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THE NEW UTOPIANISM: LIBERALISM, AMERICAN

FOREIGN POLICY, AND THE WAR IN IRAQ


ERIC A. HEINZE

Abstract: This article explores the extent to which the decision to invade Iraq
in 2003 coheres with the normative precepts of liberalism as an international
political theory. Beginning with a Lockean liberal theory of the state, this article
first examines the evolution of international liberalism in order to identify the
fundamental normative postulates of liberal theory as it pertains to international
relations, especially regarding the use of military force. The article then advances
two interrelated arguments: First, that the underpinnings of the decision to invade
Iraq embodied in the Bush Doctrine draw heavily from the liberal tradition,
though still depart from it in important ways. Second, that the Bush Doctrine
as manifested in the Iraq war reflects in many ways the liberal thinking that
prevailed during the interwar years and is therefore susceptible to a similar
charge of utopianism that was leveled against interwar liberalism by E. H. Carr
in his Twenty Years Crisis.
Keywords: Bush Doctrine, E. H. Carr, Iraq War, liberalism, utopianism
The US invasion of Iraq in 2003 is likely to become one of the most
consequential American foreign policy decisions of our time, yet the normative
theoretical basis for the invasion remains contested (see Boyle 2004). Was
the decision to invade Iraq informed by realist thinking, whereby the United
States sought to remove a grave threat to its vital national security interests, or
are the dynamics of war better captured by the liberal tradition and therefore
imbued with a desire to plant the seed of liberty in the Middle-East region
and facilitate the proliferation of liberal values such as democracy and human
rights? The original justification for the invasion seemed to draw mostly from
realist understandings of vital national interest, emphasising self-defence from
a threatening and bellicose regime that was bent on acquiring weapons of
Journal of International Political Theory, 4(1) 2008, 105125
DOI: 10.3366/E1755088208000116
Edinburgh Univeristy Press 2008

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mass destruction (WMD) and using them against the US and its allies. But the
failure of evidence to support this justificatory basis led to an emphasis of the
humanitarian argument for the invasion, thus couching the Iraq invasion within
a different normative discourse with proponents mounting decidedly liberal
arguments for deposing Saddam Hussein (e.g. Tesn 2005; Neal 2003).
The idea of liberal intervention philosophically rooted in Kantian
internationalism with its modern foreign policy application in Wilsonian
idealism refers in a very general sense to intervening (usually militarily)
in other countries in order to promote liberal values, such as democratic
institutions, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and individual liberties.
A species of liberal intervention referred to as humanitarian intervention
gained popularity in the 1990s, suggesting that the principle of state sovereignty
was being redefined and could no longer be used as a shield behind which
governments could violate the fundamental rights of their people with impunity.
According to this view, sovereignty entails a responsibility to respect human
rights, not a license to violate them with impunity, and states that do so possibly
relinquish their sovereign right of nonintervention (Annan 1999; Barkin 1998).
So when the George W. Bush administrations assertion that Saddam Hussein
possessed WMD that threatened vital US security interests was eventually
discredited, it made a good deal of sense for the Bush White House to emphasise
the humanitarian credentials of the invasion and justify the Iraq war using
the moral discourse of liberal intervention as opposed to the narrow and selfinterested power calculations of realist thought. To what extent, however, was
the Iraq war a liberal intervention in the sense that it abided by principles of
international liberalism as this tradition pertains to the use of force? The purpose
of this essay is to address this concern.
For even the casual reader of international relations theory, it will come as
no surprise the ease with which liberal principles can be used to provide what
Hans Morgenthau called ideological justifications to cloak what are otherwise
acts of narrow self-interest (Morgenthau 1993: 99; see also Mearsheimer 2001:
257). This is largely a result of there being, as Michael Doyle (1986: 1152)
rightly notes, no canonical description of liberalism, particularly as this term
applies to international theory. This essay therefore traces liberalism to its
philosophical origins in Enlightenment thought, discusses how and why liberal
principles drew the charge of being utopian during the interwar years, and
outlines the contemporary normative doctrine of international liberalism that
emerged. Following Doyles formulation of international liberalism as that
which seeks to protect human rights, support international cooperation, profess
international law, and support international norms (Doyle 1999: 213), I identify
the fundamental elements of international liberalism as it pertains to the use of
military force and apply them to the underpinnings of the Iraq war, as embodied
in the Bush Doctrine, in order to ascertain the extent to which arguments in
favour of this invasion conform to liberal principles. While the values that
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undergird and allegedly justify the Iraq war cohere with liberal principles in
many ways, I ultimately argue that the Bush administrations adaptation of
liberal interventionism is akin to the utopianism that E. H. Carr argued in his
Twenty Years Crisis characterised international liberalism during the interwar
years.

