Posting that column last night — the one from 9/23/01 — I realized that I had forgotten to post something else a week earlier.
When I shared with you the hasty column I wrote for the “extra” we put out on 9/11, and the one I turned around immediately and wrote for the next day, I had fully intended also to share a more important piece from several days later — the editorial I wrote for that following Sunday. But the 16th of this month came and went, and I failed to do that.
So I share it now. Being an editorial (an institutional, rather than personal opinion) and being a Sunday piece (when newspapers take a step back from immediate events, and also when they tend to express the views they regard as being of greatest import), it’s different from the other pieces. Less of my voice and style, more formalized. But at the same time, for the purposes of this blog, it also has perhaps greater value as a clear expression of my own views of what the nation should do going forward.
In it, I expressed views I had long held, and still hold, but they were sharpened and set into relief by the events of that week.
Spoiler alert: Basically, this piece is about a couple of things. The first is the need for re-engagement in the world, after a growing isolationism that had worried me all through the 90s. With notable exceptions — our involvement in the Balkans, for instance — we had become more insular, more preoccupied with our own amusements as a fat, happy nation. Up to that point, I had objected on the basis that when you are the world’s richest and most powerful nation (indisputable after the fall of the USSR), it is morally wrong to turn your back on the world, like a rich man behind the walls of his gated community. What 9/11 did was add to that the fact that such disengagement was positively dangerous.
The other main point is something I later learned an interesting term for: DIME, for “Diplomatic,” “Information,” “Military” and “Economic.” Actually, that’s not quite it, either. The DIME term refers to ways of exerting power, and that it certainly part of it, but not all of it. Another piece of the concept I was talking about was what you often hear referred to as “soft power.” Unfortunately, that is often mistakenly expressed as an alternative to “hard power.” But they complement each other. A unipolar power trying to achieve all of its goals through either alone is doomed to fail, ultimately.
No, I have to go back to the earlier, vaguer term: Engagement. On every level you can think of — diplomatic, cultural, mercantile, humanitarian, and yes, military.
Much of this piece, given the moment in which it was written, is occupied with the military part. That’s natural. That’s the hardest to persuade people of in our peaceful times (if you doubt we live in peaceful times, I plan a post after this one to address that). The rest, people just nod about and say, yes, of course we should do those things. (OK, perhaps I’m being a bit sanguine about that. I’ll just say that the people who need convincing on the military part are likely to say that — others are likely to say ‘Hell, no — let them fend for themselves.” And thus we have the two sides of isolationism.) They take more convincing on the tough stuff. (Some of you will object, “Not after 9/11! People’s blood was boiling!” But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about passions of the moment. I was talking about long-term policy. I’m talking about what happens after people calm down and say, Never mind; let’s just withdraw.)
Reading it now, I wish the piece had been longer, with far more explication of the other elements, and how they were integrated. The following years, we saw constant argument between two views, neither of which saw the value of the whole concept. On the one hand, you had the Bushian — really, more the Rumsfeldian — notion that all you had to do was topple a tyrant and things would be fine. On the other, there was the myopic view that soft power was the only kind that was moral and effective.
These ideas are as relevant now as ever. Now that we have employed hard power to topple a tyrant in Libya, will we engage fully on other fronts to help Libya have a better future, one in which it has a chance of being a long-term friend, ally and trading partner? Or will we turn our attention away now that the loud noises have stopped going off?
Anyway, I’ve explained it enough. Here it is:
IN THE LONG TERM, U.S. MUST FULLY ENGAGE THE WORLD
State, The (Columbia, SC) – Sunday, September 16, 2001
IF YOU HAD MENTIONED the words “missile defense shield” to the terrorists who took over those planes last Tuesday, they would have laughed so hard they might have missed their targets.
That’s about the only way it might have helped.
Obviously, America is going to have to rethink the way it relates to the rest of the world in the 21st century. Pulling a high-tech defensive blanket over our heads while wishing the rest of the world would go away and leave us alone simply isn’t going to work.
We are going to have to drop our recent tendencies toward isolationism and fully engage the rest of the world on every possible term – military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian.
Essentially, we have wasted a decade.
After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, there was a vacuum in our increasingly interconnected world, a vacuum only the United States could fill. But we weren’t interested. After half a century of intense engagement in world affairs, we turned inward. Oh, we assembled and led an extraordinary coalition in the Gulf War – then let it fall apart. We tried to help in Somalia, but backed out when we saw the cost. After much shameful procrastination, we did what we should have done in the Balkans, and continue to do so. We tried to promote peace in the Mideast, then sort of gave up. But by and large, we tended our own little garden, and let the rest of the world drift.
We twice elected a man whose reading of the national mood was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Republicans took over Congress and started insisting that America would not be the world’s “policeman.”
Beyond overtures to Mexico and establishing a close, personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, President Bush initially showed little interest in foreign affairs.
Meanwhile, Russia and China worked to expand their own spheres of influence, Europe started looking to its own defenses, and much of the rest of the world seethed over our wealth, power and complacency.
Well, the rest of the world isn’t going to simply leave us alone. We know that now. On Tuesday, we woke up.
In the short term, our new engagement will be dominated by military action, and diplomacy that is closely related to military aims. It won’t just end with the death or apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Secretary of State Colin Powell served notice of what will be required when he said, “When we’re through with that network, we will continue with a global assault against terrorism in general.” That will likely mean a sustained, broad- front military effort unlike anything this nation has seen since 1945. Congress should get behind that.
At the moment, much of the world is with us in this effort. Our diplomacy must be aimed at maintaining that support, which will not be easy in many cases.
Beyond this war, we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful military, and keep it deployed in forward areas. Our borders will be secure only to the extent that the world is secure. We must engage the help of other advanced nations in this effort. We must invest our defense dollars first and foremost in the basics – in keeping our planes in the air, our ships at sea and our soldiers deployed and well supported.
We must always be prepared to face an advanced foe. Satellite intelligence and, yes, theater missile defenses will play roles. But the greatest threat we currently face is not from advanced nations, but from the kinds of enemies who are so primitive that they don’t even have airplanes; they have to steal ours in order to attack us. For that reason, we must beef up our intelligence capabilities. We need spies in every corner of the world, collecting the kind of low-tech information that espiocrats call “humint” – human intelligence. More of that might have prevented what happened last week, in ways that a missile shield never could.
But we are going to have to do far more than simply project military power. We must help the rest of the world be more free, more affluent and more democratic. Advancing global trade is only the start.
We must cease to regard “nation-building” as a dirty word. If the people of the Mideast didn’t live under oligarchs and brutal tyrants, if they enjoyed the same freedoms and rights and broad prosperity that we do – if, in other words, they had all of those things the sponsors of terror hate and fear most about us – they would understand us more and resent us less. And they would, by and large, cease to be such a threat to us, to Israel and to themselves.
This may sound like an awful lot to contemplate for a nation digging its dead out of the rubble. But it’s the kind of challenge that this nation took on once before, after we had defeated other enemies that had struck us without warning or mercy. Look at Germany and Japan today, and you will see what America can do.
We must have a vision beyond vengeance, beyond the immediate guilty parties. And we must embrace and fulfill that vision, if we are ever again to enjoy the collective peace of mind that was so completely shattered on Sept. 11, 2001.