Interview

Ask the Authors: Bruce W. Jentleson & Steven Weber

Authors Bruce W. Jentleson and Steven Weber answer your questions about America's Hard Sell.

1. What influence do you believe the criminal sector -- or the "criminal hegemonists" evolving, as evidenced by the various drug cartels, pirates, etc. that appear to have great appeal in Third World environments -- will have on the United States ability to sell its values to the region and the globe?

One person's criminal is, of course, another persons social service provider. And so these organizations have benefited from America's missteps at least as much or possibly more than have what the Pentagon calls peer competitors (that is, other states and governments). As we tune in to what the world now wants from us, rather than what we would like to give to it, lets not forget to listen closely to what the de facto constituents of what we call the criminal sector are getting from their allegiance and grants of legitimacy to those actors.

2. It appears that the current trend of socialist-style economic interventions in the United States will only embolden the "counterhegemonists" -- those who seek to undermine the dominant political and cultural players -- in their efforts to expand socialism. Do you agree?

Only if we let them. The set-piece ideological battle of socialism vs. capitalism is last generation's fight, not our generation's, and certainly not the next generation's. Making this about socialism and capitalism is dysfunctional. When we get past mantras about the magic of the marketplace, America is good at solving problems, and we do what it takes to fix whats broken. Call it pragmatism if you must, and brand it as a third economic ideology.

3. Can you identify how problem-solving actors can collaborate to help weak states improve their governance?

The question is the answer: Problem-solving actors, and collaboration. Take those two phrases seriously, and we are halfway there. Anyone who has spent time in a postconflict region and watched the massive political battles that take place between competing NGOs, foreign-aid workers, and so on -- to the detriment of the people who really need assistance -- will recognize just how far we are from problem-solving collaboration in those settings. The United States should press this issue to the fore by getting the official and unofficial actors on the ground that we have influence over to play by these rules or not play at all. There's a lot to be gained here with regard to our point in the article about mutuality.

4. The world's reaction to the election of Barack Obama, an African-American and the candidate for change, appears to have renewed, at least temporarily, some lost admiration for American ideals. Do you think a successful Obama presidency could resuscitate some or any of the five Big Ideas you describe?

Does the United States have a shot at competing for leadership in this new era? The Obama administration will have a window of opportunity -- a small but significant window -- to offer to the world a new American leadership proposition. Along with the fact that Obama is not George [W.] Bush, something which also would have been there for John McCain, the persona of Barack Obama does resonate globally in powerful ways. Now if the Obama foreign-policy team acts as if the world is simply waiting for a good guy American president to come in and say wer'e back with a set of 1990s leadership ideas, you'll be surprised at how quickly the global honeymoon comes screeching to an end.

5. The financial crisis isnt just the fallout of the U.S. economy; its global. If not Western-style capitalism, which economic model or new Big Idea do you see rising to the top?

State regulation and even state "direction" of economies are back in the game as real alternatives. The United States has a chance now to articulate a new version of how to balance regulation with competition, to strike a more functional and less volatile equilibrium than we've lived in the last decade. If we are going to have freer markets, we are going to have to have much better rules. And we will need to explain much more fully to ourselves and to others what we believe, and why, about the relationship between finance and the real economy. If we fail to do that soon, then much of the world will aggressively experiment, in ways that will surprise us, with dramatically different economic models.

6. Which actors do you predict will use the financial crises to boost their standing on the global playing field? Which will be successful and which will not?

As the truly acute phase of the crisis comes to an end, and it will at some point, we'll start to see visible manifestations of this simple fact: Everyone will be looking for ways to boost their standing on the global playing field, and in many cases, at America's expense. It is fundamentally wrong to believe that the world wants to "go back" to 2007 or even 1999, or essentially that kind of world economy minus its worst and most dangerous imbalances. The vast majority of people on this planet do not want that.

7. You write: "In this fast-paced and unpredictable setting, the five Big Ideas of American ideology were never immutable." If the "optimal model... for a just society is no longer synonymous with American democracy," what does that model look like? The world -- its economy, its political playing field, and technological developments -- isn't likely to slow down anytime soon. What set of ideals can possibly take hold better than American-bred democracy and free market capitalism (once the economy picks up again)?

You're right; we don't think traditional American-bred democracy and free market capitalism have a lock on the 21st-century global competition of ideas. Our answers to some of the other questions speak to the state-market dynamic as its playing out today and going forward. For many peoples around the world, the key political and policy question is not just freedom from, but capacity to; policy performance, not just political process; democracy that can deliver on basic human needs and a just society. That often means more emphasis on equity and social justice as core policy goals. And beyond what we say we think others should do, we need to walk the walk and do a lot better at home on issues like the 3 Es of economy, energy, environment; healthcare; and public education.