The Roots of International Liberalism


Central to liberal thought in its simplest form is a concern for individual liberty.
With its intellectual roots in the early Enlightenment thought of John Locke,
the liberal ideal posits a limited or conditional government whose job it is to
protect what Isaiah Berlin called a minimum area of personal freedom which
on no account must be violated (Quoted in Smith 1992: 201). The legitimacy
of a government flows from the consent of the governed, over whom rulers
may not exercise coercion except through means established by law. Liberalism
thus espouses a concept of the state as servant of society, whose job it is to
remove obstacles to freedom and protect individuals from even majoritarian
oppression. To prevent governments from exceeding these limits, of course,
requires the familiar array of institutional constraints, checks and balances, and
individual rights that underlie the constitutional arrangements of nearly every
liberal democratic polity that exists today.
To be sure, Locke was espousing a political theory of the state using a wellknown state of nature argument, though this condition was quite different than
the vicious Hobbesian scenario of war of all against all. Indeed, the Lockean
state of nature is governed by a God-given law of nature that is knowable to
individuals through their reason, wherein every individual possesses natural
rights to life, liberty, and property. Any person who deprives others of these
natural rights sets himself outside the realm of reason and law and therefore may
be pursued and punished not just by those whose rights were unjustly deprived,
but by any person who lives according to the laws of nature (Locke 1980: 910).
The problem, of course, is that such individuals are unlikely to be fair and
impartial when punishing transgressors, which is precisely why Locke argued
that rational individuals would establish civil government. Locke furthermore
contends that this state of nature is a real condition that actually exists-among the
savages of other lands as well as among the rulers of sovereign commonwealths
throughout the world (Locke 1980: 13). While never systematically discussing
relations among commonwealths in light of this analogy, this formulation of a
state of nature among sovereigns would be crucial in later developments of the
law of nations, while other Lockean ideas would continue to permeate liberal
Enlightenment thinking about international affairs, particularly the democratic
peace theory and political-economic theories about free trade and imperialism
(Knutsen 1997: 150). The Lockean contribution to international liberalism is
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therefore fundamental, as it is from this common liberal root that emerges


the main branches of the liberal approach to international relations that would
produce twentieth century interwar utopianism and provide part of the normative
basis of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
Lockes contribution to international liberalism is embodied in three
foundational ideas that were adopted and refined by others to form the
fundamental precepts of international liberalism. The first is Lockes unique
law-governed state of nature argument. As mentioned above, Locke argues
in his Second Treatise that in the state of nature all persons living according
to the law of nature enjoy an equal right to punish the violators of this law.
Lockes acknowledgment that a state of nature exists among the sovereign states
of the world is thus a reasonable basis to assert a liberal-Lockean argument for
a unilateral right of law-abiding states to engage in the punitive use of military
force against states that violate the law of nations the precursor to international
law as derived from natural law. Better known for this view is Hugo Grotius,
who (writing before Locke) advanced a more explicit argument in favour of
punitive war, essentially arguing that a sovereign state may use military force
against another to redress violations of natural law and defend the peace and
tranquility of international society (Grotius 1949; Lang 2005: 601). Locating
Locke and Grotius within a similar stratum of the Just War tradition, Michael
Doyle (1997: 220) attributes to Locke the view that a just conqueror has the
right to punish transgressors of the law of nations in order to deter future such
acts and to exact reparations. The punitive application of military force as a
means of enforcing international law therefore seems to be an element of both
the Just War and liberal traditions, one that some contemporary theorists argue
underlies many of the arguments made by the US and UK for the war in Iraq
(e.g. Lang 2005; OConnell 2006).
Others have argued that such an analysis is to read too much into Locke, and
that his views on punishment in the state of nature cannot be straightforwardly
applied to modern international relations (e.g. Williams 2005: 23). While Grotius
was advocating the right of states to individually undertake punitive force, it is
far less clear whether Locke would have gone as far, as Locke was arguably more
concerned with justifying colonial projects than he was advocating a generalised
and private right of punishment against nations that violate natural law (Williams
2005: 23; Tuck 1999: 177). Some scholars (e.g. Knutsen 1997: 120; Tuck 1999:
195) have thus associated Emmerich de Vattel with specifically liberal-Lockean
analyses of international relations. Following the Lockean state of nature, Vattel
posits that states have no government to rule over them or enforce their rights,
but are governed by a universal natural law (the necessary law of nations)
that is binding on all states and obligates them to respect the rights of one
another (Vattel 1863). While Vattel argued that states have the private right
to resort to war to defend themselves and as a means of self-help for having
been individually wronged, he unequivocally rejected the Grotian conception of
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punitive war that permitted privately (unilaterally) enforcing the law of nations
on behalf of all nations, since this would open the door to all the passions of
zealots and fanatics and give to ambitious men pretexts without number (Vattel
1863: 161, 116). For Vattel, such punitive enforcement of the law must be
imbued with the special authority of the community of nations, whereby the
interests of human society would authorise all the other nations to form a confederacy in order to humble and chastise the delinquents . . . (Vattel 1863: 161).
Paralleling Lockes concern that individuals in the state of nature are unlikely
to be fair and impartial when privately punishing transgressors of natural law in
the public interest, Vattel addresses a similar concern at the international level
by advancing what is for all intents and purposes an inchoate formulation of
collective security as a means for enforcing what would become contemporary
international law. It is thus the liberal rights-based ethos bequeathed from Locke
and refined by Vattel that makes the sanctity of universal moral law and the
collective pursuit and punishment of its transgressors akin to what we would
now recognise as liberal prescriptions for international relations.
The second Lockean contribution to international liberalism comes from the
twin concepts of individual liberty and popular sovereignty, which form the
foundation of the Kantian democratic peace, as well as the corollary insight
(usually credited to international liberalism) that the internal composition of
states is a crucial component in their relations with one other. The idea that
that democracies tend toward peace because the common people will bear the
greatest costs of war, and therefore always strive to avoid it, was shared by
many late-Enlightenment theorists, too numerous to adequately review here
(e.g. Godwin 1985), though Kants is the most systematic and well-known of
the Enlightenment theories of democratic peace. For Kant, liberal states with
republican constitutions will gradually establish peace among themselves by
means of a pacific federation, as described in the Second Definitive Article of
his Perpetual Peace (Kant 1991: 102). Importantly, Kant is not calling for a
world government, but rather a union of nations which maintains itself, prevents
wars, and steadily expands (quoted in Hinsley 1963: 63) in essence, a further
elaboration of the concept of collective security. While Kant indeed envisaged
a law-governed international organisation, he was notably ambiguous about the
question of forcing states to adopt republican constitutions. These ambiguities in
Kants writings foreshadowed what would become a great debate within liberal
thought about whether and the means by which liberal states should go to war to
reform intolerant and aggressive autocracies.
The final influence of Locke on international liberalism was his conception
of private property, to which Jeremy Bentham and others added the concepts
of economic utility and harmony of interests to mount powerful anti-imperialist
arguments and lay the foundation for advocates of free trade and international
economic cooperation. The Lockean concept of private property is a crucial
component of the optimistic anthropology of liberalism and in the liberal belief
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of progressive development of mankind (Puchala 2003: 189). With the advent of


