March 18, 2003

Dueling Mastheads! Well, Howell is

Dueling Mastheads!

Well, Howell is certainly putting his cards on the table. In a NYT's masthead that is embarrasingly hyperbolic Howell's gang opines as follows: "This war crowns a period of terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least a generation. The Bush administration now presides over unprecedented American military might. What it risks squandering is not America's power, but an essential part of its glory."

"At least a generation." Is that code for post-Vietnam? And, if so, does this mean that not being able to get a second resolution passed after securing 1441 with unanimity because a Perm 5 member was to veto regardless ranks with Carter's inglorious handling of the Iran hostage crisis, or the embarrasing episodes of Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia? The United States barely lifted a finger in the face of 1 million slaughtered in Rwanda--and the U.N. had never looked as impotent (well, until now) as during the horrors of Srebrenica when 8,000 were slaughtered under the watchful eyes of the world. These were pretty lousy diplomatic episodes--at least in my book.

Contrast the dread on the Hudson to the sober level-headedness on the Potomac per today's WaPo masthead:

"Mr. Bush is right in insisting that Saddam Hussein face the "serious consequences" unanimously agreed upon by the United Nations Security Council in the event Iraq rejected a "final opportunity" to disarm. Though they agreed to those terms, France and Russia refused to respect them; they argued, as they did throughout the 1990s, that no forceful action should be taken against Saddam Hussein. In recent weeks their diplomats did their best to transform the United Nations' attempt to eliminate a rogue state's chemical and biological weapons into a global debate about the United States and its leadership -- and to a large extent, they succeeded. Whether their underlying intention was to protect the Iraqi regime or to create a political mechanism for containing the United States -- or, as they claimed, simply to avert war -- they made it impossible for the Security Council to act effectively. Their claim that no legitimate military action can take place without further U.N. approval, echoed by some Bush administration opponents in the United States, is groundless. The Security Council has explicitly sanctioned armed force only a few times in its history; most interventions have occurred without it, including several initiated by the Clinton administration and others by France. As Mr. Bush said last night: "This is not a question of authority, it is a question of will."

They too go on to criticize the Administration, in more muted and rational fashion, regarding some of the shortcomings of the diplomatic effort. But the WaPo keeps the bigger picture in mind regarding the critical importance of exercising the will of the international community to preserve the integrity of 1441. This is far superior analysis compared to the hysterical shrieks emanating from the NYT's editorial board. More and more people are going to start getting this in the months ahead, I suspect.

Aside: It also bears mentioning, in this context, that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and thus the bipolar international system was bound to lead to increasing transatlantic strains. Immediately upon the re-unification of Germany, for instance, Bonn moved to recognize Slovenia and Croatia (perhaps too rapidly and without enough consultation with Belgrade) in contravention of Washington's desires. Such hasty diplomatic moves helped contribute to miscalculations that expedited the wars of Yugoslav succession--several conflicts in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and (almost) Macedonia.

Rememer too the cocksure European pronouncements that the "hour of Europe" had arrived--European powers would handle their nettlesome southern slavs and get them to behave in more civilized Vienna-like fashion. Of course, European diplomacy in the Balkans, because of a combination of impotence and internal division, was thoroughly ineffective. Richard Holbrooke had to save the day at Dayton.

But the point here is that European powers were spoiling to play more of a leadership role and step out from under Washington's shadow after the death of the Soviet Empire. I'm not saying that the current deep divide between Washington, on the one hand, and the Brussels-Berlin-Paris triumvirate, on the other, was inevitable--but there are historical forces at play here above and beyond Colin Powell not travelling enough during the latest diplomatic rounds or occasional heavy-handedness by our envoys in far flung spots like Mexico City, Ankara or, ahem, Yaounde. And it would be nice if the NYT deigned to point out such other variables once in a while--instead of constantly laying all the blame on Dubya's doorstep.

Posted by Gregory at March 18, 2003 09:08 AM
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