8. Because you didn't mention it in your piece: Who will be the end of ideology prophets you predict will emerge in the next decade?

There are many actors, state and nonstate, and we dont see this as being about packaged, one-stop-shopping isms. Within that, nominees welcome!

Interview

How Humanitarian Intervention Failed the World

Conor Foley has a message for the international community: Humanitarian interventions rarely work. His recent book promoting that thesis, The Thin Blue Line, was reviewed by James Traub in Foreign Policy’s November/December 2008 issue. In this interview, Foley talks about Iraq, Darfur, and the conundrum of humanitarian reform.

Foreign Policy: During your career, you have worked with humanitarian organizations in countries around the world. Do you remember when you started to become skeptical of humanitarian intervention? What happened? Describe what this experience was like.

Conor Foley: This is a complicated legal subject, and it is not possible to say: This is the view. Intervention is not necessarily a good or a bad thing.

I suppose the thesis of the book is that humanitarian interventions virtually never resolve humanitarian crises. It is like using plaster in open-heart surgery. And the attempt to portray [humanitarian interventions] as a panacea is damaging because it is just not true that they work. Over the last 20 years, there are very few that have worked and where you now see democracy.

FP: You have noted that you believe the Iraq war had a negative impact on the idea of humanitarian intervention? What went wrong?

CF: What damaged [the idea of humanitarian intervention] were two things. First, that Tony Blair tried to justify [the war] as humanitarian intervention, which it never was. Blair did manage to confuse a lot of people, and he made people suspicious of intervention elsewhere. Second was the failure of the intervention to pan out as supporters expected -- and many supporters did think that the people of Iraq would welcome them as liberators. When that didn't happen, it led to a huge amount of cynicism and despair. The war also tied up a vast number of soldiers and money; so when crises elsewhere, like Darfur, occurred, their hands were tied.

FP: What would be the ideal response in Darfur, if our hands werent so tied town?

CF: I would ask for more support for the [African Union-United Nations] mission, which needs air support. There has been a lack of political will to support intervention. Part of the reason for this is that, ideologically, [intervention] has been so demonized by the liberals [who believe that] the U.N. is all but incompetent. The people who should have been campaigning for [the U.N.] are campaigning against it. You have numerous journalists and politicians who want the U.N. to fail just to validate their criticisms.

FP: It seems like you're not opposed to intervention in principle, then. Can you imagine a successful humanitarian intervention?

CF: Successful interventions tend to be those that are supported by the U.N. Security Council, those that are properly financed, have proper goals, and those where interveners understand their mandate. That doesnt mean necessarily that the intervention will be a success: 1991 in Somalia was the first example where there was a failure, and it made the West very reluctant to respond to other [crises].

FP: You are working on contributing to another book, this time writing about innovations in humanitarian aid. What does this mean, and how would it help to make intervention more effective?

CF: [Aid innovation] means looking at the practicalities of how the aid gets delivered. How do you get a system of justice up and running in Afghanistan, for example? How are courts dealing with their caseloads, backlogs? That is going to do much more to restore the system of government than the big prestige things. A couple weeks ago, Britain delivered a hydroelectric turbine to Afghanistan, but it wont make any difference to the Afghan people. I would be surprised if they even got the thing operating. It's just sitting there for the Taliban to attack.

FP: You mentioned that there is a better chance of intervention working when it is multilateral. What are the pitfalls of working through organizations like the African Union and the United Nations? Do you get a watered-down reaction, design by committee?

CF: Obviously not just with regional organizations, but also at a U.N. level, things do get watered down. Bureaucracy is unwieldy, but that is the reality if you like the multilateralism. I dont think we have a choice about it.

FP: Can you think of a successful example of humanitarian intervention that we could use as an example moving forward?

CF: There is peace in much of the world where there wasnt 10 to 15 years ago. The extent to which thats been achieved by international versus local peace processes is debatable. In Aceh in Indonesia, there was the Finnish-led intervention. They went in and Indonesia agreed to talk; then they reformed the system and were out in a year and a half. It was a locally driven process.

On the opposite side, you see Liberia and Sierra Leone, where there was the largest U.N.-mandated peacekeeping forces, and they have restored democracy and have put some of their leading perpetrators of war crimes on trial.

Finally, there was Northern Ireland. U.S. intervention in the peace process was particularly helpful at critical junctures. Both George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton helped to get sides at the table and helped to build trust. I think thats something most Irish people would see as a positive achievement.