private property, man is capable of pursuing his private ends and realising his
own happiness. Property also gives man an incentive to work, while the fruits
of this labour enhance his own well-being as well as that of society as a whole.
Bentham picks up on this theme by arguing that only in an open and unimpeded
society can man maximise his pleasure and minimise his pain that is, pursue
his happiness to the greatest extent (Knutsen 1997: 151). In Benthams view, free
and open trade among nations has a general harmonising effect, since nations
would be facilitating the happiness of one anothers society. In other words,
nations grow richer through commerce than through conquest or empire. Herein
lies Benthams advocacy of free trade as a force for international peace and
stability and his staunch opposition to colonialism and mercantilism. In his Plan
for a Universal and Perpetual Peace, Bentham argues the advantages of having
colonies are outweighed by the military expenditures required to defend them
and protect their trade (Bentham 1843: 54661). If colonial struggles ended, not
only would free and open trade have a pacifying effect on international relations,
but international conflict could be reduced to a level where it could easily be
managed by a Congress of States (Bentham 1843: 552).
Not only did Bentham help define the liberal tradition regarding the pacifying
effects of free trade, his argument for the abolition of secret diplomacy and
emphasis on the importance of international law (allegedly having coined this
term) helped cement the tenets of a bourgeoning liberal theory of international
relations. Born out of a Lockean liberal theory of the state and honed by
Enlightenment ideals, international liberalism of the mid- to late-nineteenth
century espoused a strong preference for a law-governed society of states,
cooperation in international organisations to collectively enforce this law, the
spread of democracy and liberal ideals (therefore bringing about peace), and the
enhancement global peace and prosperity by pursuing free trade. International
liberalism was deeply suspicious of the balance-of-power politics that dominated
international relations at this point in history and sought to replace war as a
tool of foreign policy with international cooperation, trade, and the eventual
pacification of a world of liberal democratic nations. But consensus on these
issues, particularly on this latter point, was far from universal. While part of
this debate centered on the proper role of the state in certain economic activities
and whether state intervention was necessary to prevent social inequalities, a
related debate with more profound implications for international relations had
to do with whether democratic states should tolerate states that rejected their
liberal principles or use force to reform them (Knutsen 1997: 1712). In short,
the debate was about the desirability of liberal interventionism.
What one might call status quo liberals took the non-interventionist stance,
ridiculed balance-of-power interventionism, and argued, as Richard Cobden
did, that disarmament, arbitration and free trade would be the foundational
principles of any platform for peace (Howard 1978: 44). British liberals like
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Cobden and his colleague John Bright were in many ways emblematic of the
liberal internationalism of the nineteenth century, arguing that [t]he progress
of freedom depends . . . upon the maintenance of peace, the spread of commerce,
and the diffusion of education . . . (Cobden 1903: 216). John Stuart Mill likewise
asserted that commerce was rapidly rendering war obsolete. Mills essay A
Few Words on Non-Intervention, argues that it would be a mistake for a state
to intervene in a repressive state and establish free institutions because people
given freedom by foreign intervention will be unable to hold on to it. It is only
by having the will to fight for and win ones own freedom that people realise
the true value of liberty and are thus prepared to do what it takes to maintain
it (Mill 1984: 122). Otherwise, a people set free by an external force will not
value such freedom and will soon find themselves either oppressed by their new
democratic rulers, struggling against one another for supremacy, or continually
relying on foreign support to maintain their freedom.
More revisionist liberals such as the Italian patriot Giuseppe Mazzini were
more sympathetic to balance-of-power politics and argued that the immediate
international objective was not peace, but rather freedom (Vincent 1974: 61).
Mazzini shared the liberal vision of a universal republic of free nations, but for
him, unlike his British contemporaries, this objective would have to be achieved
by just and necessary foreign interventions aimed at liberating oppressed people
what Kenneth Waltz later characterised as messianic interventionism (Waltz
1959: 110). William Gladstone likewise was sympathetic to this more bellicose
form of international liberalism in his belief that the British people had a moral
obligation to liberate people subjugated under a foreign or otherwise illegitimate
yoke, and do so using a force armed with the highest sanction of law. . . [and]
authorized and restrained by the Unified Powers of Europe (quoted in Howard
1978: 56). So while the Gladstonian conception of international relations was
part and parcel of the liberal credo that peace depended on the spread of
democracy, it implied an abandonment of the heretofore liberal espousal of nonintervention and the non-use of force. Importantly, however, the Gladstonian
conception of liberal interventionism rested upon collective legitimation and
recognized the existence of an international community, even if no institutions
yet existed to embody it, as well as an international morality, even if there
were no courts to codify and declare it (Howard 1978: 57). According to this
thinking, there indeed is a public international law that obliges a certain code of
civilised internal conduct even if it does not exist in a treaty and if need be it
should be upheld by armed force.

