Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis gave another "grand strategy" speech 21 May at Middlebury College. The speech is both a continuation and a summation of the series of Foreign Policy articles Gaddis has contributed since the publication of his book "Surprise, Security, and the American Experience".
Professor John Gaddis
Charles S. Grant Lecture
Youve all been to movies that carry the disclaimer: Contains material that some may find disturbing. This lecture may require such a warning.
Ive learned to be careful about this ever since, a couple of years ago, I gave a talk at Harvard and a very distinguished professor whose name most of us know announced, quite majestically, after Id finished: Ive been at this university for 47 years, and I have never heard a presentation with which I disagreed more.
So please be advised of the following: This lecture will contain material that some may consider to be complimentary toward the Bush administration. It may, therefore, strike some listeners as unsettling, naïve, partisan, propagandistic, chauvinistic, muddle-headed, or paid for by Karl Rove.
Let me deal with that last allegation right off the bat.
It is a matter of public record that I did, on January 10th, attend a meeting at the White House at which several journalists and academics were invited to discuss the course of our Middle Eastern policies over the next four years together with what the President should say in his upcoming inaugural address.
In the interests of full disclosure, I can confirm that I paid my own way down and back, plus taxi and hotel accommodations. I did not attend under an alias. I did, however, accept lunch with the group in the White House mess. And, at the suggestion of Mr. Rove, I consumed a dessert listed on the menu as a chocolate freedom tart. Prior to the United Nations debate over the invasion of Iraq, I understand, this dessert had a French name.
That, however, is the extent to which I have accepted compensation from the White House.
I should say something, though, about how this invitation came about, because it will lead into one of the major themes of todays lecture, which is that of unexpectedness.
The story begins with the publication of my book, Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, which appeared a year ago last March.
Late in June, I had a cryptic e-mail from a former student, now working in the White House speech-writing shop: the boss has read your book, and has told all of us to read it.
I wasnt quite sure which boss he meant, but soon there was a call from Condi Rice which cleared things up: The President has read your book, and has told all of us to read it. Could you come down and brief the National Security Council staff?
I of course said yes, but then started quickly flipping through the book to review what Id actually said about the President and his policies. Here are some sample quotes:
I said that he had failed miserably in getting United Nations support for the invasion of Iraq.
I said that his solutions to complex problems tended to be breathtakingly simple.
I said that the phrase axis of evil originated in overzealous speechwriting rather than careful thought.
I said that the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had diminished, in advance, the credibility of whatever future intelligence claims Bush and Blair might make.
I said that the so-called coalition of the willing there had been more of a joke than a reality.
I said that, within a little more than a year and a half, the United States had exchanged its long-established reputation as the principal stabilizer of the international system for one as its chief destabilizer.
And I said that although great grand strategists know the uses of shock and awe, they also know when to stop. Here I cited the example of Otto von Bismarck, who had shattered the post-1815 European state system in order to make possible the unification of Germany in 1871, but then had replaced his destabilizing strategy with a new one aimed at consolidation and reassurance at persuading his defeated enemies as well as nervous allies and alarmed bystanders that they would be better off living within the new system he had imposed on them than by continuing to fight or fear it.
So I was not too sure how all of this was going to go over at the White House.
I did indeed meet with Condi and the NSC staff in mid-July for a lively discussion of points made in the book and possible future directions for the administrations grand strategy.
At the end of it, she casually asked: Could you spare a few minutes for the President?
I allowed as how maybe I could, and so she took me into the Oval Office where the President and the Vice President were waiting.
I expected, at best, a handshake and photo op.
But the President said: Sit down. Loved your book. Tell me more about Bismarck.
There followed a twenty minute conversation with Bush asking all the questions. After which we found, cooling their heels outside, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Under-Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers. This is Professor Gaddis, the President said, waving the book at them. I want you all to read his book.
Well, I dont know how you would have responded in such a situation, but I was somewhat surprised.
