FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Scholars Give Bush Foreign Policy a Failing Grade
October 14, 2004
Newark, Delaware — Over 725 foreign affairs specialists in the United States and allied countries have signed an open letter opposing the Bush administration’s foreign policy and calling urgently for a change of course.
The letter was released by „Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy,“ a nonpartisan group of experts in the field of national security and international politics.
The letter asserts that current U.S. foreign policy harms the cause of the struggle against extreme Islamist terrorists, pointing to a series of „blunders“ by the Bush team in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. „We’re advising the administration, which is already in a deep hole, to stop digging,“ said Professor Richard Samuels of M.I.T.
The scholars who signed the letter are from over 150 colleges and universities in 40 states, from California to Florida, Texas to Maine. They include many of the nation’s most prominent experts on world politics, including former staff members at the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council, as well as six of the last seven Presidents of the American Political Science Association and twelve former Presidents of the International Studies Association. „I think it is telling that so many specialists on international relations, who rarely agree on anything, are unified in their position on the high costs that the U.S. is incurring from this war,“ said Professor Robert Keohane of Duke University.
Though the experts „applaud the Bush Administration for its initial focus on destroying al-Qaida bases in Afghanistan,“ they quickly add that „its failure to engage sufficient U.S. troops to capture or kill the mass of al-Qaida fighters in the later stages of that war was a great blunder.“ „The early shift of U.S. focus to Iraq,“ they contend, „diverted U.S. resources, including special operations forces and intelligence capabilities, away from direct pursuit of the fight against the terrorists.“ They also fault the administration for sending an inadequate number of troops to Iraq to provide security, for ignoring its own plans for occupying Iraq, and for failing to spend most of the money appropriated for reconstruction.
In a stinging indictment, the letter argues that „The results of this policy have been overwhelmingly negative for U.S. interests.“ Citing a raft of recent books and articles on terrorism, they point out that polls show Osama bin Laden to be more popular in some countries than is President Bush, and conclude: „This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaida to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations.“
In addition to attacking the administration’s policies, the letter deplores the „distortion in the terms of public debate on foreign and national security policy.“ In separate comments, many of the signers described the letter as an effort to eliminate such distortions. According to Jack Snyder, a professor at Columbia University, „The vast majority of American experts on foreign policy have been saying all along that the Bush policy in Iraq is based on myths cut from whole cloth. It’s time for the media to let the American public in on this news.“ For example, the letter points out that „there was no credible evidence that Iraq assisted al-Qaida . . . Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons was negligible, and its nuclear weapons program virtually nonexistent.“ As Stuart Kaufman, a professor at the University of Delaware and the initiator of the effort, explained: „Even though most of these points are known to policy experts and journalists, polls show that many Americans have the wrong impression. We want to set the record straight.“
Many of the signers argue for a more thoughtful, nuanced foreign policy. „A wise national security strategy,“ said Avery Goldstein of the University of Pennsylvania, „demands more than toughness and persistence. It requires a grasp of vital interests, a realization that resources are inevitably limited, and a recognition that strong beliefs, sincere intentions, and great power alone do not ensure success.“ His colleague, Ian Lustick, was somewhat more blunt: „The American people can afford to indulge swagger over substance in some areas of our national life, but not in the area of national security. Americans are dying in Iraq for no attainable objective other than to minimize the damage done by being there. Al-Qaida and its ilk are too grave a danger to allow incompetence and ideology to trump sound judgment and the deft and successful use of national power.“ Peter Haas of the University of Massachusetts called for a fundamentally different approach focused on „constructive engagement with other countries.“ „The future of American diplomacy rests on restoring it to a sound footing which has been jeopardized by ill conceived and unwarranted adventurism in Iraq,“ he argued.
Moreover, insisted Professor Kaufman, these calls for realism are not just the opinions of impractical academics. Kaufman, who himself served on the National Security Council staff in the Clinton Administration, notes that „many of the signers have government experience, too.“ Currently serving government experts also seem to agree with the scholars‘ message. According to recent reporting by James Fallows in The Atlantic, a wide array of working-level government national security officials also assess that the war in Iraq has put back American efforts in the broader fight against terrorism, rather than advancing it.
As the debate over foreign policy heats up in this election year, these academics are intent on making their voices heard, putting the „public“ back into the role of public intellectuals.