"The Axis of Evil and the Doctrine of Preemption Three Years On"

Jerod and I attended a lecture by Brookings Institution fellow Michael O'Hanlon last night at Park University in Parkville, MO. The lecture was part of the Jerzy Hauptmann Distinguished Guest Lecture series. As a Park University M.B.A. alum, I received an invitation to the 13th annual lecture in the series. I like going to events like this, especially since I was interested in the content of this particular lecture, of which the title was the title of this post.

Dr. O'Hanlon described himself as a Sam Nunn Democrat at the beginning of the lecture. It's always difficult to prevent political feeling from entering into objective analysis, and I don't know how you measure the "objectiveness" of analysis, but I feel that most Brookings scholars are at least "fair", and Dr. O'Hanlon was no exception. His analysis of the doctrine of preemption was focused on the effectiveness of the doctrine, as opposed to any moral righteousness or implications of the doctrine. And, of course, his conclusion was somewhat ambiguous. How could it not be when success and failure are measurements that mean different things to different people? At the risk of oversimplifying his complex analysis, his conclusions boiled down to this grading scale:

Effectiveness of the doctrine of preemption:
Libya--Effective. Here, he gave the Bush administration considerable credit for the forfeiture of Libya's nuclear weapons program.
Syria--Somewhat effective, but less effective now than in the past when Syria was "shaking in its boots."
Iran--Somewhat ineffective.
Iraq--Too soon to tell. He argued that Iraq is a unique case since it is the only country where the doctrine was directly applied, although he called Iraq a "preventitive" war rather than a "preemptive" war. He acknowledged that the semantics sometimes seems like splitting hairs, but the terms do have vastly different connotations and implications.
North Korea--Ineffective and damaging. The N. Koreans know that China and S. Korea oppose the U.S.'s N. Korea policy, and Kim Jong Il is exploiting this gap.

The lecture was only about 40 minutes long, so he did not have time to discuss any of the above cases in great detail. However, as a reader of Barnett, I was particularly interested in his analysis of Iran and North Korea. Only three questions were permitted during the official Q&A time, which was disappointing to me. However, I managed to make my way to him after the lecture for a private question. I had been wanting to ask him about his thoughts on Barnett. Paraphrased, this is what I asked him and what he answered:

Eric: Dr. O'Hanlon, I'm sure you are familiar with Tom Barnett's book, The Pentagon's New Map. I'd like you to comment on two specific points that Barnett has made. Specifically, Barnett argues that Iran is in a similar situation to the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. He suggests that the mullahs are in less of a position of authority than people realize. In his terms, he says that the mullahs pretend to be in power, and that the people pretend to obey them. He argues that Iran is a key player for peace in the Middle East, and that we should not allow their pursuit of the bomb, or our opposition to their form of government, to prevent us from co-opting them in our fight against terrorism in the region. Furthermore, Barnett offers the option of "renegotiating" our defence agreement of Taiwan, since China is the key player that could help us diffuse the North Korean crisis. What is your reaction to Barnett, who favors more of a cooperative approach with Iran and Korea than the doctrine of preemption would seem to allow?

Dr. O'Hanlon: I commend Barnett for offering new solutions, but I respectfully disagree with his analysis of Iran, and I think that ending our defense guarantee for Taiwan will never happen realistically. However, we could and should try to influence the Taiwanese not to make things worse by pushing buttons at this time in history. We could let them know that we will guarantee their defense, but if they foolishly declare independence, we may not show up until day 50, in which time their economy will be wrecked. As for Iran, I think that Barnett's view of the situation is overly optimistic. I hope he is right, and I am wrong, but the Iran is moving away from democracy, continues to support terrorism and is quite openly developing nuclear weapons.

I hope that I did not misrepresent Barnett's views, or Dr. O'Hanlon's response. I've written my interpretation of both. My personal belief tends more toward the optimistic view of Barnett, if for no other reason than it represents fresh ideas.