Id been told, first of all, that the President never read anything beyond his daily press and intelligence digests. So it was certainly a surprise to find that he had read my book, and that he had done so ahead of his own staff. Weve since learned, of course, that the President has a pretty eclectic reading list, ranging from Nathan Sharansky and Ron Chernow to Tom Wolfe.
Id been told, second, that this was an administration that could not take criticism that it listened only to people who agreed with it. But the criticisms Id made didnt seem to bother anyone.
And Id been told that this was an administration that was incapable of changing direction, of learning from mistakes, of assessing its own performance. But the whole tone of the discussions was one of acknowledging that, while the overall direction of policy was right, much had gone wrong along the way, and that in the second term if the voters were to grant one there would have to be certain changes.
I had by this time already accepted an invitation from Foreign Affairs to write an assessment of Bushs first-term grand strategy, with a view to predicting what the grand strategy of the next term whether presided over by Bush or Kerry was going to be.
So I went ahead and wrote that article, and it appeared shortly after the November election. Here are some of the things I said in that piece:
That Washingtons policy of pre-emption has created the image of a global policeman who reports to no higher authority and no longer allows locks on citizens doors. (This echoes a point made by John Ikenberry).
That Bushs decision to invade Iraq [in the absence of multinational consent] provoked complaints that great power was being wielded without great responsibility. (This echoes a point made by Spiderman).
That It is always a bad idea to confuse power with wisdom: muscles are not brains. It is never a good idea to insult potential allies. . . . Nor is it wise to regard consultation as the endorsement of a course already set. The Bush administration was hardly the first to commit these errors. It was the first, however, to commit so many so often in a situation in which help from friends could have been so useful.
That [The Bush administration] has produced an overstretched military for which no revolution in military affairs can compensate. It has left official obligations dangerously unfunded. And it has allowed an inexcusable laxity about legal procedures at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere to squander the moral advantage the United States possessed after September 11 and should have retained.
And that the single greatest mistake the administration had made was to assume that it could shatter the status quo in the Middle East, and that the pieces would then realign themselves spontaneously in patterns favorable to American interests. Bismarck, I said, would never have made such an error.
So much for further invitations to the White House, I thought to myself and actually said to my wife.
Before that issue of Foreign Affairs had even hit the newsstands, however, there was another invitation to come down for the January 10th meeting Ive already described.
I discovered that the piece had not only been read and circulated around the White House, but it had also been sent out to an e-mail distribution list for columnists and commentators that Karl Roves office maintains.
Whether the President has read it I dont know I didnt see him on this occasion, and he was quoted recently as saying we shouldnt assume that everyone reads Foreign Affairs. But its clear that his top advisers have certainly done so.
All of which brings me to the January 20th inaugural address, which we talked about at the January 10th meeting and which of course I awaited with some interest.
Thats why I found it so frustrating, at noon on Inauguration Day, to find that nobody in the Yale History Department had the speech on as it was being delivered. All the television sets were unplugged, and of course my generation of professors doesnt know, on short notice, how to plug them in program them. So I missed it. The speech just wasnt considered important.
I think that was wrong, because the second Bush inaugural constitutes the clearest explanation yet of where the administration is and what it hopes to do. It was carefully written, clearly delivered, and it bears close reading.
The first major point in it had to do with what the President called the day of fire that followed our years of repose after the end of the Cold War.
9/11, he argued, meant the end of isolationism once and for all. That event happened because of ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder.
Such ideologies, of course, have always existed. During the Cold War, though, they either lacked the ability to transform themselves into actions that could hurt us, or, where they were capable of such actions the countries espousing such ideologies could be identified and deterred, as in the case of the Soviet Union and China.
That was not true on 9/11. Decisions made by largely invisible individuals in a primitive country halfway around the world produced an attack that killed more Americans than the one the Japanese fleet carried out at Pearl Harbor sixty years earlier.
The only solution, the President has insisted, is to neutralize where possible, but to remove where necessary, regimes that embrace such ideologies. The objective, as the inaugural put it, should be to expose the pretensions of tyrants and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant. That means that the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.
