by Timothy J. Lynch and Robert S. Singh. New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 396pp. Hardback. $28.00/£20.00. ISBN: 9780521880046. eBook format. $22.00. ISBN: 9780511402609.
Reviewed by Darren A. Wheeler, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of North Florida. Email: dwheeler [at] unf.edu.
It seems that people are rarely ambivalent when it comes to the policies of George W. Bush. Minds have been made up and many do not want to hear opposing viewpoints. Fortunately, one need not be convinced by Timothy Lynch and Robert Singh’s arguments in order to find something of value in their book, AFTER BUSH: THE CASE FOR CONTINUITY IN AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY. It lays out a provocative, compelling case for the authors’ positions without much of the hyperbole that is, unfortunately, often associated with much scholarship on the Bush administration and its policies in the War on Terror. It is thought-provoking and forces the reader to examine the Bush administration’s policies in the context of past US foreign policy and, perhaps more importantly, the contemporary international system. If Lynch and Singh are correct in their belief that “jihadist Islam” is “an existential threat of a generational nature” (p.259), then debating the assertions raised in this book will be obligatory for both academics and policy practitioners in the coming years.
Two key themes run throughout the book. First, the Bush Doctrine – the right to unilaterally and preemptively use force against potential threats to the United States – is not a radical departure from past American foreign policy but should be “better understood as a revision rather than a rejection of the dominant American foreign policy tradition” (p.17). As a result, the Bush Doctrine will survive far beyond George W. Bush’s departure from the Oval Office. Future administrations, argue Lynch and Singh, may adapt the Bush Doctrine, but they will not abandon it.
Second, the War on Terrorism, while admittedly unique in some important respects, is not the type of conflict that requires a completely different foreign policy blueprint for American action. Only incremental change is needed. This is because the current struggle with radical Islamic fundamentalism has much in common with the Cold War which pitted the ideologies of democracy and communism against one another. Lynch and Singh contend that many of the lessons learned in the Cold War can be successfully applied to the current struggle – the “Second Cold War on Islamist Terror.” For instance, this Second Cold War should be approached as a conflict that is generational in nature. For many, there was no foreseeable end to the Cold War in the 1950s, and many today wonder if/when the War on Terror will end. The sooner we treat this new threat as a conflict which may take decades to overcome, argue the authors, the sooner we will embrace tactics that will put the United [*710] States on the path to success.
While these are the two main arguments that the authors wish to convey, the book actually does quite a bit more than this. It reviews the case for an executive-centered view of national security and foreign policy, discusses both positive and negative critiques of the Bush administration’s War on Terror, defends its actions in Iraq, and assesses how this Second Cold War will impact US relations with numerous other countries. The sum total is a wide-ranging defense of the Bush administration’s foreign policy efforts and a discussion of the implications that such an approach will have for future US foreign policy.
In Chapter One, Lynch and Singh briefly review what they consider to be some of the fundamental components that have historically shaped US foreign policy (e.g., geography, ideology, security, trade) as they make the argument that the post-9/11 Bush administration foreign policy is largely consistent with the manner in which past presidents have conducted foreign policy. The Bush administration has been roundly criticized for “excessive” unilateralism abroad, yet the authors make the case that presidents have never hesitated to act unilaterally when they felt it was in the best interest of the United States. The idea that US foreign policy is one that blindly adheres to multilateralism or international law is one which is overblown.
Chapter Two lays out a strong argument – historical, functional, and constitutional – for the view that “presidential primacy is the central feature of the constitution of American national security” (p.82). Conceding at the outset that theirs is a minority opinion, the authors argue that the Constitution is really – quoting Corwin here – ‘an invitation to struggle for the privilege of driving foreign policy.’ This is a struggle in which the president has emerged as the dominant force. Lynch and Singh argue that the structure of the Constitution itself, the changeability of a “Living Constitution,” and the practice of the last fifty years all support the conclusion that the president has expansive national security and foreign affairs powers. Bush’s post-9/11 actions are entirely consistent, they conclude, with this approach to the Constitution and national security. If these arguments sound familiar they are. They are quite similar to John Yoo’s writings and Office of Legal Counsel Memoranda that have permeated the Bush administration since 9/11.
