NatSec advisor Michael Anton outlines a way forward with an alternative to the “New World Order”

Michael Anton, center, at a White House news briefing Feb. 1. At left are Michael Flynn and K.T. McFarland. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Michael Anton, center, at a White House news briefing Feb. 1. At left are Michael Flynn and K.T. McFarland. (Photo: Carolyn Kaster/AP)

Note: Michael Anton is Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications, National Security Council. This article was prepared before the author accepted his current position. The views here reflect only those of the author. They do not represent the views of the Trump administration, the National Security Advisor, or the U.S. government.

American Affairs Journal

Trump’s campaign was driven by the basic awareness of ordinary citizens that American peace, prestige, and prosperity were not being served by our foreign policy. Among the many reasons to be hopeful about President Trump’s foreign policy is that he seems to understand that correcting the errors of the neo-interventionists does not require adopting those of the paleo-isolationists.

Excerpt:

Reforming the Liberal International Order

How best to remain safe, rich, and respected? Let us consider the ways in which the LIO might be reformed.

First, our trade policy is in obvious need of reform. The LIO elevates “free trade”—really, phonebook-thick agreements that regulate every aspect of trade, mostly to America’s disadvantage—to holy writ. It does so for political reasons as well as ideological ones, such as the often-inappropriate invocation of David Ricardo. The office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has been composed entirely of true believers in the free trade doctrine for several decades. But the world economy has changed significantly since 1945, to state the obvious. In certain cases, at least, the conditions underlying that period’s commercial policy orientation (and the theoretical impulses behind it) no longer apply. The Trump administration is right to be skeptical of free trade ideology and to revisit trade policy based on core interests and commercial realities.

We could also be more sensible about our alliance structure. NATO is far from irrelevant today, but it could surely be made more relevant. Certainly, decades of joint exercise, interoperability rules, interchangeable weapons systems, and the like should not be tossed aside lightly, especially among countries with long histories of deep bonds and common interests. But it is reasonable to ask: What is the alliance for once its original purpose has evaporated? If it can be reformed to better address the threats of our time—terrorism, mass illegal migration—all to the good.

We must also ask: Why is it in our strategic interest to push that alliance’s borders ever outward? What do we gain by pledging American blood to defend places where it would take us a 48-hour airlift to mount a forlorn defense with one regiment? In what way does committing to impossible things enhance prestige?

The case for continued expansion of the LIO seems feeble indeed and has recently been taken to absurd extremes. One school of thought—let us call them the “neocons”—holds that since democracy is “our team,” and that team’s overall health improves when its prospects are expanding, then surely it is in our interest to democratize the world. No?

No. That is to say: America would likely be better off if the world were more democratic than it is, given that democracy correlates highly with friendliness or at least non-opposition to American interests, whereas “authoritarianism” (or, to be more precise, “tyranny”) correlates highly with opposition and even hostility to American interests. But in some regions, democracy also correlates highly with instability, which breeds war and chaos that are antithetical to American interests. In others, the rhetoric and mechanism of democracy are used—one man, one vote, once—to squelch robust democracy and impose a tyranny worse than what preceded the “democracy.”

Sticking with the LIO’s original context between 1945 and 1989, its first purpose was to preserve democracy where it already existed and was under threat, either by foreign conquest or foreign-directed internal subversion. Second, it was to restore democracy to “captive nations” whose liberty had been seized by a foreign power. Third, it was to develop democracy (gradually) in countries with substantial economies, deep reserves of human capital, and civil intuitions capable of serving as soil in which democracy could grow. Never did it mean imposition of democracy—much less suggest this imposition was a vital American interest.

Democracy is a precarious flower. It will not grow just anywhere. There are a great many patches of land we could easily seize that are nonetheless fit for growing only cacti or weeds. If we see the democratic flower struggling to bloom in a place where and at a time when we have the capacity to water it, and it is in our interest to do so, by all means we should consider it. But the fact that America has a “team interest” in the success or non-failure of democracy does not mean that we have an interest in trying to impose democracy in places where it is almost certain to fail. In fact, the opposite is true, because glaring failures undermine our prestige.