There follows, then, what I take to be the definitive statement of the Bush Doctrine: that it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate aim of ending tyranny in our world.
Several subsidiary points follow from this very big one:
That this is not exclusively, or even primarily the task of arms, though arms will certainly be used when required. The right of preemption, therefore, will remain, as will the option, where necessary, of preventive war. The implication, however, is that these are to be reluctantly resorted to, and rarely practiced.
This sounds like a new policy for the United States, but it really isnt.
As I tried to show in Surprise, the principal method by which the United States became a continental hegemon during the 19th century was by preempting perceived dangers along an expanding frontier. The Spanish, the Mexicans, and the native Americans can tell you more about that.
The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, proclaimed in 1904, explicitly claimed the right to intervene in the Caribbean and Central America to preempt European intervention: the most avid practitioner of this right was Woodrow Wilson.
Nor was the right of preemption or of preventive war ever relinquished during the Cold War. It just wasnt advertised, and fortunately (given the risks of escalation to nuclear war), it wasnt practiced.
Nor is there any evidence that John Kerry, had he won the election last November, would have relinquished that right either.
So preemption is less revolutionary than it sounds: Bush is fully within the traditions of American foreign policy in claiming it as one of the methods available to him.
A second major point made in the inaugural is that the task of spreading democracy and ending tyranny requires help from allies: division among free nations, the President pointed out, is a primary goal of freedoms enemies.
It is fair to say, I believe, that the administration never wanted to undertake preemption in Iraq unilaterally or with only minimal multilateral support: hence its efforts, even if unsuccessful, at the United Nations.
The inaugural reaffirms that desire to act multilaterally, as does the appointment of Condi Rice as Secretary of State, as does Presidents recent trip to Europe, as does his acknowledgement, while he was in Belgium, that he was actually eating French fries.
There will, however, be no multilateral veto on American action. John Kerry, after some confusion during the campaign, made it clear that that was his position also.
A third important point made in the inaugural is that the goal of ending tyranny does not require following an American blueprint: when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the President noted, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own.
This represents a useful clarification of what the administration has said before: its an explicit acknowledgment that a one size fits all model is not what it has in mind.
There are lots of ways to get rid of tyrants ranging from overthrowing them to persuading them to change their minds and institute reforms to letting them simply wither into irrelevance and die of old age. I understand Bushs strategy as incorporating all of those approaches.
A fourth point is that the end of tyranny is not to be accomplished immediately, or even within this administration: is the work of generations.
This was a speech that sets a course, but it does not promise a quick arrival at the destination, nor does it preclude diversions and delays, even contradictions and reversals, along the way.
In this sense, its consistent with the great foreign policy addresses of previous presidents, like Wilsons world safe for democracy speech, or Roosevelts four freedoms speech, or Kennedys world safe for diversity speech, none of which proclaimed an objective that was meant to be attained within the term of the administration in question indeed in these instances, even within the lifetime of the presidents who set these great goals.
Finally, the Bush inaugural sought both to reassure and to disturb authoritarian allies.
They need not fear that we will try to depose them, for in many instances, we will need their help, as we will that of democratic allies.
However, they should not sleep too well in their beds at night, because in order to survive over the long run, they will need to learn to trust their own people: note the respectful but explicit warnings to this effect, in the State of the Union address, to Egypt and Saudi Arabia something not heard from any previous American president.
In the end, the President claimed, that the triumph of freedom is assured, not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability, but because it is human choices that move events. (This is, I believe, the first time historical determinism has been considered and rejected in a presidential inaugural address.) And freedom is the permanent choice of mankind. Not just America. Of mankind.
So what are we to make of all this? Let me try to answer that question by commenting on some of the criticisms of the inaugural that have been made during the weeks since it was delivered. Some have come from students and colleagues, some from the media, some reflect my own concerns.
First, that it was a nice speech, but that Bushs credibility is zero: no one believes anything he says.