Chapters Three and Four review both the negative and positive “audits” of the Second Cold War on Islamist Terror. The criticisms are divided into three categories: conservative/realist, left-liberal, and ‘old European.’ There is nice coverage of the literature in this area though occasionally a little more depth would be helpful. Chapter Four contains a spirited defense of Bush administration policy initiatives in this Second Cold War, the war to “defeat terrorism of ‘global reach.’” The authors laud the administration’s combined application of “hard” and “soft” power abroad although their conclusion that civil liberties at home are “essentially unaltered” (p.117) is questionable.
In Chapter Five, Lynch and Singh tackle the criticisms that the conflict in Iraq is comparable to the conflict in Vietnam. [*711] From the outset, they reject this comparison. Iraq was a “necessary war” in part due to the “unsatisfactory” resolution of the 1991 Gulf War. They also include some brief statistical data to buttress their conclusion that, in terms of lives and money, the Iraq war has thus far been relatively cheap when compared with past military conflicts. It is in this chapter that readers can find one of the weaknesses that occasionally surfaces throughout the book. While the authors are quick to acknowledge that there are certainly major, justified, criticisms of the administration’s policy in Iraq, they are at times too quick to gloss over these criticisms in an attempt to advance their arguments in support of the Iraq war.
In Chapter Six, Lynch and Singh outline a strategy to win this Second Cold War in which we are currently engaged. The key to victory involves “successfully reforming the Middle East and assisting its peoples to reach a genuine and lasting reconciliation between the ‘non-negotiable demands of human dignity’ and the faith of Islam” (p.190). Democracy is an important component of this strategy as is bringing the seemingly insoluble Israeli-Palestinian question to some type of peaceful resolution. Their point-by-point recommendations are sure to provide any classroom with great discussion topics.
In Chapter Seven, Lynch and Singh look beyond Iraq and the Middle East to explore how US foreign policy in a Second Cold War should look with respect to a variety of different countries and organizations (e.g., Russia, China, ‘Old Europe’, NATO, the UN). Relations with all these countries and organizations should be based on a foreign policy grounded in a “democratic realism” that emphasizes international cooperation rather than international law. These individual country/organization summaries are necessarily brief and only give the reader a brief glimpse at the international dynamics that might result from the policy orientations advocated by the authors.
The authors reiterate one of the main themes of the book in Chapter Eight when they contend that “both at home and abroad the Bush approach has generated a consensus likely to endure” (p.257). After reviewing internal political divisions – liberal and conservative critiques – and alternative foreign policy visions, they conclude “A minority of Americans may reject the [Bush] Doctrine in substance, but the majority does not” (p.288). Many readers may blanch at this conclusion arguing that, while there may be a general consensus for fighting terrorists, there is not overwhelming support for the tactics (e.g., “enhanced” interrogation, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition) adopted by the Bush administration in this struggle.
This book would clearly be suitable for a graduate or advanced undergraduate class in American foreign policy and it could certainly be used in a class that covers global issues, the War on Terror, or perhaps even the presidency. As a caveat to those seeking “law” or “courts,” there is very little of either in this book. It is not a legal critique of the administration’s War on Terror policies. The book is not a difficult read but some rudimentary knowledge of international relations theory (e.g., realism, neo-liberalism) would help readers tease the [*712] most out of Lynch and Singh’s arguments (especially the material in Chapters Three and Seven). Bush foreign policy defenders are sometimes difficult to find in academia, and for this reason alone the book has value. It could easily be paired with any number of books critical of Bush administration policy to provide a nice point-counterpoint on the future direction of US foreign policy.
It is easy to identify the current Bush administration with the War on Terror. It is all we have known since 9/11. Still, the War on Terror/Second Cold War will continue even after the Bush administration has departed from office. How will American foreign policy change? This is an important question, one that should be examined apart from the personal animosity that drives so much of the discussion surrounding American foreign policy under President Bush. The ultimate goal should be the development of coherent, long-term policies that are grounded in American traditions and based on American national interests. AFTER BUSH is a useful book that can help facilitate the discussions needed to move us towards this goal.
© Copyright 2008 by the author, Darren A. Wheeler.