January 15, 2004

Marshall on the Dean as Unilateralist Meme

Josh Marshall has a rather confused post (Is he discussing Bosnia? Kosovo? Is UN approval for U.S. military interventions important? Or not?) on the whole 'Dean as unilateralist' meme.

He writes:

"In short, the issue is not so much whether you get sign off from the UN or NATO on every particular thing you do. It's a question of the totality of one's approach to allies and the rest of the nation's of the world. By that measure, the whole situation in the Balkans and the current one in Iraq could scarcely be more different."

This "totality of one's approach" language doesn't really mean anything--unless Josh wants to try to provide specifics.

In my view, I fear Josh is really just spouting out generalities that mesh with his instinctive worldview of the merits of some kind of kinder, gentler (and rather amorphously enunciated) multilateralism. One, pace Josh, that would suddenly have the entire planet sharing the global security 'laboring oar' with Washington.

Let's be clear on how the Balkans and Iraq were different, however. With the former Yugoslavia, as the conflagration was in Europe, the Europeans felt they had vital interests at stake.

They still, however (despite pronouncements that 'the hour of 'Europe had arrived') couldn't get their act together and needed the Americans to come in.

We (ultimately) assisted--despite, arguably, not having our vital interests at stake.

With Iraq, a prevailing (recall Gephardt standing next to the present as Congress passed the Iraq war authorization) post 9/11 risk posture had many in the U.S. feeling, with regard to Iraq, that vital interests were at stake (like some in Europe had felt about the wars of Yugoslav succession).

Worth repeating, as it's so often glossed over or conveniently forgotten, many European governments (the U.K., Spain, Italy, Portugal, Poland, Bulgaria and more) agreed.

A few, of course (Belgium, France, Germany), didn't. A combination of resentment of America's hyperpuissance status, French interest in somewhat fanciful notions of 'multipolarity,' domestic European politics (anti-war opinion), and ruffled feathers (Rummy-speak and such) led to stolid opposition by some.

The most important factor, perhaps, was that, unlike people like Tony Blair, leaders like Chirac and Schroeder were dwelling in a pre-9/11 mentality. In other words, they weren't willing to make a strategic decision to adopt a policy shift that would put the burden of proof (re: verifiable disarmament) on states in contravention of U.N. resolutions and the reasonable demands of the international community--so very important given the potentially perilous intersections among WMD, terror groups, and rogue states going forward post 9/11.

So yes, the situation in Iraq and the Balkans could "scarcely be more different." Only not as Josh tries to represent.

Sure, our diplomacy was sometimes heavy-handed (we often appeared to be issuing diktats in places like Mexico City and Ankara), we might have quieted up Rumsfeld here and there and reminded him he wasn't Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.

But the real, material differerences between the Balkans and Iraq are the ones I outlined above--not the ones Josh, in vague fashion, alludes to.

Josh also writes:

"This is a big issue and one that deserves more discussion. It's also worth noting that getting our key European allies on board in the Balkans did play a big role in the long-term success of those operations -- and the diplomatic isolation which eventually played a key role in Milosevic's fall."

I wish Josh would tell us (very precisely, very specifically) how exactly "getting our key European allies on board in the Balkans" played a "big role in the long-term success of those operations."

The reality, really, is that if the U.S. had ever pulled out its troops after the initial deployment in 1995 the chances of renewed conflict in the Balkans would have ratcheted up considerably.

In other words, the American role was the critical one--not the European one (Note: After almost a decade now, we will now see how a lead European role plays out in the coming years as the American presence is further winnowed down in the coming months).

Finally, Josh writes:

"It [the U.S.] has moved from being a dominant power which most often works through a sort of informal consensus to one that increasingly seeks to act through dictation."

Concrete examples, regarding major security issues, please!

Posted by Gregory at January 15, 2004 01:16 PM
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