In the end, Dr. O'Hanlon did not seem to be a gigantic fan of the preemptive doctrine. Then again, for this particular lecture, his purpose was not to criticize the doctrine, but to analyze its effectiveness. He gave credit to the Bush Administration for several key victories, and was critical of it in other areas. I'd like to read a few of Dr. O'Hanlon's books.


Sean said…
are you clear on the fact that Barnett favors a military takedown of Korea akin to our takedown of Saddam? he wants it to be in cooperation with the other 'six parties', especially China, and this is where we cooperate with China and get out of bed with Taiwan. the only way he wants us to 'defuse' the Korean crisis (you've got a homonym ('diffuse') in your post there ;-) is by 'defusing' Kim Jong Il and his son.

O'Hanlon's entitled to his opinion. like you, i'm sticking with Tom on Iran and China. we really need to get together with these nations. we need a solid player in the Middle East and China's going to become the next great power. preemption with them is not an option we even want to have to consider. many of us are squeamish about working closely with 'non-democracies', but the practical needs and emerging future realities demand it. besides, connectivity does amazing things, as we have already seen with Russia and China. if we can play a little ball with some of these 'non-democracies', some kind of both democracy and free-market capitalism will almost certainly break out.

i'm obviously in favor of Tom's version of preemption, which would say you only preempt in the case of politically bankrupt Gap nations, with the approval/endorsement of the UN Security Council and the G20, and with a coalition of partners (especially for the reconstruction).

need any more of my opinion? ;-)
Eric said…
Those dang homonyms!! Spell-Checker is no help with them :)

Anyway, thanks for offering your opinion, Sean. As you are a "closer" reader of Barnett than I, I was hoping that you would provide some feedback.

The way I see it is that Barnett feels that China's cooperation is vital to any attack on N. Korea. And, the benefits to the U.S. of deposing Kim Jong Il outweigh the benefits to the U.S. of guaranteeing Taiwan's defense. O'Hanlon feels that we must support Taiwan because its a democracy. However, I tend to Barnett's view that this "support" should not offset any potential benefits that we could gain by cooperating with China to, among other things, replace Kim Jong Il.

My biggest beef with preemption is from a moral perspective, because I feel that preemption can be misused so easily. We can always say that someone was "going" to attack us, but how do we ever know? It is too subjective, in my humble opinion. Better to have broad international agreement unless the missles are in the air and on their way to the U.S. Otherwise, we have the ridiculous situation that we now find ourselves, where other countries are more afraid of the U.S. than they are of true agressors, because all of the sudden the U.S. is perceived as an agressor.

There is no reason not to work with countries that are "non-democracies" when the benefits of cooperation outweight the costs. Like Tom, I feel that some of these countries are less "non-democratic" than they appear on the surface. We have no trouble cooperating with Pakistan, led by a general that took over in a military coup and continues to govern in an autocratic fashion. In fact, we've cooperated with non-democracies throughout our history. Now is not a good time to stop.
Sean said…
i think Tom would rank the emerging Chinese economy as the number one reason to get closer to them.

2nd, i think, would be taking down Kim, and not just for our interests. Tom talks a lot about how Kim has oppressed his own people, very similarly to Saddam.

Tom would say we shouldn't make 'democracy' the zero-sum criterion for involvement. want to look out for US interests? develop a good and growing relationship with China.

yes, the moral issue: we've seen the 'terrorism excuse' caught up by governments from Israel to (most recently) Cuba. we have given nations a quasi-carte blanche (if there is such a thing) for military action.

broad international agreement are what the UNSC and G20 are supposed to be for. we're the ones who keep the irresistible force. Tom says we don't use it offensively without broad international agreement.

we should work with 'non-democracies'. indeed, Tom would say our working with them, 'connecting' with them, is the best way to make them into democracies. i think he would say China's involvement with the WTO and the WHO have had more good influence than any sanctions we could dream up.
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