the entire operation.

Time being in short supply for me lately, I did not finish the book, but I was pleased to see that, at the very least, the authors connected the dots between American involvement in the Balkans in the 1990s and current debates over humanitarian intervention, multilateral versus unilateral international actions, the limits of state sovereignty, and so forth.


Anthony said...

I will take a look at this book (once I get some things off my "Books to read before I die" list). But I will say that I think isolationism and noninterventionism are not quite the same thing. I was something of a neo-Wilsonian when I was in college but then I began to drift toward non-interventionism. (9/11 changed stopped my drift for a while, but I have since continued drifting that way).

But I do not think it the same of isolationism. I do think the US has a role to play internationally, I just do not have much faith in most international institutions. FOr example, on Darfur, I have not had much hope for teh UN, and would have prefered that the US (and West) properly fund an African solution to the problem. Instead we have gotten a UN "peace keeping" force that is undermaned and will do nothing.

I will try and discuss this a bit more on my blog, when I get to it.

Kirk Johnson said...

These are fair points, Anthony, and I concede that lumping isolationism and non-interventionism together is casting the net rather wide. Still, as a practical matter the two tendencies complimented each other well in Bosnia. But you are correct to note that there is a real, and significant, distinction between the two.

I also lack faith in international organizations such as the UN (I doubt that I need to educate you about the shameful role it played in Bosnia), but I am not so sure that we should reject the ideal of international cooperation because the tool is so flawed. Perhaps we need a better tool

I hesitate to endorse your suggestion of funding an "African solution" for two reasons. One, the African Union hasn't shown a whole lot of spine, leadership, or moral clarity on this issue. Secondly (and I realize this is not your intention), such a solution smacks of "Africa isn't worth risking non-African troops for." Like it or not, the UN is involved in troubled spots all over the globe--what message does it send to conclude that an African situation is Africa's problem to solve while situations in other countries merit concern from the entire international community?

That said--good points, and thanks for you input.

Anonymous said...

Big problems in Congo with reports of UN peace-keeping helicopters firing on Nkunda forces marching on Goma, people in Goma rioting outside UN offices saying UN is not doing enough to protect them, new UN commander Gen. Diaz has resigned after 20 days "for personal reasons" but there seems to have been an argument about inadequate troop numbers. The Security Council is supposed to be meeting to decide something.

Anthony, I guess I agree with Kirk that it's probably "better than nothing". The West have been let off the hook of having to do something effective in Darfur by the UN presence, but it's hard to see how they could have intervened on Darfur with African Union support in the face of Sudanese Govt opposition other than with a UN mandate.