Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The US under the next administration as 'meek multilateralist'?

This is from the conclusion of a new essay - remarks, really, prepared for a conference at which I was unfortunately unable to appear, and then revised for a seminar on human rights at NYU - appearing in Fordham International Law Review one of these days. It will be substantially edited from this form, but the point is still basically the same - the US in a new administration as 'meek multilateralist' - and why that is not an unalloyed good, even for those who would prefer the US to loom less large upon the world.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that the US has quite exhausted itself with war – perhaps not unlike its exhaustion with war following Vietnam. Not everyone shares that view, but conventional wisdom says no more wars for a good while.[1] From the European point of view, that does not make the US security guarantee any less good – better even – because for Europe, US counterterrorism wars simply stir up Islamist terrorists in its own cities, places that can’t be attacked by the 82nd Airborne. What it most likely leads to is a return to the early Clinton era, perhaps with an added air, in a Democratic administration at least, of contrition for the wicked Bush years, and expressed as ‘meek multilateralism’.

But recall what that meek multilateralism served in those early Clinton years. It was a get along, go along foreign policy not really interested in anything foreign other than trade. It was willing, most of the time, to say all the right multilateralist things. It was always willing to feel everyone’s pain for anything out in the world. But it was much less willing to act. It wanted to be multilateralist precisely in order (partly, but only partly, through its lip service compliance with all those international norms), to try and be just another power in the multilateral gaggle of nation-states, whose compliance is partly lip service, too.

Being 'just one of the guys', so to speak, doesn’t work for the United States, of course, and it doesn’t work for the rest of the world either. What, rely, really rely, on the promise of collective security through the UN? Who are we kidding? Within a few years the Clinton administration was in a different mode – but it wasn’t willingly and it wasn’t for lack of desire to loom small on the world stage. We therefore face, under either a Democratic or Republican administration, the possibility of a return to a form of meek multilateralism by the United States. It might actually be more compliant with international law norms. It might be much more respectful of international law as the international law professors see it. It would almost certainly be more soothing to the sensitivities, so offended by the Bush administration, of the international community. One might wish that the US would essentially submit its power to supervision and control by its allies and friends and take instruction from them, but that seems unlikely. (One reason is that although the United States is fully capable of moral and legal mistakes, submitting one’s power to the supervision even of one’s friends invites – quite apart from its preposterousness from a strictly realist standpoint – the “give a mouse a cookie” problem, the inevitable tendency to demand more and more of the superpower as a condition of continuing to like it.)

The actual choice is much more likely this. On the one hand, a meek multilateralism that masks a deep desire to ignore, at least for some quite possibly critical years, the responsibilities and obligations of the superpower, in order not to be seen to be exercising its privileges, and also frankly to lick its wounds. Or, on the other hand, the robust assertion of American exceptionalism, even to the point of special privilege, arrogant as that always in fact is, and infuriating to the rest of the US’s friends and allies, as that always is, and less compliant and respectful of others’ views of international law and the international system, such as it is.

The latter choice may not rise, in a new administration, to the Bush administration’s specially calibrated levels of bellicosity, but it would not be a return to the early 1990s, either. Think carefully upon which you prefer.


[1] For example, Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan, two prominent foreign policy analysts of the center left and right, respectively, are releasing a joint paper arguing that the United States will be no less bellicose in a new administration than under Bush. See Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan, “America and the Use of Force,” Stanley Foundation Project, Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide, forthcoming 2007.

[2] I leave aside here, as too large a topic for these remarks, the currently popular idea of a “caucus of the democracies” that might provide a robust yet less evidently insincere forum in which the United States could argue its views, find greater grounds of agreement, and generally have a place among those who share its fundamental values against which to check its own behavior and achieve some agreement and coordination with others.

Let me add this column from Mark Steyn.
Fortress America's gate is open

May 13, 2007
Chicago Suntimes


Most terrorists seem like bumbling losers if they're caught before the act: That's certainly true of the Fort Dix jihadists who took their terrorist training DVD to the local audio store to be copied. It was also true of the Islamists arrested in Toronto last year for plotting to behead the prime minister, one of whose cell members had a bride who wanted him to sign a prenup committing him to jihad. The Heathrow plotters arrested while planning to blow up U.S.-bound airliners included a Muslim convert who'd started out as the son of a British Conservative Party official with a P. G. Wodehouse double-barreled name and a sister who was a Victoria's Secret model and ex-wife of tennis champ Yanick Noah.

But then Mohammed Atta and the 9/11 gang would have seemed pretty funny if you'd run into them in that lap-dance club they went to before the big day where the girls remembered them only as very small tippers. Most terrorists are jokes until the bomb goes off.

So, when we're fortunate enough to catch them in advance, it's worth pausing to consider what they tell us about the broader threat we face. According to genius New York Times headline writers, "Religion Guided Three Held In Fort Dix Plot." You don't say. Any religion in particular?