I would ask careful readers to please note that, for all the criticism of the foreign policy establishment, nothing here has specifically criticized the LIO per se. It served our interests well in the times and places for which it was built. It remains superior to most alternatives, including paleo-isolationism and neocon overreach. Confusion may arise from the implicit conflation of the LIO with the latter. It is not an outrageous error to make, precisely because the neocons have expended a lot of effort since the end of the Cold War to meld the two in the public mind, beginning with the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine strategy paper drafted in the Pentagon in 1992 and continuing in 2014 with Robert Kagan’s New Republicthink piece “Superpowers Don’t Get to Retire.”

The very phrase “liberal international order” hints at the problem. It is at least a better term than President George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” for the simple reason that the LIO has never prevailed over the entire world and never had a chance to. The failure to see this limit was, it seems, the core mistake of America’s post–Cold War foreign policy. The establishment thought it could take a system built (more or less) for the OECD or the Rich Nations Club and make it work everywhere. That was never possible and still isn’t. The “liberal international order” is thus better termed the “liberal rich-country order” or—if you prefer foreign policy jargon—the “liberal functioning-core order.”

Even if one were to assert that America’s national interest is to build and maintain a liberal order in every corner of the globe (which it isn’t), we would still face the thorny problem that America lacks the means to do so. We have to choose. What do we choose and on what basis?

In sum, the reach of “liberal international order”—while mostly beneficial to American interests—is in practice a lot smaller than the whole world. Even when created in 1945–1950, it was never intended to encompass the globe. It was built to protect the interests of America and its non-Communist friends in Europe and Asia and (in an update to the Monroe Doctrine) keep Communism out of the Western Hemisphere. The Middle East was added later, in stages, as Anglo-French hegemony collapsed after Suez, as the original Western-friendly Arab kings fell, and as the West (and the United States especially) became net oil importers. The attempt, beginning in 1991–92, to extend that order over the whole world was a case of American eyes being much bigger than our stomachs (or teeth), a confusion of ideology and interests. In fact, however, such expansion was never necessary to core American interests—peace, prosperity, prestige.

The uncertainty of the present moment does not derive primarily from President Trump’s supposed disregard for the fundamentals of the liberal international order. On the contrary, the uncertainty arises from a growing awareness of the disconnect between the instrumental policies of that order and its overriding purpose. In restoring a sense of the core objectives behind the LIO’s institutions, Trump actually shows a greater regard for it. These institutions will survive only if prudently amended to serve their essential purposes and meet their members’ needs.

Trump’s campaign was driven by the basic awareness of ordinary citizens that American peace, prestige, and prosperity were not being served by our foreign policy. Among the many reasons to be hopeful about President Trump’s foreign policy is that he seems to understand that correcting the errors of the neo-interventionists does not require adopting those of the paleo-isolationists.

While orienting foreign policy around American peace, prestige, and prosperity still leaves room for disagreements in policy formation, focusing on the ends rather than the means marks a dramatic change in the way our diplomats see things. The quicker we make that change, the quicker we will find clarity in strengthening the institutions that make the American people safe, respected, and wealthy—and the quicker we can reform those that do not.

This article originally appeared in American Affairs Volume I, Number 1 (Spring 2017): 113–25.

Also see:

The Problem Isn’t Nation-Building. It’s Islam-Building

war-helicopter

Front Page Magazine, by Daniel Greenfield, Aug. 19, 2016:

Nation-building has become a very controversial term. And with good reason. Our conviction that we can reconstruct any society into another America is unrealistic. It ignores our own exceptionalism and overlooks the cultural causes of many conflicts. It assumes that a change of government and open elections can transform a tribal Islamic society into America. They can’t and won’t.

But it’s also important to recognize that what we have been doing isn’t nation-building, but Islam-building.

Nation-building in Germany and Japan meant identifying a totalitarian ideology, isolating its proponents from political power and recreating a formerly totalitarian state as an open society. That is the opposite of what we did in Afghanistan and Iraq, never mind Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and all the rest.

We did temporarily pursue de-Baathification in Iraq. But the Baathists were just Saddam’s cult of personality. Saddam was a problem in Iraq. But he wasn’t the problem in Iraq. His rule was a symptom of the real problem which was the divide between Sunnis and Shiites. The real problem was Islam.