This is, to me, a somewhat puzzling comment, because Bush has generally done what he promised to do: he said he would overthrow the Taliban, that he would get rid of Saddam Hussein, that he would isolate Arafat as a way of restarting the Arab-Israeli peace process, that he would pressure Arab allies to move toward democracy, that he would promote the holding of elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, and Iraq and that he would protect the United States against future terrorist attacks. He has, in fact, done all of those things: it seems to me his credibility should, by now, be pretty high.
My guess is that there are two reasons why it isnt.
One is that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. But every intelligence agency in the world also believed that they were there, and it may be that Saddam Hussein believed that also. That they werent, was universally unexpected.
The recently released report of the Weapons of Mass Destruction while it does not attempt to evaluate the Bush administrations use of the intelligence it received provides plenty of evidence that internal flaws within the American intelligence establishment were enough in and of themselves to produce a flawed product.
The Bush administration was no doubt unwise to emphasize WMD as much as it did as a justification for the war in Iraq it had lots of other good reasons for going in. But deliberate deception has yet to be proven.
A second reason for challenging Bushs credibility has been the persistence of allegations that its all being done for oil, or for Halliburton, or for the Carlyle Group, or whatever in short, the Michael Moore view of history.
What Ive never quite understood is why, if this is the case, the Bush administration didnt simply follow the example of several of its predecessors, Republican and Democratic, and cut a deal with Saddam Hussein to secure access to all the oil we needed?
Had we done so, we would even have been acting multilaterally, for as we now know certain figures within the United Nations and among our European allies had already made such arrangements.
Why all the administrations talk about democratization in the first place, then, if the Hollywood interpretation had been correct?
There is an old principle in logic known as Occams Razor: that the simplest explanation is usually the best one. I know this may sound shocking, but I think we ought at least to entertain the radical notion that the President means exactly what he says when he talks about democratization and that what he means is what he believes.
But how can you say that, other critics have argued, in the light of the Bush administrations obvious denials of basic human rights at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere?
That criticism holds up, it seems to me, only if you require, of presidential administrations, freedom from inconsistency the absence throughout their term in office of gaps between aspirations and actual practices.
The historical record shows very few instances in which this has been achieved.
It was the Clinton administration, for example, that averted its eyes from the horrors in Rwanda, demanding that the word genocide not even be used in characterizing what plainly was that, lest telling the truth commit the United States to taking action.
It was the Reagan administration that flouted the will of Congress with the Iran-Contra scheme, and that averted its eyes from death squad massacres like the one at El Mozote.
It was the Nixon and Ford administrations that sought to overthrow the Allende government in Chile, and that averted their eyes from the actions of its successor.
It was the Kennedy administration that tried repeatedly to assassinate Fidel Castro, and that throttled the emergence of democracy in British Guiana.
It was the Roosevelt administration that incarcerated 120,000 Japanese-Americans, while treating Stalins Soviet Union as a glorious ally.
It was the Wilson administration that forced radicals into exile, and presided over the first great Red Scare.
It was Lincoln who suspended the right of habeus corpus during the Civil War.
And it was the Founding Fathers who wrote legal protections for slavery into the Constitution.
My point is not to condone the Bush administrations abuses, for abuses they certainly have been: they were, in my view, illegal, immoral, and stupid, all at the same time. I only wish to point out that if the absence of hypocrisy is to be our standard in judging the performance of presidents, then we must also apply that standard to previous administrations whose record is often compared favorably but forgetfully with that of the current one.
But how can you say that, still other critics have argued, in the light of the Bush administrations abysmal domestic record, as well as its obvious contempt for such praiseworthy initiatives as the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, and so forth?
Well, first of all, I am talking about foreign policy, not domestic policy: we have had administrations in the past who accomplished great things in the international arena while conducting activities at home that no one would now defend: Nixons particularly comes to mind.
But thats more of a fudge than an answer. A better one is that the American electorate does not appear overwhelmingly to have rejected Bushs domestic policies, or his attitude toward international organizations. Theres nothing secret about them, as there was about so much of what Nixon was trying to do.
