No ‘sig­nif­i­cant threat’ from al-Qaida

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion did not see al-Qaida as a sig­nif­i­cant threat. It was another ir­ri­tant, a ter­ror­ist group that could cause prob­lems, but not change the di­rec­tion of his­tory. It also saw Rus­sia as a closed is­sue. In spite of the cat­a­strophic decade it had ex­pe­ri­enced, the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion did not be­lieve Rus­sia would emerge as a strate­gic chal­lenger, but would rather set­tle into its role as a lib­eral democ­racy. As for China, in­creased global in­te­gra­tion would sim­ply in­crease its pros­per­ity, and that pros­per­ity would lib­er­alise China.

Three beliefs were at work. The first was that we had en­tered an era in which noth­ing would dis­rupt eco­nomic growth. The sec­ond was that with eco­nomic growth, the world would be in­creas­ingly lib­eral. The third was that in­creased lib­er­al­ism would lead to in­ter­na­tional har­mony and no one would want to dis­rupt it. As a re­sult, the rise of alQaida was not seen as the over­rid­ing is­sue, and ex­treme mea­sures for de­stroy­ing it were not used.

Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush ac­cepted the core con­cepts be­hind this for­eign pol­icy. In an odd way, 9/11 did not change the foun­da­tions of Amer­i­can na­tional strat­egy. As shock­ing as the 9/11 at­tacks were, the fight against al-Qaida, though cen­tral, did not change the fun­da­men­tal as­sump­tions about how the world worked. Eco­nomic growth and in­te­gra­tion re­mained at the cen­tre, the strug­gle was built around a coali­tion and wag­ing war in some way co­in­cided with the concept of hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tions. The coali­tion be­came strained, to say the least. The war in­ten­si­fied and the hu­man­i­tar­ian di­men­sion col­lided with the re­al­ity of warfight­ing, but the beliefs re­mained that there were no peer pow­ers threat­en­ing the United States and that global eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion was not in­com­pat­i­ble with an ex­pand­ing war in the Is­lamic world.

There was another di­men­sion. Hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism and the be­lief in coali­tions caused the United States to take a strange stance to­ward al­lies. The com­mit­ment to lib­eral democ­racy was as deep among lib­eral hu­man­i­tar­i­ans as neo­con­ser­va­tives. Both would wage war for it, and both would de­mand al­lies ad­here to it. There­fore, the coali­tion shrank not only be­cause of de­fec­tions, but equally from ex­pul­sions of na­tions the United States needed as al­lies, but

that did not mea­sure up to its stan­dards. in other the­aters, and this was no longer a lux­ury the U.S. could af­ford, not in com­pe­ti­tion with Rus­sian and Chi­nese power and in­ter­ests.

Hil­lary Clin­ton is an in­ter­ven­tion­ist, but her in­ter­ven­tion­ism was shaped by Bill Clin­ton’s time in of­fice, when each in­ter­ven­tion was sep­a­rate, none were linked to re­gional crises, and none af­fected the global bal­ance. Driven partly by the concept of hu­man­i­tar­ian in­ter­ven­tion and partly by a mis­read­ing of Amer­i­can power to re­shape coun­tries, Libya re­sulted. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s sup­port of the Libya in­ter­ven­tion be­lies a world­view of a strate­gic re­al­ity that no longer ex­isted. In the same sense, her eco­nomic un­der­stand­ing of the world pre-dated 2008. It was based on the as­sump­tion that eco­nom­ics and Amer­i­can val­ues were more im­por­tant than po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary mat­ters and on the as­sump­tion that pros­per­ity and in­te­gra­tion were part of the same process.

When we think of Hil­lary Clin­ton as speak­ing for the es­tab­lish­ment, it is not wrong, but it is in­suf­fi­cient. The es­tab­lish­ment, which did bril­liantly from the early 1980s un­til 2008, has failed to ad­just to the new re­al­ity. Its ide­ol­ogy, business mod­els and ex­pec­ta­tions of how the world works have not adapted to the new re­al­ity it had cre­ated. This is not sur­pris­ing. It is the way things work.

Hil­lary Clin­ton gives ev­ery in­di­ca­tion that she still thinks the post-Cold War is tat­tered but can be re­deemed. Some peo­ple be­lieved in the League of Na­tions and the Congress of Vi­enna long af­ter they had ceased to ex­ist in any mean­ing­ful way. As a tac­ti­cian she may un­der­stand this, do­ing things dif­fer­ently on a case-by-case ba­sis. But as a strate­gist, she does not see a strate­gic shift hav­ing taken place. It is dif­fi­cult to aban­don a world you thought per­ma­nent, even when that world is gone. And this will be the dif­fi­cult part of a Hil­lary Clin­ton pres­i­dency. She is dis­ci­plined and co­her­ent, but that turns out to be her trap.

To un­der­stand her dilemma, imag­ine a die-hard Cold War­rior try­ing to func­tion in the post-Cold War world or some­one com­mit­ted to Ver­sailles deal­ing with Hitler and Stalin. They would have no point of ref­er­ence. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s chal­lenge will be to ad­just, strate­gi­cally and in her soul, to this world. The re­al­ity of the world has shifted. Don­ald Trump has failed to un­der­stand the key re­al­ity of pol­i­tics. Your en­e­mies are at least as tough and ruth­less as you are. The test for Hil­lary Clin­ton, if she wins, is whether she will un­der­stand that on the broad­est level pos­si­ble.

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