Because we failed to recognize that, de-Baathification failed. The Baathists just folded themselves into ISIS. The Sunni-Shiite war went on even without Saddam. Today Sunnis and Shiites are still killing each other in Iraq much as they had for a long time. We have boiled this war down to ISIS, but ISIS, like Saddam is just another symptom of the political violence and divisiveness inherent in Islam.

Instead of secularizing Iraq, our efforts at democracy only heightened divisions along religious lines. The “Lebanon” model for Iraq with power sharing arrangements between Sunnis and Shiites was doomed.

Iraq’s first election was dominated by the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. If that name rings a bell, it should. It came out of Iran. You know, the original Islamic Revolution. The “free” election had given a boost to an Islamic terror group whose goal was the creation of an Islamic State in Iraq.

The bloodiest days of the Iraq War actually came when two sets of Islamic terror groups fighting to create an Islamic State began killing each other… and us. We know one of those groups today as ISIS. The other group is the Iraqi government. And a decade later, they’re still killing each other.

Instead of nation-building in Iraq, we practiced Islam-building. Iraq’s constitution made Islam the official religion and the fundamental source of legislation. Its first real law was that, “No law that contradicts the established provisions of Islam may be established.” The new Iraq we had built was an Islamic State.

We did no better in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan whose constitution declared much the same thing. Its first parliamentary elections saw victories for the National Islamic Movement of Afghanistan and the Islamic Society. As in Iraq and Syria, the distinctions between the bad Islamists and the good Islamists were often fuzzy at best. We had replaced the bad Islamist warlords who raped and murdered their enemies with the good Islamist warlords who raped and murdered their enemies.

Our nation-building had created an Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and an Islamic State in Iraq. It was no wonder that the fighting never stopped.

Matters grew much worse with the Arab Spring when Obama and Hillary’s Islam-building project flipped countries that had been democratic and secular in the loosest sense into the tar pit of political Islam.

Coptic Christians were massacred and churches were burned in Egypt. The Christian communities in Iraq and Syria were threatened with annihilation.  The Jewish community in Yemen may be close to disappearing entirely. The Yazidis were raped and murdered on a genocidal scale by the Islamic State.

But in many cases they were just collateral damage from fighting between Sunni and Shiite Islamists, and among Sunni Islamists battling each other for dominance.

The ugliest part of Islam-building was that the resulting conflicts between Islamists and secularists in Egypt and Tunisia highlighted starkly just how wrong our policy was. Instead of backing secular and democratic forces, Obama had thrown in with Islamists. And even after the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in Egypt, his administration continued advocating on behalf of its Islamic reign of terror.

If we had practiced actual nation-building, then we would have identified Islamic tribalism as the central corrosive force in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Islamic political movements as the totalitarian threat in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Our efforts would have been directed at isolating them and keeping them out of power while working to democratize and secularize these countries on the old Turkish model. It might not have worked, but at least it would have been nation-building, not Islam-building.

Nation-building might very well have failed. America doesn’t have infinite resources and the lives of our soldiers are precious. Assuming that we can upend radically different societies is excessively optimistic.

But we didn’t even try.

What we have been doing in this century isn’t nation building. Instead we’ve been empowering our enemies. We’ve been sticking our hands into Islamist snake pits and playing, “Find the Muslim moderate” and refusing to learn any better no matter how many times we get bitten.

We have been perfectly happy to help the Islamic terrorists that our soldiers were shooting at last week so long as their leader signed some sort of accord paying lip service to equality yesterday. We didn’t just get into bed with the Muslim Brotherhood, but with former affiliates of Al Qaeda and current proxies of Iran. We allied with the Sunni and Shiite Islamist murderers of American soldiers in Iraq.

And all we got for it was more violence, chaos and death.

Even without Islam, ethnic and tribal divisions would have made nation-building into a difficult challenge. But Islam-building didn’t just leave wrecked societies, but terror threats. Tensions between Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds wouldn’t have led to massacres in Paris and Nice. Only Islam could do that.