The Twenty Years Crisis and Interwar Utopianism


After the First World War and the spirited efforts of Woodrow Wilson on
the international scene, liberalism became the dominant approach to studying
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international relations during the interwar years. Disillusioned observers of


international affairs widely rejected the realist view of world politics and its
espousal of realpolitik and power politics, which critics argued had brought
about the war. With the malfunctioning European balance of power largely
blamed for starting the Great War or at least failing to prevent it the
new discipline of International Relations was born amidst an urgent need
to avoid another world war and gravitated toward the liberal vision being
championed by Wilson. The Wilsonian view of international relations at this
time was the undeniable heir to the international liberalism that evolved during
the Enlightenment and had originated with Locke. Even Wilsons decision to
enter the war in 1917 reflected an essentially Lockean understanding of world
affairs, whereby the German Kaiser had violated the law of nature, placed
himself outside the realm of law and reason, and thus gave law-abiding states
the right to pursue him for the sake of all humanity (Knutsen 1997: 209).
Wilsons visionary plan for structuring world order after the war reflected the
familiar international liberal ideas on war and peace namely, that war could be
prevented by the spread of democracy (a goal that would be further facilitated
by membership in the League of Nations), fealty to international law and faith
in free-market economics.
The new academic discipline of International Relations was therefore largely
preoccupied with those tenets of international liberalism being championed
by Wilson and was greatly informed by the tradition of international law and
the anti-war societies of the early twentieth century. While a comprehensive
review of the thinkers of the interwar period is beyond the scope of this essay,
the writings of liberal intellectuals like Norman Angell, Alfred Zimmern, and
Arnold Toynbee are most commonly associated with these ideas, and were
also famously depicted by E. H. Carr as manifestly utopian. In his important
book The Great Illusion, Angell set out to debunk the illusion that war was
a profitable and useful tool for the conduct of state foreign policy, arguing that
wars of conquest between industrialised states had become futile, and that the
best solution to aggression was third party judgment within a collective system
(Angell 1939; Miller 1995: 104). For Angell, states single-minded pursuit of
their own security in a condition of anarchy led to war, thus security needed to
be provided internationally. After the Great War he became an ardent supporter
of the League of Nations, suggesting that [t]he military power of the world
should be so pooled by international agreement for supporting a common rule of
life for the nations as in fact to make it the police power of civilization (quoted
in Miller 1995: 112).
International relations scholarship during this period thus consisted mainly
of forward-looking liberal conceptions of world federations, blueprints for a
more perfect League of Nations, and the development of new international
institutions and legal codes for interstate behavior, all amidst a strong normative
desire for the avoidance of great-power war (Wilson 1995: 303). While Zimmern
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and Toynbee echoed Angells calls for a robust League of Nations and shared
his overarching aspirations to eradicate war and spread liberal values, their
ideas, also like Angells, were seized upon by Carr, particularly Zimmerns
emphasis upon the need for a long-term project of international re-education
and Toynbees advocacy of the Benthamite doctrine of harmony of interests
(Zimmern 1931; Brewin 1995: 277301; Rich 2002; Carr 2001: 429, 75).
Indeed, Carrs classic text is most famous for its attempt to debunk the
pretensions of the liberal thinking that dominated the international relations
discourse during the twenty years crisis, between 1919 and 1939. Using a
theoretical framework consisting of an alleged dialectic between utopia and
reality, Carr attacked as utopian those thinkers whose theoretical tradition
was that of liberalism (Knutsen 1997: 211) and whose ideas were derived
from Locke and infused with the Enlightenment ideals of Vattel, Kant and
Bentham. Importantly, Carrs polemic was very context-specific and was in
response to a particular group of liberal thinkers during a period of world
turmoil. Yet the basis of Carrs critique of this particular brand of liberalism
was fourfold. First, international liberalism was too preoccupied with what
international relations ought to resemble rather than what it actually resembled;
second, it was based on a misplaced faith in a harmony of interests among
states; third, it overemphasised the role of international law and morality and
underestimated the role of power; and finally, proponents of liberalism failed to
recognise that their espousal of universal interests amounted to nothing more
than a promotion and defense of a particular status quo (Wilson 1995: 12).
The normative character of liberal International Relations scholarship was
Carrs first target. For Carr, sciences in their infancy such as the new discipline
of International Relations are always imbued with a sense of purpose. In
this case, the purpose was to find reason-based substitutes for war. During this
utopian stage of development, investigators in these infant sciences will pay
little attention to existing facts or to the analysis of cause and effect, but will
devote themselves wholeheartedly to the elaboration of visionary projects for
the attainment of ends which they have in view projects whose simplicity
and perfection give them an easy and universal appeal (Carr 2001: 6). In short,
projects that were intended to alleviate war among states such as the League
of Nations, the strengthening of international law, the positing of a universal
democratic ethic and the belief that free trade would lead to peace were nothing
more than highly imaginative solutions whose relation to existing facts was
one of flat negation (Carr 2001: 7). What transformed this mildly excusable
naivet into all-out crisis was the fact that such forward-looking and visionary
thinking continued to dominate the international relations discourse even after
the collapse of free trade in 1929, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931,