Finally, the administrations positions on Kyoto and the ICC reflect an overwhelming consensus within the Senate of the United States, which would have to ratify the relevant treaties: there has never been a chance of getting those initiatives through the Senate in their present form. Which raises the question of why the Clinton administration signed onto them in the first place.
Whatever you think of the Bush administrations domestic record, therefore, or of its position on international institutions, its hardly flouting the will of the people.
OK, some critics will insist, but isnt the administrations agenda still inconsistent with international law?
Only, I think, if you understand international law as unconditionally safeguarding sovereignty, whatever the abuses sovereigns may have committed.
But that principle began to be called into question by the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, and we have seen it further questioned by international actions that have violated sovereignty in the defense of human rights: in Bosnia in 1995, in Kosovo in 1999, in Afghanistan in 2001 and as almost everyone would now wish had happened, in Rwanda in 1994 and in the Sudan today.
If you favor, or favored, those interventions, Im not sure you can easily take the view that Saddam Hussein one of the worst abusers of human rights on record should have been left in power, especially since he had also demonstrated his serial contempt for over a dozen United Nations resolutions.
Unless, of course, you take the view a friend of mine recently expressed: that it was ok to be liberated by Clinton, but if you have to be liberated by Bush its better to remain oppressed.
All right, then, even if what the administration has done can be justified in terms of international law, isnt it cultural imperialism?
Not anymore, it seems to me. Its significant that the Bush Doctrine is now framed as a negative freedom from tyranny than as a positive: that you must all become democrats on the American model.
This brings the Bush policy into line with the famous distinction Isaiah Berlin once made between negative and positive liberty: negative liberty was the freedom to arrange your own life; positive liberty was the claim advanced by somebody else to know how to do that for you.
Its also a shift in emphasis from preceding pronouncements of the administration, which did I think too easily assume the transferability of American practices and procedures a point Fareed Zakaria made in his book The Future of Freedom..
I also detect in this some humbling effects of the Iraqi experience: that we didnt know what we were doing when we first occupied the country; that weve had to adapt, based on what weve learned; that theres been an increasing willingness to shift from the imposition of an ideology from the top down to the application of lessons learned from the bottom up.
The key to understanding the administrations position now, I think, is this: that while everyone in the world may not know what democracy is, everyone certainly does know what tyranny entails.
The validity of that assumption became a lot clearer on January 30th, when even in the face of persistent insecurity, literally at the risk of their lives, Iraqis whod not had the opportunity to vote in a free election for decades turned out to do so in percentages that compare favorably with the number of Americans who turned out to vote in their own far safer presidential election last November.
So while there may still be all kinds of disagreement about what kind of government will be best for Iraq, there is apparently agreement about one thing: tyranny is not that form of government.
That much the Bush administration has accomplished, and let us be clear about how that happened: without the invasion of Iraq and without the sacrifices of a lot of Iraqi and American and British lives it would never have happened. As even The New York Times, at last, has got around to admitting.
Are the costs worth it? Only time will tell, but as the President commented in his inaugural address in what was surely the first time Dostoyevsky has ever been quoted in one a fire has been ignited in the minds of men. And if recent events in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Egypt, Ukraine, and even Kyrgysystan are any indication, that fire is spreading.
All right, my students and even some colleagues have argued, but isnt idea of ending tyranny a departure from the more sensible policies the United States has followed in the past?
No way: there were echoes in Bushs speech of the Declaration of Independence, Lincolns Second Inaugural, Wilsons Fourteen Points, FDRs Four Freedoms, the Truman Doctrine, Kennedys inaugural, Reagans 1982 speech to the British Parliament, and any number of speeches by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
What is new is this: previous presidents tended to distinguish between ideals and interests. The expansion of freedom was an aspiration but the interests of the United States lay elsewhere: in securing independence, suppressing secession, winning world wars, containment, deterrence, the maintenance of a balance of power, the promotion of capitalism, the encouragement of predictably pro-American regimes elsewhere, even if they didnt meet our own standards for representative government and the defense of human rights.