Islam takes local conflicts and makes them global. That’s why disputes over the authority of the House of Saud led to the mass murder of thousands of people in New York or why Arab attacks on Israel became a burning international issue. Or why Sunni and Shiite feuds in Iraq and Syria led to a massacre of attendees at a rock concert in Paris.

That is also why the combination of Islam and politics in any form is an existential threat to us.

Not only should we not be subsidizing it in any way, shape or form, but we should be doing our best to stamp it out. If we must have any form of nation-building, it should be the building of secular nations in which Islam is isolated and detached from any political involvement.

We have two options for preventing the spread of Islamic political violence into our countries. The first is a ban on Muslim immigration. The second is a ban on Muslim politics. The former has been dubbed isolationism and the latter nation-building. Neither term is truly accurate, but they capture the essence of the choice.

We however have chosen a choice that is far worse than either. We have opened our doors to Muslim migration while opening Muslim countries to further Islamic political involvement. We have Islamized terror states and ourselves. Is it any wonder that we suffer from a severe Islamic terror threat?

Open borders for Islamic terror and Islam-building have led to our current state of national insecurity. We have made the world more dangerous by backing Islamic politics and we have made our countries more dangerous by welcoming in Muslim migrants to be indoctrinated into terror by Islamist organizations. The more we build up Islam, the more we destroy ourselves.

Also see:

Burned Again: Benghazi and Myth of ‘Nation Building’

The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi burns during the terrorist attack of Sept.11, 2012. (Photo: Reuters)

by Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman

What happened or did not happen when our consulate in Benghazi was attacked has become a contentious and partisan issue. This horrible attack on a diplomatic urban outpost is not the first in our dealings with the Muslim world. The international standards that foreign diplomats must be protected by the host country have been violated a number of times since the 19th century, not only for American but also to British diplomats, and only in Muslim countries.

The British Embassy was regularly attacked by mobs stirred up by Muslim clerics in Iran in the 19th century and most recently in 2011. Embassy guards are reluctant to shoot to kill rioters, particularly if they are unarmed, because this response could further enrage the mob. An embassy must depend upon the host country to disburse the mobs and arrest ringleaders. Western countries always protect the embassies under their jurisdiction, whether we like the visiting country or not. It is the responsibility of modern countries to do so, and we expect reciprocity for all of our diplomatic outposts in other countries.

Recently, Egyptian mobs attacked both the American and Israeli embassies, and new Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi was very slow to respond. But after sharp words from both the American and Israeli governments, Morsi finally realized that if he wished to be a respected international leader, he had to act like one. The Muslim Brotherhood has finally won an election and they are faced with the job of running a country, not just attacking those who preceded them.

Because of the dangers of having embassies in Muslim countries, the United States has turned our embassies into fortresses. I remember with nostalgia the American Embassy in Tehran before the Islamic Revolution, open to expatriates like me to visit the cafeteria and have a real American breakfast, or to attend parties for American holidays to which many Iranians were invited.

However, after the Islamic Revolution, our embassy was overrun, trashed, documents confiscated, and diplomats held as prisoners for 444 days. The only other country to close its embassy in protest was Canada, which should still shame the rest of the diplomatic world for its cowardice or reluctance to be principled.

The 52 American hostages (shown here upon their release) that were held hostage from November 4, 1979 to January 20, 1981 by a group of Islamist students and militants who took over the American Embassy in Tehran in support of the Iranian Revolution

There is no way that the United States can protect our consulates, which by their nature are homes, not fortresses, against a rampaging mob. Furthermore, when the attack is staged by the likes of Al Qaeda, even an armed drone cannot kill only Al Qaeda operatives and not bystanders. The new government of Libya probably meant well and would have protected our consulate if they could, but they are inexperienced, inept and already run the risk of inflaming Islamists if they protect us.

The real problem is the 75-year old American policy that promotes “nation building” and “democracy,” lovely ideas, but doomed for failure in Islamist world. This is not just an issue of the religion (i.e. sharia) itself, which is antithetical to democratization, but the very cultures that support it, cultures with a very different standard of honorable behavior than ours. For example, in Afghanistan, police and soldiers whom we are training have turned on their trainers, making them impossible to trust.

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