and the rearmament and expansionist ambitions of Germany. The continued
discussions of a global police force, world federation and legalistic arguments
about dispute-settlement and strengthening the League were thus remarkably
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out of touch with these very real developments to the point of crisis. In Carrs
analysis, using principles of Lockean liberalism as the basis for international
order was utopian precisely because the visionary prescriptions and unverified
assumptions about international relations being advocated by the likes of Angell,
Zimmern and Toynbee overlooked these unfortunate but inescapable facts of
international life.
Foremost of these inescapable facts according to Carr is the fallacy of
liberalisms principal claim that there was a general harmony of interests
among states. According to the liberal view on international politics that
prevailed during the interwar period, it was in the interests of every state to
abide by rules that are made in the interests of the majority of states, while the
minority of states (whose greatest good is ex hypothesi not pursued) submit to
these rules because in sacrificing their short-term interests to the interests of
the majority they achieve an end that is in the interests of the community as a
whole, which includes themselves. If states fail to realise this natural harmony
of interests and resort to conflict or war, it is because they are short-sighted,
un-intellectual, or are failing to reason properly (Carr 2001: 43). The liberal
advocacy of universal free trade, for example, was justified on the Benthamite
grounds that the maximum economic interest of each state coincided with the
maximum interest of the world as a whole. Similar formulations were made
about submitting to international law, becoming party to the League of Nations
and renouncing war (Carr 2001: 501). For Carr, however, the doctrine of
harmony of interests was only tenable if one completely discounted the shortterm interests of the minority, who really only submit to the will of the majority
because they are weak (Carr 2001: 42, 49). Furthermore, the common interest
in peace allegedly held by all states masked the fact that some states wanted to
maintain the status quo while others wanted to change it, even though neither
may have been willing to go to war to do so (Carr 2001: 51). The doctrine of
harmony of interests was thus an illusion created by the existence of a power
asymmetry among states, where the strong did what they could and the weak
did what they had to in the quintessential Thucydidean fashion. This doctrine
likewise became the ideological basis for maintaining the status quo, whereby
the dominant powerful states sought to equate their interests with the interests of
international society as a whole and therefore maintain their dominant position
(Carr 2001: 42, 45).
For Carr, there was no such natural harmony of interests among states, but
rather a latent discord that was essentially kept in check by a balance of power.
International law and appeals to universal interests alone could not solve the
problem of conflict among states as the utopians believed precisely because this
view discounted the crucial ingredient of state power. The very idea of law
assumes some sort of authority to enforce obedience to it. Such enforcement
requires power, which is possessed primarily, if not exclusively, by states. As
such, law is very much an expression of the will of states, the most powerful of
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which will routinely use it as an instrument of coercion to serve their own ends.
But this is not to say that international relations are defined by power alone.
According to Carr, the fact that the exercise of state power so eagerly cloaks
itself in ideologies of a professedly international character proves the existence
of an international stock of common ideas, however limited and however weakly
held, and a belief that these common ideas stand somehow in the scale of values
above national interests (Carr 2001: 130). In other words, there does exist
some sort of international morality, which, like state power, is also expressed in
international law. So international law is a function of both power and morality,
but of neither exclusively. But it is those who held that international law and
orderly relations among states are solely a function of morality and reason whom
Carr charged as utopian.
Power on one hand, and international law and morality on the other, are
therefore mutually reinforcing influences in international relations. Power is
most effectively exercised when it is legitimated by international law and
morality, while norms of international law and morality derive their content
and relevance from powerful states taking up and acting on them (Bull 2002:
xii). For the utopians, it was the doctrine of harmony of interests that provided
a rational basis for a common international morality, which would itself be
facilitated by putting into practice the various liberal prescriptions for a peaceful
and prosperous international order. But for Carr, all the utopians were doing
was espousing a particular set of values that belonged to a specific group of
prosperous and privileged states and portraying them as universal (Carr 2001:
758). For these privileged states, maintaining the status quo is the key to
maintaining their dominant position. So by associating the specific interests of
dominant states with a universal interest of all states, the utopians unwittingly
created a moral basis for dominant states to assail any attempt to alter the status
quo that favours them, while also advancing a moral basis for dominant states
to take action aimed at preserving a favourable status quo. As Woodrow Wilson
argued when he justified the USs entry into World War I, the United States had
been founded for the benefit of humanity, and the values we would be defending
were not only American principles and American policies, but the principles of
all mankind, which must prevail (Carr 2001: 734). In this view, what is good
for America is ipso facto good for the world, and therefore ought to be the basis
of world order.
Liberalism, the War in Iraq, and the Bush Doctrine
From the discussion so far, one can ascertain roughly what a liberal theory
of military intervention might resemble. While much of the liberal project for
International Relations has been informed by a desire to avoid war or at least
to monopolise the resort to military force in the hands of a collective security