Bush has now conflated ideals and interests. As he put it in the inaugural: Americas vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one. Freedom itself is to be the strategy, not just the aspiration. It may, in this sense, be radical. It is hardly un-American.
But isnt it impractical? However will we get to the point of ending tyranny throughout the world? How will we ever afford it, given our overstretched finances and our even more overstretched military?
Thats where Bushs view of history comes in. As he pointed out in the inaugural address, the past four decades been defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen. It is, he added, an odd time to doubt the continuation of this trend.
Or, to put it in terms my friend and neighbor Paul Kennedy a former bookies runner would be familiar with: if you had to place a bet on which form of government will expand its reach over the next four years or, if you prefer, the next forty where would you put your money: on the growth of tyranny, or on its further decline?
The test of a good grand strategy is to align itself with trends already underway, so that you minimize, as much as possible, what Clausewitz called friction. My bet is that well encounter more friction from now on if we support tyrants than if we resist them. So it does seem to me that the Bush administration has placed its bet in the right place.
Doesnt the Bush grand strategy violate John Quincy Adamss great principle that the United States goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy?
Not really, and this brings us back to 9/11. Because the danger now is that the monsters from abroad, if nothing is done to counter them, will seek to destroy us here at home.
The trend in global politics is indeed toward democracy, but the trend could be reversed by just a few more well-placed attacks on the scale of 9/11 or greater, whether in this country or elsewhere. In this sense, the world itself is now like Iraq, in which the depredations of a few place all at risk.
Given the choice, the President insists, people will choose freedom. But tyrants and terrorists even just a few of them could still deny that choice for many if they were to obtain and use weapons of mass destruction. If we wait for them to act, it will be too late.
Thats why its necessary now as it has not been in the past to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy. I suspect that even John Quincy, no shrinking violet, when confronted with this choice would have seen its logic.
So this is where we are: with great power has come a great aspiration, which is to end tyranny throughout the world.
The historians will decide, in the end, whether it meets Spidermans test of great responsibility but this historian, for one, is leaning in the direction of saying, yes it does. It would be irresponsible, I think, to have such great power, and not to try to use it in this way.
This historian is also leaning, somewhat more controversially, in the direction of acknowledging that George W. Bush is likely to be remembered as the first great grand strategist of the 21st century. He is, however, somewhat ahead of most of his faculty colleagues and many though by no means all of his students in this respect
Let me suggest, though, that this would not be the first time professors and their students have been surprised to see grand strategies from unlikely sources.
Consider this comment from Henry Kissinger on one of Bushs predecessors: Reagans was an astonishing performance and, to academic observers, nearly incomprehensible. . . . When all was said and done, a president with the shallowest academic background was to develop a foreign policy of extraordinary consistency and relevance.
But how could this be? How could the shallowness of academic training be an advantage in the conduct of grand strategy? This is a really disturbing idea, but I think wed better begin pondering it because to paraphrase another great grand strategist, its beginning to look like déjà vu all over again.
So let me try to answer this question why the academy finds leaders like Reagan and Bush so difficult to understand somewhat in the spirit of Larry Summers, by tossing out a few provocations.
First, that grand strategy is, by its nature, an ecological enterprise. It requires taking information from a lot of different fields, evaluating it intuitively rather than systematically, and then acting. It is, in this sense, different from most academic training, which as it advances pushes students toward specialization, and then toward professionalization, by which I mean the ever deeper mastery of a diminishing number of things. To remain broad youve got to retain a certain shallowness but beyond the level of undergraduate education and sometimes not even there, the academy is not particularly comfortable with that idea.
