Forget Iran and North Korea—Worry Instead About Russia and Pakistan

By Amitai Etzioni
Yale University Press, 308 pages, $27

Amitai Etzioni’s uneven but thoughtful book was clearly written as a policy position for the 2008 Presidential hopefuls. To his credit, he prescribes a new, forward-looking American foreign policy for all 18 candidates from both parties. One of Richard Posner’s top 100 American intellectuals, Mr. Etzioni stresses that he wears neither party’s ideological cloak, and instead seeks a policy that’s at once moral and practical.

Security First begins with the assumption that the neocon worldview has led to foreign-policy and humanitarian disasters in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The post-9/11 foreign policy advocated by the Bush administration is an almost complete failure in Mr. Etzioni’s view, but not just because of its immoral rationale for the invasion of Iraq. The George Washington University professor presumes that “foreign powers cannot democratize and modernize a nation like Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.” Instead, America and the other powerful nations of the world should be intervening in Rwanda and Darfur, before Iraq and Afghanistan. The first two required help because of the dangers posed by internal threats, while the latter two seemed to be threatening others.

There’s a new world order, Mr. Etzioni attests, but in it, the United States is not as mighty as it currently believes it is. His argument, cleverly posed in domestic political terms, suggests that by invading Muslim countries in particular, the U.S. is losing the “world’s swing voters”—moderate Muslims. As America dwindles in popular world opinion, we need all the help we can get. Assuming the U.S. cannot remake the world in its own image, it must ally itself with all non-democratic (“illiberal”) regimes that renounce violence. This minimum requirement is both morally justified and practical—it’s the opposite of the Bush with-us-or-against-us global divide. Here, Mr. Etzioni, a Holocaust survivor and a former Israeli commando, is calling out Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis, the neocons’ resident experts on the Muslim world, as warmongers who see the world as divided into two hostile camps.

Although Mr. Etzioni argues that the “Axis of Evil” is an unproductive view of rogue states and a flawed foreign policy, he does consider nuclear terrorism to be the world’s greatest threat. Take heart, conservatives: Mr. Etzioni is not against bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities—if other countries and global organizations can show solid evidence of a weapons program—but only after all diplomatic measures have been exhausted, and after everything possible has been done to avoid collateral damage to civilians.

Security First finishes with Mr. Etzioni’s most cogent argument: that the biggest threat America faces is neither Iran nor North Korea, but rather Russia and Pakistan. He’s not afraid of the government of Vladimir Putin or Pervez Musharraf, but rather of the instability of these countries and their inability to protect nuclear materials that could be acquired by terrorists. He suggests that instead of scolding Russia about its lack of democratic reform, U.S. leaders should be soliciting the government’s help in securing warheads and “blending down” weapons-grade uranium.

This book, manifestly geared toward 2008, leaves one key question unanswered: Are Hillary, Obama, Rudy or Romney listening?


Matthew Cole is writing a book about the C.I.A. for Simon & Schuster. Forget Iran and North Korea—Worry Instead About Russia and Pakistan