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organisation there is still very much a basis for resorting to armed conflict in
the liberal tradition as it has been outlined above.1 Even then, the resort to force
in the short-term is said to be in the interests of a long-term peace, as the ultimate
goal of such armed intervention would be to establish democracy in the target
state, thus making it a part of the Kantian pacific federation of republican states.
As such, if war is to be justified at all in the liberal view, it must first, either be
intended to punish or repel a transgressor of international law or have the effect
of promoting liberal values within the target state (e.g. democratic institutions,
human rights, market economics), and second, it must be undertaken in the spirit
of collective security and must be consistent with international law.
Certain contemporary international liberals have all but endorsed this formulation of liberal intervention, though with notably less deference to positivist
international law. The argument of these theorists is essentially that only
those states whose institutions satisfy the appropriate principles of justice can
legitimately demand to be respected as autonomous sources of ends that
is, to claim the right of nonintervention (Beitz 1979a: 81; see also Tesn
1988: 15). In other words, regimes that violate the civil and political rights of
their people have no moral claim to sovereignty and therefore forfeit the right
of nonintervention. Because the ultimate justification for the existence of states
is the protection and enforcement of individual rights, a government that abuses
these rights betrays the very purpose for which it exists and therefore should
not be protected by international law and does not have the right to be free from
intervention aimed at reforming its institutions (Tesn 1988: 15; see also Tesn
2003: 93; Beitz 1979b: 415).
The US invasion of Iraq potentially finds some grounding on this liberal basis.
Even if this was not the primary reason put forth publicly when the invasion
was being considered, an examination of the policy guidelines that informed the
decision to invade suggest that it nevertheless played an important role.2 If one
examines the policy guidelines pronounced by President George W. Bush in his
June 2002 speech at West Point and outlined in the National Security Strategy of
the United States published in September 2002 collectively labelled the Bush
Doctrine one can observe a set of ideas that not only foreshadow the invasion
of Iraq in 2003, but that also draw heavily from liberal thinking (President
Bush 2002; National Security Strategy, 2002). While the Bush Doctrine is best
known for outlining a policy of preventive war and declaring that the US will
act unilaterally to defend itself when it must (Record 2003: 421), it also entails
an ambitious agenda to champion the cause of human dignity and oppose those
who resist it, while encouraging the advancement of democracy and economic
openness (National Security Strategy 2002: 4). This latter aspect of the Bush
Doctrine is a function of two important principles of neoconservative thought
on foreign policy: first, that the internal character of regimes matters and US
foreign policy must reflect the values of liberal democratic societies, and second,

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that American power can be used to achieve such moral purposes (Fukuyama
2006: 48).
Examined in light of its neoconservative intellectual underpinnings, this
aspect of the Bush Doctrine is decidedly liberal, if not Wilsonian or even outright
Kantian. Kant, of course, argued that the spread of democratic states would result
in the pacification of the world, but he also left room for liberal states to wage
war, and he indeed feared that states would find liberal reasons to go to war
(Pangle 1999: 1959; Doyle 1986: 1152, 1160). While Kant never explicitly
advocated going to war for the purpose of changing the civil constitution of
states, he did argue that the civil constitution of a vanquished unjust enemy
could be forcibly changed if the defeated nation displays a maxim which would
make peace among nations impossible and would lead to a perpetual state of
nature if it were made into a general rule, which according to Kant includes
violations of public treaties (Kant 1991: 170). So a regime vanquished in an
armed conflict that had a different purpose such as self-defence may be forced
to adopt a republican constitution to discourage its warlike inclinations. Saddam
Husseins Iraq seems to fit the bill of Kants unjust enemy. Iraq routinely
invaded and threatened its neighbors and had been in breach of its international
obligations for over a decade a maxim that if made into a general rule,
would preclude meaningful peace among states. Thus, when the US went to
war against Iraq in self-defence, it had the right to change the constitution of
a vanquished Iraq to discourage its warlike inclinations, which was to have the
effect of enlarging the democratic pacific federation. Likewise, Saddam Hussein
had unlawfully invaded his neighbors in the past (namely Kuwait in 1990),
flouted international law by violating dozens of UN Security Council resolutions
concerning his weapons programmes, kicked out UN weapons inspectors, and
was said to be unlawfully pursuing WMD. So to the extent that the goals of
the Iraq war included enforcing these aspects of international law that Iraq had
breached, upholding universal moral norms regarding human rights and dignity,
and spreading liberal values such as democracy and liberty to Iraq, then there is
an undeniable normative basis for the Iraq war in international liberalism.
Other aspects of the Bush Doctrine put into practice are decidedly less liberal.
To be sure, the punitive dimension of the war has certain affinities with the liberal
tradition insofar as the war was fought as a means of holding Iraq to account
for violations of international law. Both Bush and Tony Blair forcefully pressed
the case that the war against Iraq was at least in part intended to reaffirm and
vindicate the various UN resolutions that Iraq had flouted (ODriscoll, 2006:
408). While such an argument for punitive war against Iraq certainly finds
grounding in Grotian Just War principles and perhaps Lockean liberalism to
a lesser degree the alleged unilateral and illegal nature of the Iraq war
stand it in stark contradistinction to the preoccupation with collective security
and fealty to international law espoused by international liberalism. Indeed, the
right to act unilaterally (and preventively) is a fundamental principle of the
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Bush Doctrine, while its neoconservative intellectual underpinnings include a


profound skepticism about the legitimacy and efficacy of international law and
institutions in achieving international security and justice (National Security
Strategy 2002: 6; Fukuyama 2006: 49). That the US invasion of Iraq took place
outside of the formal collective security institutions in place today (namely, the
UN Security Council, but also possibly NATO) make it very much antithetical
to liberal thinking about international peace and security. Far from the brand
of collective security envisaged by liberals from Bentham to Wilson, so-called
coalitions of the willing are more akin the sort of balance-of-power politics
that liberal thinking has rejected since the Enlightenment.3 Having not been
authorised by the UN Security Council, the Iraq invasion was therefore also
a violation of UN Charter provisions on the use of force. While a detailed
legal analysis of the US invasion of Iraq is beyond the scope of the present
essay, most international law experts are of the view that the USs use of force
without explicit approval by the UN Security Council was indeed a violation of
international law (OConnell 2003; Iraq War 2004). This aspect of the Bush
Doctrine the primacy of American power over trust in international law and
institutions is unequivocally contrary to international liberalism.

