James Mann Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Bush War Cabinet: Conversation with James Mann, Nitze School for Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, February 14, 2005 by Harry Kreisler

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Continuity in Unilateralist Approach

This [Pentagon blueprint] is a rationale, as you say, but it is responding to the fact that there is no adversary or group of adversaries who can balance our power. In fact, during the Clinton administration, rather than substantially cutting back, you get a continuous tick upward in terms of investment in the military, producing what has come to be called a revolution in military affairs. You pointed out toward the end of your book that once we went to Afghanistan and Iraq in the second Bush administration, unilateralism wasn't just a choice. It was also an inevitable result of the fact that nobody could match or complement our military technology. Talk a little about that.

That's exactly right.

One thing we've left out, or that I've passed over, because we're focusing on Republican administrations, but in the 1990s you have the Clinton administration's military interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. I should point out the continuities here. People forget that when the Clinton administration intervened in Kosovo, it didn't go to the United Nations to get UN approval because it knew that the Russians would veto it. So you have intervention without UN approval there.

But, more importantly, those military interventions were carried out under NATO auspices, and the Clinton administration found it's remarkably cumbersome, that in order for the military to decide what to do today, you have to have meetings with the fifteen or so NATO countries. The uniformed military feels it's almost like conducting war by committee. And so this provides the subtext, in the immediate heated aftermath of September 11th when the Bush administration was thinking of moving into Afghanistan. It's not just the civilians and the military; in fact, it's the uniformed leadership of the military that's saying, "We don't want to do this with the Europeans." In fact, I [cite] in my book, the French go not to Condoleezza Rice, the National Security Advisor, or Rumsfeld. They go directly to Tampa, to the uniformed military command, and say, "What can we do to help?" And they're told, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Now, in fairness to the American uniformed military, they're suddenly being asked to project power into areas they never have before, and to do so quickly, and they feel they're swamped. But, one way or another, this isn't just a matter of a couple of people at the top of the Bush administration being unilateral. This goes right down through the uniformed military on this one.

What you're talking about is the response to a French offer to help in Afghanistan after 9/11?


What you're demonstrating in your book and in our conversation is the way the American foreign policy system has moved forward through time with a lot more continuity than we tend to realize.

But if we go back to this Pentagon guidance document, what we're left with is there wasn't public support for this effort to define our role in the world as one to deter the rise, or prevent the rise, of a countering power -- either a group or power in any region that could dominate that region and then possibly threaten our global power. It wasn't popular. And so they had to change the language and put it in the drawer.

So if we fast-forward then to after 9/11, after the 2004 election. What we see is that this terrorist act against our soil created, it appears, a new consensus where the Pentagon guidance document of '92 is no longer in question. Correct? I mean, if you look at public support for the president in the 2004 election.

Yeah, I guess. Public support for the president in the 2004 election is a 51 percent support. That's a remarkable difference from the 2000 election --


-- but it's still hard to talk about a consensus.

Right, it's a hard consensus. But what I'm trying to get at is that in responding to Iraq, the Vulcans just sort of walked into a response that was defined by that document.

I think that's right.

Let me just come back one issue. Continuities and unilateralism did not start after 2001. Let me come back to it, since we were talking about my experience as a diplomatic correspondent.

Among the other things you do as a diplomatic correspondent, you work closely alongside correspondents from other countries. I had a couple of good friends in the Washington press corps who had been with me in China from publications in France and Germany. I was well aware and watched all through 1990s their complaints, sometimes quite valid, that the United States was acting unilaterally. All this is in the Clinton years. There tends to be a romanticism now about the multilateralism of the Clinton years. But I can tell you from when I was covering it that at the time, people were complaining about American unilateralism.

I tend to see American unilateralism -- we can talk about what that is -- as an inevitable outgrowth of the end of the Cold War that began in the '89 to '91 period. What am I talking about? Well, if you remember during the Clinton years, there's a rejection of or a turning against some international treaties. In some cases, this is led by the Republicans in Congress. There's a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the Clinton administration tries to get through and doesn't. This can be laid at the feet of the Republicans, but not always. The Clinton administration did not want to support a landmine treaty that many of the Europeans were supporting. It did not want to support the International Criminal Court. It did so only in Clinton's last weeks as a lame duck. And that can't be laid at the feet of the Republicans. This was the Clinton administration itself. The Clinton administration was under pressure from and carrying water for the Pentagon, which had a series of objections both to the Criminal Court and to the landmine treaty. But it tells you that this pressure, this trend, drift, call it whatever you will, towards unilateralism is more than simply a matter of the George W. Bush administration. Certainly, their responses to September 11 heightened that trend by quite a bit, but it was there.

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