Well, the trio were Muslims, but Albanian Muslims -- i.e., they weren't Arabs and didn't have names like Mohammed and Abdullah (though their accomplices did). Even if Amer- ica were minded to profile, it's harder to profile against chaps with names like "Shain Duka" (Fort Dix) or "Rich- ard Reid" (the shoebomber) or "Jer- maine Lindsay" (a July 7 Tube bomb- er) or "Muriel Degauque" (a Belgian lady who self-detonated in a suicide attack on U.S. forces in Iraq) or "Jack Roche" (an Australian arrested for plotting to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra).

Second, the young Duka brothers are "radical Muslim" sons in a family of otherwise "moderate Muslim" oldsters. That, too, fits a pattern of de-assimilation, of young Western Muslims far more implacable and hostile than their parents and grandparents. The London bombers were British subjects born and bred, radicalized in the vacuum of contemporary multiculturalism. One of the Toronto plotters had a father-in-law who was the pharmacist at the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry base. The Princess Pats have done sterling work in Afghanistan, and pop supports their mission. But his daughter doesn't, and she named his grandchild after a Chechen terrorist killed by the Russians.

Third, what then radicalized so many Western Muslims? Answer: in many cases, the Balkans. When Yugoslavia collapsed 15 years ago, Jacques Poos told the Americans to butt out: "The hour of Europe has come!" he declared confidently. Poos was the foreign minister of Luxembourg, a country as big as your hot tub, but he chanced to be holding the European Union's rotating "presidency" at the time and, as it happened, the Americans were very happy to butt out. "We don't have a dog in this fight," said then-secretary of state, James Baker.

Well, the hour of Europe came and went, and a couple of hundred thousand corpses later the EU was only too happy for Americans to butt back in again. So NATO bombed Christian Serbs in defense of Albanian Muslims, and a fat lot of good it did if the Duka brothers are any indication.
In theory, Baker was right. But out there in the Balkans, if you're one of the dogs in the fight, great-power evenhandedness can seem pretty one-handed by the time you hear about it. Don't take my word for it. Here's Osama bin Laden: "The British are responsible for destroying the Caliphate system. They are the ones who created the Palestinian problem. They are the ones who created the Kashmiri problem. They are the ones who put the arms embargo on the Muslims of Bosnia so that 2 million Muslims were killed."

Whoa, hold up there: How come a list of imperial interventions wound up with a bit of non-imperial non-intervention? Because, for serious nations, even not taking sides is seen as, in effect, taking sides. What was the single biggest factor in the radicalization of British Muslims? Omar Sheikh, convicted in Karachi for the kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl, is British -- a Westernized non-observant chess-playing pop-listening beer-drinking London School of Economics student, until he was fired up by the massacres of Bosnian Muslims. And, while Europe dithered as the mountain of corpses piled up, Saudi money poured in, transforming the relatively mild Balkan Islam into something far more virulent. Look at the change in Muslim architecture in the region over the last 15 years: They build Wahhabist mosques now. Unlike the State Department complaceniks, the Islamists understand there is no stability.

Tough, you say. So what? Washington still has no dog in these fights. It's time to hunker down in Fortress America. Which brings me to the fourth lesson: What fortress? The three Duka brothers were (if you'll forgive the expression) illegal immigrants. They're not meant to be here. Yet they graduated from a New Jersey high school and they operated two roofing companies and a pizzeria. Think of how often you have to produce your driver's license or Social Security number. But, five years after 9/11, this is still one of the easiest countries in the world in which to establish a functioning but fraudulent identity.

Consider, for example, the post-9/11 ritual of airline security. You have to produce government-issued picture ID to the TSA official. Does that make you feel safer? On that Tuesday morning in September, four of the killers got on board by using picture ID they'd acquired through the "undocumented worker" network in Falls Church, Va. Half the jurisdictions in the United States issue picture ID to people who shouldn't even be in the country, and they issue it as a matter of policy. The Fort Dix boys were pulled over for 19 traffic violations, but because they were in "sanctuary cities," any cop who suspected they were illegals was unable to report them to immigration authorities. Again, as a matter of policy.

On one hand, America creates a vast federal security bureaucracy to prevent another 9/11. On the other hand, American politicians and bureaucrats create a parallel system of education and welfare and health care entitlements, main- taining and expanding a vast network of fraudulent identity that cor- rupts the integrity of almost all state databases. And though it played a part in the killing of 3,000 Americans, leaders of both parties insist nothing can be done to stop it. All we can do is give the Duka brothers "a fast track to citizenship."

The Iranians already are operating in South America's Tri-Border area. Is it the nothing-can-be-done crowd's assumption that the fellows who run armies of the "undocumented" from Mexico into America are just kindhearted human smugglers who'd have nothing to do with jihad even if the price was right? If you don't have borders, you won't have a nation -- and you may find "the jobs Americans won't do" covers a multitude of sins.

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