The New Utopianism


The US invasion of Iraq and the policy guidelines that led to it thus reflect a
worldview whereby the United States is thought to be both so powerful and
so benevolent that it has the ability to spread democracy throughout the world,
which can be achieved by military force if necessary (Leiven and Hulsman 2006:
xi). This approach attempts to achieve what are essentially liberal goals by using
realist means. That is, the Bush Doctrine and the Iraq war are reflections of
liberalism in the sense that they recognise that the internal nature of states is
as important as ever to international peace and security. Therefore, promoting
democracy and liberal values has become central to US foreign policy, especially
in the Middle East. On the other hand, this approach is realist in the sense that
it repudiates international law and institutions as means to achieving these goals
and instead focuses on the primacy of military power, though paradoxically, this
transgression of the law was supposedly undertaken to enforce and vindicate
international law. While the Bush Doctrine and its expression in the Iraq war
contain elements of liberalism, realism, as well as the Just War tradition, it also
invites the criticism of being utopian in a very similar sense as E. H. Carrs
criticism of interwar liberalism over two generations ago.
First is the Bush administrations preoccupation with a forward-looking and
visionary goals about what the world (especially the Middle East) ought to
resemble under the influence of benevolent American hegemony. As with Carrs
critique of interwar liberalism for its preoccupation with what the world ought
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to resemble rather than confronting the realities of the world as it is, the message
from the Bush administration even after things started going badly in Iraq was
to not let unpleasant realities get in the way of visionary hopes for a Westernstyle democratic Iraq that is a partner in the US global war on terror. As Bush
stated in May 2004, [o]ur actions . . . are guided by a vision . . . that freedom
can advance and change lives in the greater Middle East, just as it has advanced
and changed lives in Asia, and Latin America, and Eastern Europe, and Africa
(President Outlines 2004). Similar to what Carr accused interwar liberals of
doing, the Bush administration and others in the US foreign policy establishment
found it much easier to imagine this alternative and ideal vision for Iraq and the
greater Middle East rather than admitting the very real limitations of American
military might and reexamining the role that it can and should play in bringing
about progressive change in international relations. At the time of this writing, in
mid-2007, the limitations of American power in bringing about positive change
in Iraq have become all too real, yet the solution to the Iraq crisis advocated by
the Bush administration has been to intensify the war by sending more troops
in a so-called surge effort (Sanger 2007) in short, to exercise more power in
the hopes that this will create space in which political reconciliation can begin
to take place.
A related charge of utopianism could be leveled against the US administration
for overestimating the role of state power and underestimating the importance
of international law and institutions. While Carr criticised the interwar liberals
for doing precisely the opposite, he also understood that power and international
law are two sides of the same coin (Carr 2001: 130). If it was navely utopian
for certain interwar liberals to believe that international law and institutions
alone could secure international peace and prosperity, then it is similarly
utopian to believe that military power can be effectively exercised without
being legitimated by principles of international law, which according to Carr
exist to ensure that power is exercised for the common good and not solely
for self-aggrandisement (Carr 2001: 164). The lesson is that no matter how
overwhelmingly powerful a state is, those witnessing the exercise of such power
(including the alleged beneficiaries of it) are bound to resist it if they perceive it
to be fundamentally self-serving. It is not enough to justify the use of military
force by appealing to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, particularly
if the rule of law which is supposed to act as a check on self-serving military
adventurism becomes the first casualty of the resort to using force.
Another area in which the US policy in Iraq draws the charge of utopianism is
the assumption that what is good for America is good for the world a view
that parallels the notion of harmony of interests professed by a number of
interwar liberals. To be sure, there are grounds for suggesting that states do share
common interests in pursuing liberal values such as free trade, democracy, and
human rights. But the proliferation of these values and the eventual undermining
of tyrannical regimes like Iraq and North Korea through the force of Americas
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Eric A. Heinze

