In “The Opposite”, George breaches the most fundamental laws in his universe – for example, the age-old principle that “bald men with no jobs and no money, who live with their parents, don’t approach strange women”.I've never seen it put better.
Similarly, in its geopolitical incarnation, adherents to the Costanza doctrine cast aside many of the fundamental tenets they learnt at staff college or graduate school. Let me name a few.
First, military and diplomatic resources are finite and should be directed towards your greatest priority. An example of the opposite approach would be for a country that has been attacked by a non-state terrorist group to retaliate by removing a state regime that had nothing to do with the attack.
Second, take care not to weaken your intimidatory powers through poor military performance. Aim for short, sharp victories (such as that in the 1991 Gulf war) that get your adversaries worrying about the extent of US power. The opposite would be to launch a war of choice involving the drawn-out occupation of an Arab country – the kind of thing that gets your allies worrying about the limits of US power.
Third, you get by with help from friends. Although the powerful are sometimes tempted to go it alone, international support helps determine the perceived legitimacy of an action, which affects its risk and costs. Building this support requires discussion and compromise. The opposite would be to spurn real negotiations, slough off your allies, bin multilateral agreements you do not like and declare that you are not bound by the rules that govern everyone else.
Fourth, state-building is hard. Few of the international efforts at state-building since the cold war’s end have succeeded. Luckily there are numberless reports identifying lessons learnt. The alternative would be to do the opposite of what those reports recommend, for example by deploying insufficient troops and dismantling any extant national institutions such as the army.
Fifth, democracy is a blessing that requires patient nurturing. The opposite approach would be to seek to impose democracy by force of arms on a population traumatised by decades of vicious and totalitarian rule.
Sixth, politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. If two dangerous states are struggling for dominance of a strategic region, maintaining a balance between them may be the least worst option. The opposite would be to emasculate one of them, thereby greatly increasing the relative power of the other.
Finally, historians often cite the need for prudence in international relations, quoting the physician’s dictum: “First, do no harm.” The opposite would be: “Don’t think too much, just chance your arm and see what happens!”
There is a moment in “The Opposite” when George Costanza pre-empts some hooligans making a ruckus at the movie theatre: “Shut your mouths or I’ll shut ’em for ya. And if you think I’m kidding, just try me. Try me! Because I would love it!”
For a while, that kind of method worked – for both Georges. Then normal service resumed. The Costanza doctrine is all about hope, but when it comes to making your way, in New York or the world, experience is the better guide.
Friday, March 30, 2007
The Costanza Doctrine
Ouch. Michael Fullove, director of the global issues programme at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, delivers a most excellent rant in the Financial Times today. He compares the Bush administration to a famous episode of Seinfeld and concludes that Bush does things by the Costanza doctrine.