Second, grand strategy requires setting an objective and sticking to it. The academy does not take easily to that idea either. It asks us constantly to question our assumptions and reformulate our objectives. Thats fine to the extent that that sharpens our intellectual skills, and therefore prepares us for leadership. But its not the same thing as leadership: for that, youve got to say heres where we ought to be by such and such a time, and heres how were going to get there. Taking the position that, on the one hand this, and on the other hand that, as you might around a seminar table, wont get you there. Nor will saying that you voted for the $87 billion appropriation before you voted against it.
Third, grand strategy requires the ability to respond rapidly to the unexpected. It acknowledges that trends can reverse themselves suddenly, that tipping points can occur, and that leaders must know how to exploit them. The academy loves this sort of thing when it happens on the basketball court or the hockey rink. In the classroom, though, it resists the idea: instead the emphasis is too often on theory, which promises predictability, and therefore no surprises. Thats why the academy tends to be so surprised when events like the end of the Cold War and 9/11 take place. Leaders, like athletes, have to be more agile.
Fourth, grand strategy requires the making of moral judgments, because thats how leadership takes place: in that sense, its a faith-based initiative. You have to convince people that your aspirations correspond with their own, and that youre serious about advancing them. You dont lead by trying to persuade people that distinctions between good and evil are social constructions, that there are no universal standards for making them, that we should always try to understand the viewpoint of others, even when they are trying to kill us.
Finally, grand strategy requires great language. As the best leaders from Pericles through Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan have always known, words are themselves instruments of power. Their careful choice and courageous use can shake the stability of states, as when Reagan said, before anybody else, that the Soviet Union was an evil empire headed for the ash-heap of history. They can also undermine walls, as when Reagan famously demanded, against the advice of his own speech-writers, that Gorbachev tear one down.
But where, within the academy is the use of great language taught? Where would you go to learn how to make a great speech? Certainly not to political science, language, and literature departments at Yale, where as students advance they are spurred on toward ever higher levels of jargon-laden incomprehensibility. I think not even to my beloved History Department, where my colleagues seem more interested in the ways words reflect structures of power than in ways words challenge or even overthrow structures of power.
The art of rhetoric, within the academy, is largely a lost art which probably helps to explain why the academy is as often as surprised as it is to discover that words really do still have meanings and that consequences come from using them.
The Bush administration, however like Reagans, Roosevelts, Wilsons Lincolns understands that words carry weight. It is choosing them carefully. It is applying them strategically. And to the surprise of its critics, is getting results. It would be a mistake, then, not to listen.
I myself, from time to time, like to listen to students, who often seem to understand, even when their teachers fail to teach them this, that words carry weight. As those of you whove read Surprise, Security, and the American Experience know, I ended that book by quoting two of my own undergraduates, the eloquence and seriousness of whose words moved me deeply in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. As it happened, I heard from both of them in the week after the Iraqi election theyre former students now and Id like to let what they said stand as the conclusion to this talk.
Ewan MacDougall, 03, is now a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines, serving in Iraq. Heres an excerpt from his e-mail, sent just before he shipped out:
Through the twists and turns of the last two years, I must admit that at times my faith, besieged by naysayers in the media and other elite circles both at home and abroad, faltered, though I never stopped supporting the president or the policy or the war. I doubted how much success we could achieve but still thought we should try our best. [The Iraqi elections showed that] Bushs instincts, and my initial instincts to believe, were right. Im very enthusiastic, not least about my work over the next half year, even if the results in Ramadi brought down the national average if anything, my battalions going to the right place. See you soon.
Sky Schouten, 03, is now at the Harvard Law School. Heres what he wrote:
On Sunday, in Iraq, the US and its allies pulled off a liberal democratic equivalent of 9/11. Strategically speaking, there are many loose ends; there is momentum that can either be captured or wasted; in the process, we have deeply embittered many people, and they will resist our aims to the utmost; and if we are honest with ourselves, we do not particularly understand much about the broader society on which we are unleashing these shocking developments. Nonetheless, let me suggest: for the moment, we may be forgiven for pausing, smiling, and listening to the ground creak beneath the feet of our adversaries. After all, we are only human, and we are engaged in a long human struggle.
I cant do any better than these guys.