Authors: James Goldgeier, Professor of Political Science, George Washington University; and Derek Chollet, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security

Commentator: James Mann, Author-in-Residence, Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University

This meeting, co-sponsored by International Security Studies and West European Studies, is part of ISS's ongoing series on "Ideas in American Foreign Policy."

The unprecedented terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 – 9/11 – created the widespread but misleading perception of a landmark change in international relations. President George W. Bush stated that the years preceding 9/11 had been years of "repose"; America had been on "sabbatical." In their new book, America between the Wars, James Goldgeier and Derek Chollet state that rather than marking a fundamental break with the past, 9/11 instead "woke us up to problems that were there before." To understand where we are today, Goldgeier and Chollet argue that we need to understand the implications of the "mirror image" day of November 9, 1989 – 11/9 – when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War was effectively over.

11/9 ended the four-decade era of containment that had been the United States' overarching strategic concept, enunciated by diplomat George Kennan, under which international relations were viewed in terms of the central U.S.-Soviet rivalry. In the aftermath of the Cold War, innumerable experts sought to become the grand strategist of the new era, but no one, as Goldgeier put it, won the "Kennan sweepstakes." There was simply too much complexity in the post-Cold War system to be reduced to a single phrase.

The closest that the Clinton administration came to an organizing strategic concept was "democratic enlargement." This policy, based in part on the theory of "democratic peace" – the notion that democracies do not fight each other – gained prominence in the 1980s. The Clinton administration's grand strategy was essentially to engage those parts of the world (such as the Soviet Union's successor and Eastern Europe) that had been outside the post-World War II liberal international order and thereby enlarge the community of democracies with free market economic systems.

Chollet observed that the the end of the Cold War precipitated a fracturing of the conservative movement. Anti-communism had been the glue that held modern conservatism together. Conservatives were divided between traditional realists, such as President H.W. Bush, nativists, like Patrick Buchanan, who advocated America-first, neo-isolationist policies, and neo-conservatives who advocated democracy-promotion and a muscular foreign policy in which American power would not be channeled through or constrained by international institutions.

Many conservatives opposed the Clinton administration's humanitarian interventions of the 1990s in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, and Kosovo. A similar split, Chollet stated, has been evident in the geographical extension of the "Global War on Terrorism" from Afghanistan to Iraq. He likened the crisis that conservatives face in the wake of the Iraq War to that which liberals faced over Vietnam and was chronicled in David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest.

Commentator James Mann concurred with the book's central argument that the main foreign policy debates since 9/11 have their antecedents in the post-11/9 era. Prominent among these issues is the thorny issue of sovereignty. Mann noted that the same concern about state sovereignty – the cardinal principle of international relations – that arose during the 1994 debate preceding the U.S. intervention in Haiti was similarly evident during the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.