ICAS Special Contribution


Power and Super Power:
Global Leadership in the 21st Century

James A. Leach

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3289
Email: icas@icasinc.org

Biographic Sketch & Links: James A. Leach

[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge the special contribution of this speech with written permission to ICAS of Representative James A. Leach. sjk]


Representative James A. Leach

Conference on "Power and Super Power: Global Leadership in the 21st Century"
The Century Foundation and the Center For American Progress
The Essex House Hotel
New York City, New York
June 6, 2006

( * Summarized in delivery. )

Thank you, Ted, for such a thoughtful introduction. Like George Washington, your eyes may have grown dim in service to your country, but I know of no individual who saw more clearly or uplifted with word and insight a Presidency more thoughtfully than you.

Your reference to the passage about Senator Norris, your family's friend, from Profiles in Courage reminds me of an obituary I read in the New York Times many years ago. The obit was of a British actor who was cited not only for playing Hamlet but for being the voice of Churchill. What was meant by the latter role was that because Churchill understood the seminal importance of bringing America into the war that had broken out on the Continent, he had his speeches, including Dunkirk, recorded by this actor and sent to the States. The precedent set in this circumstance may have defined the difference between a British Prime Minister and an American President: the former wrote speeches for an actor to deliver; the latter read speeches a brain-trust produced.

I am confident I speak for all in this room in thanking Massachusetts for producing John Kennedy and Nebraska for giving us Ted Sorensen and the vision of an era.

I would also like to note the presence of my niece, Leslie. After graduating magna cum laude from Columbia and Columbia Law School, working for one of this city's most prestigious law firms, and clerking for a distinguished appellate court judge, Leslie has turned to another vocation. Next week she graduates from the seminary. I take this as a sign of a new generation of Americans who are seeking moral clarity for themselves and for our country. I could not be prouder.

Perspective is difficult to apply to events of the day, but the possibility is real that we are engulfed in the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history.

Before addressing the dilemma we confront, let me stress that this is an awkward week for a Member of Congress to express judgment on anything. Congress, after all, is engaged in a confrontation with the Justice Department on what may seem to be a singularly American constitutional flap, but what is also a foreign policy embarrassment.

For decades, one of the most traumatizing aspects of world affairs has been the endemic corruption that characterizes so many societies. Conflicts of interest and theft by government officials rob billions of the world's poor of the capacity to live full and meaningful lives.

Yet, in a bipartisan circus of confusion, many in Congress are suggesting that when it comes to a criminal probe, they should be above the laws that apply to ordinary citizens. The defensiveness of Members is rooted in a clear misinterpretation of the Constitution. The Speech and Debate Clause was designed to protect our democracy from chilling attacks against free speech, not to immunize Members against criminality. Not only is corruption not in the job description of a public official, but public officials should be held to uncompromising ethical standards. Public corruption is, after all, the most debilitating disease that a society can confront.

If we want others to respect and emulate our system of government, let alone establish and honor the rule of law, public officials have to be legally and morally above reproach. The higher up the corruption, the more important it is to vigorously investigate. Accountability must be established.

If in doubt, Members should look across the street to the inscription above the Supreme Court steps: "Equal Justice Under Law." And we must continually bear in mind that what we do at home is part and parcel of how our country is perceived abroad.

Likewise, Members of the Executive must understand that how and what they say to justify various policies determines how others respond.

Those of you who have ever studied physics may recall that Sir Isaac Newton set forth three fundamental laws, the second of which was that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A decade ago when the Congress was led by an extraordinary upstart whose first name was Newt, I suggested, at first as a pun, the existence of a fourth "Newt-onian" law, this one of social physics: reaction is greater than action. My thoughts at the time related to the partisan bickering within Congress. But with the passage of time I have come to the conclusion that international slights have graver consequences than domestic.

When, for instance, we use words like "evil," reference events like the Crusades, and employ tactics designed expressly to "shock and awe," should we not expect others to think and respond in like or escalated terms, although the methods employed might in the current vogue be described as asymmetric?

This brings me to several broad precepts, one of which is seemingly trite, and others of which are intended to form a theoretical and practical framework for a recalibrated foreign policy.

First, the trite. Every society has a sage who cautions that wise leaders should put themselves in the shoes of their adversaries before reaching self-centered judgments. The profoundest illustration of this comes from literature rather than Clausewitz or Tsun Tsu.

For years I have suggested to students that Laurence Durrell in his Alexandria Quartet provides more geo-political wisdom than balance of power strategists.

Set in inter-war Egypt, each of Durrell's four books chronicles the same series of events through the eyes of a different participant. While the events repeat, the stories are profoundly different. The implicit moral is that one set of eyes, one set of interactions, is insufficient to gain a full grasp of what is happening around us. Likewise, in world politics one country's perspective is not enough. The views of others matter.

