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Jim Steinberg On Post-bush Foreign Policy

In a video from a July 2008 conference you can see here, Jim Steinberg--initially rumored to be Obama's choice for national security director and now his possible deputy secretary of state--laid out some thoughts about a new "framework" for US foreign policy. Arguing against making "all of our problems subordinate" to terrorism, Steinberg says there's been "an illusion" in recent years that America can solve problems on its own without international help. He calls for "a definition of our national interest which recognizes the concerns and interests of others," and emphasizes threats that come from non-state sources, like disease and climate change.

Pretty sensible and noncontroversial stuff. Somewhat more provocatively, here's a 2005 op-ed Steinberg wrote laying out a post-Bushian vision of preventive war:

When states fail to meet their responsibilities, the international community will need to step in. Diplomacy and economic pressure are frequently sufficient to do the job. But there will be times when limited military action will be the only effective way to obviate an imminent threat – before, say, a state produces enough fissile material to make nuclear weapons or before terrorists are fully able to hatch their plots. One problem with the Bush doctrine, then, is not that it is overly reliant on preventive force but that it too narrowly conceives of its use, primarily to deal with terrorism and to remove threatening regimes.

The Bush doctrine’s other problem is that it insists that individual states, or at least the United States, must have the right to decide when preventive force is justified, even though the threat affects the security of many. The decision to use force in these cases cannot be one state’s alone...

Preventive military force has a role in managing today’s security challenges. Understanding that role is step one; establishing agreed standards for its use is step two; and implanting these standards in an effective institution is the third step. The Bush administration got the first step right, and the logic of its arguments builds toward the second. But it has gotten step three wrong. Unilateralism is not the only alternative to the Security Council. Regional organizations and a new coalition of democratic states offer ways to legitimize the use of force when the council fails to meet its responsibilities.

That's classic Clintonite foreign policy vision: It doesn't abhor the use of military force, but cares greatly about world opinion and looks to use force with as much international support and legitimacy as possible. And yet, this this vision doesn't subjugate US policy to the United Nations and will pull an end run around the Security Council if need be--which is exactly what happened with the 1999 bombing campaign in Kosovo, which was conducted against Russia's will under the auspices of NATO.

P.S. So much for Holbrooke?

--Michael Crowley