democratic and free market example are quite different than militarily invading
Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein in order to facilitate the spread of such
values. The US invaded Iraq under the supposition that since it would (allegedly)
benefit US and its security, then it would ipso facto benefit all of humanity.4
After all, some 40 states who presumably shared this view lent political support
to the US-led invasion. While many governments would disagree with US policy
in the short term, eventually, the administration assumed, they would realise
that the removal of a tyrant in the heart of the Middle East would accrue
benefits to all states and especially to the Iraqi people, who would greet the
Americans as liberators. Of course those states that were opposed to the US
invasion eventually allowed it to happen, while members of the coalition of the
willing not providing actual military support cheered from the sidelines. But an
application of Carrs logic would suggest that this had little to do with a belief
on the part of these states that deposing Saddam would eventually benefit them.
Rather, it was really a function of their economic and military weakness vis
vis the dominant United States, which rendered them powerless to do anything
to stop it. Better to lend political support to the superpower than risk billions of
dollars in foreign aid and valuable economic relations by opposing it (Anderson
et al. 2003).
Finally, while Carr argued that the interwar liberals visionary plans for
international order were nothing more than a promotion and defence of a
particular status quo that favoured dominant (liberal) states, one could likewise
argue that the USs espousal and pursuit of its visionary goals of democracy and
freedom for Iraq is of a similar nature. The US is the richest, most powerful
and most dominant state in the world a privileged position that any state
should want to preserve as long as possible. Accordingly, the US invasion of
Iraq could be interpreted as a policy of preserving and entrenching the status quo
of American global predominance. By invading Iraq and installing a democratic
regime, the US would not only be removing a threat to itself, but also expanding
the democratic pacific community to the benefit of all humanity. Since the
spread of liberal values is allegedly a universal common interest of all states,
any attempt to assail the interests of the dominant US incurs the odium of
assailing the alleged common interest of the whole community (Carr 2001: 75).
Extolling the virtues of purportedly universal values like human rights, freedom
and democracy therefore becomes a special vested interest of the dominant, as
it creates a basis for the US to throw moral discredit on any state that opposes
it or otherwise wants to alter the status quo, while it also provides a moral basis
for the US to take action aimed at preserving the status quo that favours it. So
far all the talk about the invasion of Iraq being a catalyst for progressive and
meaningful change in the Middle East, applying Carrs logic suggests that the
invasion was an attempt by the US to preserve and entrench a situation of gross
power inequality wherein the US remains predominant and wields its influence
throughout the globe without limitation.
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Liberalism, American Foreign Policy, and the War in Iraq

Conclusion
The new utopianism espoused by the Bush administration in its foreign policy
on Iraq has a number of affinities with international liberalism. While the Bush
Doctrine, as expressed in the Iraq war, indicates a desire on the part of the US
to spread liberal values such as human rights, democratic institutions and even
free-market economics, the repudiation of collective security institutions and
the apparent violation of international law that accompanied the Iraq invasion
are unequivocal departures from liberal thinking on international relations. It
therefore follows that the Bush Doctrine that informed the US Iraq policy
does not necessarily draw the charge of utopianism because of its affinities
with liberalism, in which it is only partially grounded. Similarly, E. H. Carrs
critique of the interwar liberals was not necessarily a critique of liberalism
qua liberalism. Rather, the charge of utopianism comes from the fact that the
approaches to international relations championed by both the interwar liberals
and the Bush administration professed fealty to prescriptive principles that
were/are antithetical to prevailing international realities. In this sense, talk of
spreading freedom and liberty throughout the greater Middle East while the US
finds itself in the middle of brutal sectarian killings and an increasingly violent
insurgency in Iraq is just as utopian as continuing to develop plans for world
federation and global economic cooperation amidst the collapse of the world
economy and an increasingly re-armed and bellicose Germany. As a result, just
as international liberalism fell from grace because of its association with the
utopian visions of the interwar period, the current danger is that liberalisms
association with social engineering run amok in Iraq will to do similar damage
(Clark 2003).
None of this is to say that the liberal project of spreading democracy and
humane values throughout the world is not a worthwhile endeavor, but the Iraq
war may have put this project in serious peril. In the case of the interwar liberals
who elaborated their plans with an eye toward avoiding another global war,
fealty to international institutions absent the element of state power ultimately
failed. As a result, the failure of liberal theory to predict international events
or offer practical policy prescriptions for controlling them resulted in the rise
to prominence of realism, whose preoccupation with cynical power politics
has dominated the discourse ever since, at least in the US (Wilson 1995: 2).
But just as liberal thinking on international relations became fashionable again
in the aftermath of the Cold War, and certain Western states began to move
beyond narrow realism to accept wider humanitarian responsibilities as part
of progressive and inherently liberal foreign policies, the scourge of terrorism
emerged as the new global threat.
The Bush administration believes with some reason that the proliferation
of liberal values will diminish the appeal of the fanatical ideologies that engender
terrorism. But as evidenced by setbacks in Iraq, relying on military power alone
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Eric A. Heinze

in this new context seems an unlikely method for enlarging the democratic
community, and has arguably to date had counter-productive results. So just
as the failed visions for international order espoused by the utopian interwar
liberals marginalised international liberalism, the current association of the
liberal project with the USs similarly utopian vision for Iraq is potentially
yet another setback to the promise of perpetual peace.
Acknowledgements
I would like to thank David Clinton, Greg Russell, Harry Gould, and the
anonymous referees at JIPT for helpful comments and suggestions on this
article. All views and any mistakes remain mine alone.
Notes
1

Michael J. Smith (1992: 2123) has argued that the dominant strand in the liberal tradition
appears to be noninterventionist, though admits a certain ambivalence and disagreement
within liberal thought about whether liberal states may militarily intervene in illiberal states.
George Packer 2005: chs. 12) seems to suggest that spreading liberal values was actually the
primary reason for invading Iraq, but that terrorism and WMD were a more palatable public
justification for going to war.
The text of the National Security Strategy (2002: 25) suggests as much: America will
implement its strategies by organising coalitions as broad as practical of states able and
willing to promote a balance of power that favors freedom (emphasis added).
I fully understand the consequences of what were doing. Were changing the world. And
the world will be better off and America will be more secure as a result of the actions were
taking (President Addresses 2004).

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