Yet if we take the most difficult geo-strategic issues of the day - North Korea, Iran, and Iraq - it is impressive how we seem to misunderstand the fundamentals of human nature. Publics in many parts of the world are crying out for two aspirations: respect and hope. But our policy response is an entirely parochial one, rooted in the so-called doctrine of American Exceptionalism, which neo-cons do not define as refining a shining city on a Hill but as the right of a superpower to place itself above the legal and institutional restraints applied to others.

In the neo-con world, values are synonymous with power. The implicit assumption is that American security can be bought and managed alone, without allies, without consideration of contrasting international views or the effect of our policies on others. Treaties like a Comprehensive Test Ban, which every President since Eisenhower has propounded, have been rejected, as have negotiations to strengthen the verification provisions of the Biological Weapons Convention.

But, I digress. The diplomatic issue I would like to put on the table is the problem of sequencing. Which comes first - the chicken or the egg - is the most cheerful and abstract philosophical discussion Americans engage in. But which precedes the other - talk or war - is neither cheerful nor abstract. Experience would seem to indicate that while war may not be averted by negotiations, it is less likely to break out if direct dialogue occurs beforehand. In adversarial situations pacific results can seldom be achieved without human interaction. That is why our founders clearly contemplated that the new American Republic would have diplomatic relations with undemocratic states. It is why Prime Minister Rabin, when faulted for talking to Arafat, noted that you don't make peace with friends.

There are few examples in history where empty chair diplomacy has proved effective. Indeed, it is next to impossible to reach mutual accommodation if there is not mutual understanding and a modicum of trust and respect which only personal relationships can provide.

The sequencing dilemma is particularly evident with regard to North Korea. The six-party talks are a reasonable framework within which to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea. But other parties have supplemented six-party contacts with bilateral discussions outside the Beijing framework and they would welcome a more robust, direct U.S. initiative. Indeed, given the lack of progress since the last session eight months ago, there is some question whether the six party framework may become moribund or be used principally as an instrument for North Korean delay if an external catalyst is not provided.

In this context, the question presents itself whether a visit by a special Presidential envoy to North Korea would be helpful. I believe the answer is an emphatic "yes." But a visit without the right message would be counterproductive. The message should neither be a macho line-in-the- sand approach, nor a begging please-return-to-the-talks plea. It should be an approach designed to induce both a negotiating commitment and an attitudinal shift. In my judgment, the most promising proposal would be one which provides impetus to the commitment of parties to the previously negotiated point in the Joint Statement to develop a peace treaty to bring the Korean War to a formal conclusion. A precise date (soon) and site (Ulan Bator, Jakarta, Honolulu, or Panmunjom) for the holding of a formal peace conference should be put on the table with the goal of receiving an acceptance during the visit of the Presidential envoy. An understanding might follow that the six-party talks would resume two weeks after the peace conference. In addition to the nuclear issue, negotiations might also then commence on the possibility of establishing liaison offices or possibly even embassies in our respective capitals.

Instead, the U.S. position is that we will talk to North Korea only within a six-party context and that they must capitulate on the nuclear issue before anything else can be advanced. Rather than leading, we are being seen by some to be as diplomatically recalcitrant as North Korea.

Not only should we not fear to negotiate, we must understand that as the stronger party, we can afford to put on the table steps, particularly related to process, that weaker parties are less able to initiate without seeming to capitulate. The same applies to Iran. We have over a number of Administrations chosen to isolate rather than engage Iran. The question is whether isolationist policies drive a proud people to greater extremes. A stigmatic refusal to interact has characterized our policy toward Iran for a generation and, just as haplessly, Cuba for two.

Last week the Administration suggested a possible policy shift. We indicated a willingness to join the Europeans in talks with Iran if Iran first agrees to freeze uranium enrichment activities. This approach might presage a nuanced new American flexibility. But much depends on the Iranian response. Our position appears to be that we will proceed with sanctions and contemplate sterner actions if Iran does not capitulate on the uranium issue, but we will not talk to the government unless it first acquiesces. In other words, the goal of negotiations must be achieved before we will negotiate. Conditional approaches like this are needlessly "high wire"; nevertheless, they may represent the best hope yet of yielding a conflict-averting break-through on the NPT issue.

Some of us have fretted for a long time that a more forthcoming U.S. diplomatic approach might have produced a more stable Persian Gulf. Five years ago Senator Specter and I invited to Capitol Hill the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. In a long meeting over dinner in a small room on the Senate side of the Capitol, I indicated that while many of us would like to see more direct contact between the U.S. and Iran, normalization of relations was inconceivable unless Iran ceased supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. The ambassador responded with frankness. He chillingly acknowledged Iranian support of Hezbollah but then asserted that such support would cease the moment a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was reached in a framework acceptable to the Palestinians.

The slight hope implicit in this position may or may not have reflected Tehran's real position at the time, but it is apparent that Ahmedinajad is far more radical today than Khatami was yesterday. While neither has nor had the power of the Ayatollahs, the hardening of Iranian public attitudes toward us and Israel makes questions about the effectiveness of our strategic and psychological isolation of Iran important to ponder.

Today policymakers in Washington appear to be underestimating a series of phenomena. Hezbollah is far larger, more sophisticated and experienced in terrorist undertakings than Al Qaeda. Attacking Iran will unleash a level of anarchy in world affairs that would be unprecedented. Bombing Iran would slow but not stop Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons. It would have little effect on Iran's ability to obtain such weapons elsewhere. The "loose nuke" phenomenon is real. A rich country has as good a chance to purchase or steal weapons of mass destruction as it does to develop them on its own. And if that country is attacked as part of an effort to block nuclear development, it has to be assumed it will have new incentives to seek and use such weapons. This prospect could presumably be heightened if bunker busting bombs tipped with small nuclear warheads are employed.

The U.S. thus faces a double catch-22: embargoing Iran hurts our economy more than theirs and attacking militarily the Iranian infrastructure ensures immediate asymmetric violent responses as well as the greater likelihood that weapons of mass destruction once obtained will be used against us and our allies at a later point. Which brings us to the last underestimation by Washington. We may be considering a conflict of a few weeks duration -- one to three weeks of intensive bombing. The Iranians may be thinking of a multi-decade or multi-century response. Western history has known a 30-year war. Eastern peoples carry in their hearts the burden of centuries of crusades, and many Islamic radicals today would like the 21st Century to be a continuation of what they consider to be a struggle against Judeo-Christian intervention. Sequencing is a historical as well as diplomatic term of concern.

The Iranians, too, are in a quandary. They recognize that no American President can take the force option completely off the table. They suspect DOD has made extensive contingency plans and they see a President who has little hesitancy to take difficult, unpopular decisions. They know he is in his last term and does not want to pass on strategic problems to his successor. They may reason that a U.S. decision to attack is irrational because it would solidify a radical reaction in Iran, in other Muslim countries, and perhaps even within the U.S., but the government of Iran cannot be certain that the President will conclude that he would be passing on a bigger mess if he attacked rather than engaged.

The Iranian challenge is stickier than many Americans assume. The President may see himself in a position analogous to that of John Kennedy in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Kennedy was dealing with Khrushchev and a Soviet system that had many despotic dimensions. But while communism was manipulated in such a manner as to become a quasi-state religion, it is fundamentally about political and economic rather than spiritual relationships. Iran, on the other hand, is a theocracy in a region where religion and, too frequently, its perversion are dominant themes. Just as the Iranian government must understand the strong will of the President, Washington has to come to grips with the pride and principles of an adversary which is the inheritor of one of the oldest civilizations on earth. Each side may understand the consequences of individual actions, but that does not mean that decisions in one or the other country will not unfold domino-like in a manner that could be catastrophic for all. That is why human interrelationship -- diplomacy -- is so key.

The older I get, the more central I consider the human factor to be in international relations. Logic is never totally dominant. In this, the preeminent city of finance in the world, it is interesting to contrast two human foibles: avarice and pride. No one knows the exact origins of the seven deadly sins, but to the degree human nature is the least changed aspect of the human condition, let me suggest that avarice, the weakness of business classes, is fundamentally more pragmatic than pride, and pride is fundamentally more dangerous than avarice.

For example, if a bookstore owner were to read two books and strongly prefer one to the other, he might inventory half a dozen of the one he prefers and one of the other. But if his customers buy the one he likes least, he will not reorder the one he likes. He will put it on the discount shelf and re-order the public's choice. His pride isn't hurt. In politics, on the other hand, the tendency is never to acknowledge error. Mistakes are often repeated to avoid political embarrassment.

An anecdote comes to mind. In one of my early terms in Congress I was invited to the Library of Congress to a seminar Henry Kissinger was asked to give on the 1973 Paris Peace Accords. Before going, I perused one of his autobiographical tomes and was struck by a singular paragraph. In December 1968, Kissinger as the National Security Council Advisor-designate met with Richard Nixon, then the President-elect. They agreed, he wrote, that their policy would be to disengage from Vietnam. After Kissinger had delivered his lecture, I asked him about his pre-Presidency strategy talk with Nixon. Why, I inquired, didn't the Nixon administration immediately do what he said they had decided in December 1968, to do. Kissinger looked at me and responded: "We meant with honor." I asked him if honor required escalation. "Absolutely," he replied.

"Honor" and "pride" do not have the same meaning. But in some circumstances they are clearly first cousins.

I mention this incident as a reflection of human nature and the psychology of decision-making. LBJ was too much of a Texan to reverse gear on his own policies; Nixon was too much a product of the Cold War to risk being perceived as less tough than his Democratic predecessor.

Interestingly, in the 19th Century, two obscure Italian political theorists, Vito and Pareto, noted that for all the differences in political systems, one person alone at the top had the power to make critical decisions for a nation. While these decisions might be of a social magnitude, they are personal in the making.

Our Founders were moral as well as political thinkers. They feared kingly powers and wanted shared decision-making, especially when it came to war. But as we all have come to understand, modern times have produced wars without formal declarations approved by Congress. In response to Vietnam, Congress fashioned the War Powers Act to establish new constraints on the Executive. While most Constitutional scholars are convinced the Act would be declared unconstitutional if it were ever tested, it stands today as the law of the land. What is often overlooked, however, is that the Act also empowers the Executive wide ranging options to commit American forces for a period of several months. Hence, there is little doubt that the Administration assumes it has no need to come to Congress if it decides to launch an air assault on Iran, as long as it is only of multi-week duration.

Now let me turn briefly to Iraq. Americans understand that three rationales were given at successive stages for the war. The first involved Iraq's complicity in 9/11; the second was the imminent threat of Iraqi WMD; and the third was the desire to replace the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein with a free, democratic government. The first two arguments have proven frail. The third has some legitimacy, but to many of us it never seemed compelling, particularly in relation to the costs of the conflict.

In any regard, whether or not democracy provided a compelling rationale for starting the war, it offers the most appropriate rationale for ending it. If we do not prepare to leave to Iraq on our terms, stating clearly that now that a Constitution has been adopted, elections held, and a government formed, we are prepared to proceed with an orderly draw-down of our troops, we will be viewed as an occupying power lacking credible motivations. When we eventually leave, the other side will claim they forced us out. That is why it is as critical to define the rationale for our disengagement as the reason for going to war. And democracy is the only rationale I know that can be used as a basis for ending our involvement in this conflict with any hope of suggesting a partial measure of success.

There are tipping points in all struggles. The signs are evident that we are close today to a calamity if we do not recalibrate our policies. The irony is that our troops have lost no battles and shown great heroism. But occupation is not only intolerable for Muslims, it is not the American way.

Here, as an aside I am obligated to reference one area where Republicans in Washington hold the internationalist high ground. While conservatives may lean toward political unilateralism, liberals are increasingly protectionist -- which is, in effect, economic unilateralism. For most societies in the world, economics comes before politics. This is why many governments which are unsympathetic to aspects of the foreign policy of the Administration are nevertheless uncomfortable with alternative U.S. leadership.

Let me conclude with an observation about priorities, contrasts, and principles.

First, priorities. I have assumed for most of my adult life that war and peace is the biggest issue in the world. Yet, the bigger issue may be disease control. We have lost nearly 2,500 American troops in Iraq and 20 to 40 times as many Iraqis have been killed. But over the past two decades more than 20 million people have died of AIDS, and this number will double or triple in the next decade or two. Likewise, a new flu epidemic might match or exceed these numbers. Yet we are spending less on these problems than the cost of one month's fighting in Iraq.

Second, contrasts. Educated Americans are well aware of the ideas that Samuel Huntington and Joe Nye of Harvard have propounded about the dangers of a clash of civilizations and of the importance of soft as contrasted with hard power in diplomacy. These are important frameworks of thought for the American public to dwell upon. But I would add to those considerations the elements of individual judgment and the contrasting model of realism vs. pseudo-realism in policy making. Realists look to effect, not to appearance. But Washington today has come under the sway of the grim neo-con notion that diplomacy, particularly multi-lateral diplomacy, is soft-headed. Is this not pseudo-realism? What is more realistic and more consistent with the American heritage than attempting to advance the rule of law? An earlier excess of pseudo- realism caused the Senate to reject Wilsonian idealism and ignore the League of Nations. Nevertheless, it approved U.S. participation in the World Court. Americans want law and order. Americans also prefer to work in alliances. It is neo-con nonsense, realism inverted, to press a foreign policy rooted in snubbing the concerns of others.

One of the myths of our time is that realism is principally about might. Actually, realism is about the human condition. A great power must maintain a strong military capacity, but it is the human condition that must be improved if national security is truly to be secured. Impoverished nations are breeding grounds for radicalism. Where there is no hope, there is nothing to lose. When life, as Hobbs described, becomes nasty, brutish, and short in a jungle of hopelessness, it becomes easily expendable, sometimes by martyred self-choice.

Finally, a note about principle. Never has it been more important to return to the basics. Whether it be tax policy or foreign policy, the concern must be for justice and the common good, what the 19th Century British utilitarians described as concern for the greatest good of the greatest number.

The public wants its leaders to unify and uplift. Elections are about whether political leadership is up to the task. Democracies provide continual verdicts. This fall will be one measure.

This page last updated 7/18/2006 jdb

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