Multilateralism and Bush

Nicholas and Robert in the comments on previous posts complain that Bush was did not get international support for the war with Iraq and that Kerry would be more multilateral. In response to these sorts of claims, Caroline Glick in the Jerusalem Post notes:

As former Clinton administration official and current Kerry foreign policy adviser Richard Holbrooke put it to the Post, the Bush administration advocated “extremist ideas” that had “never had a voice in the policymaking bodies of the executive branch.” One such idea, the Post paraphrased, was “acting unilaterally.” But what does “acting unilaterally” mean? It does not mean “going it alone.” After all, there are several dozen other countries actively involved in US operations in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan.

Neither does “acting unilaterally” mean that in Iraq the US is acting outside of a clear UN Security Council mandate. Ahead of the US-led operations in Kosovo in 1999, in which Holbrooke played a key role, Russia used the threat of its Security Council veto to prevent the US from taking action under a UN umbrella. Yet no one has ever accused the US of acting unilaterally in Kosovo.

What “acting unilaterally” actually means to Holbrooke and Kerry is that the multilateral coalition Bush assembled in Iraq does not include France. It was France that prevented a UN Security Council resolution backing the US-led invasion, and it was France that led the EU and NATO to reject US requests to forge coalitions under whose aegis the US would lead the war against Saddam’s regime.

The rest of the article goes on to talk about the danger and stupidity of following the wishes of the French. But the main point here is that these unilateral accusations are baseless and repeating them does not make them true. I would further add that absent some claim about the value of including France they also have little content. I challenge critics to explain just what would have been accomplished by including France (and how much it would have cost to do so)..


7 Responses to Multilateralism and Bush

  1. ooghe says:

    Let me clarify an aspect of what I am saying.

    I believe that the questions on the table are more complex than a simple unilateral vs. multilateral question and agree with the following statements:

    1. that the NATO war in Kosovo occured in conditions comparable to the Iraq war in that it took place without the cover of a UN mandate, and, as Milosevic points out in his trial, was probably illegal under international law. In that sense, it foreshadowed major diplomatic questions that are now unignorable.

    2. that there are those who legitmately ask “if a number of other countries have signed on; Poland, Romania, etc- but Germany and France do not- why is it that Germany and France are ceded the authority of ‘legitmatizing’ international actions”. Good question.

    I don’t pretend to argue those points, and believe that with or without the Iraq War we are at a very fluid point in defining some kind of post cold war system. My beef against what’s happened is that the way in which this was executed is likely to result in a *more* isolationist mentality in the US in coming years. The policy that Bush described in 2002 and enacted in the lead up to March 2003 was practically DOA because there’s no way the US- politically, institutionally, economically- can turn on a dime into becoming a hegemon that can undertake the kind of project Bush was talking about.

    That’s as concisely as I can put it for now… will respond more in a bit.

  2. ooghe says:

    OK. Now that Iíve a bit more time, Iíll try to respond in greater depth- some of this in response to our other back and forth about isolationism:

    “My point is that post-McGovern, the Democratic party has become the party of isolationism (or isolationism plus intervention ONLY when the US has NO vital interest).”

    I see what youíre saying although Iíd say that there hasnít really been any clear Democratic consensus on foreign policy since 1968 (i.e. radicalization within Dem party). The set youíre talking about- McGovern, Chomsky and the New Left- arenít so much isolationists, I think- then they are reacting against *any kind* of US assertion of influence because they came out of the context of Vietnam. This does often sound strikingly similar to the isolationists of the world- I remember in the í92 elections both Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan sounding identical in their attitudes about post-Soviet Russia (ďWhy throw your money down a rathole?Ē was the question, I canít remember who asked it though)

    The Clinton 90ís were neither isolationist nor non-self-interested- his administration touted globalization as the Grand Unifying Theory of Everything In The World for eight years, and it was trendy to say that nations didnít matter anymore, we were a global community, what with the internet, and we would all live in virtual blah blah markets would determine flow of blah blah and this was all plausible sounding at the time and the biggest debate between the left and the right was about nation building. Youíll remember in this context Bush campaigned practically as a card carrying isolationist himself- and when he says things like ď”we will act even if others are not prepared to join us”, heís asserting unilateralism and nationalism, and saying nation states are now the central international reality. That whole mindset is what European elites, whoíve gotten where they are by putting economic integration at the heart of international affairs, recoil at. Bush as anti-globalization protestor is an irony few really appreciate.

    This is what I meant about Kosovo and NATO. The optimistic part of me likes to believe that with no superpower threatening nuclear retaliation, itís possible to imagine some kind of concerted response to genocide when it takes place- at least on the continent of Europe. I realize full well though, that the intervention, which Clinton was dragged into kicking and screaming (read ďA Problem from HellĒ for a history of US responses to genocide; itís a quick read), was at least partly motivated by a desire to preserve NATO as an institution for globalist reasons. To me, thatís not an inherently bad thing if itís saving lives and seems like a step (however awkward) in the right direction. Yes, there were those on the left that opposed this- like Noam Chomsky, who derided the intervention as military/industrial conspiracy, and, of course the gallery of right wing ďWag the DogĒ types. And the US military brass objected as well, which is significant in that they have similar complaints today.

    Realistically, there has to be some kind of treaty-observing international framework. Even though the UN itself may be nothing but people gassing on forever and not accomplishing anything- the existence of it, and NATO, enables other more focused engagements to happen. The EU, Council of Europe, OSCE, NATO-Russia partnership, are all ways that countries can avoid the Balance of Power setup that precipitated World War II. China, for instance, is no longer so far outside the orbit of soft power, the closer Russia is brought into the fold. Isolationist Buchanan is opposed to admitting Russia to NATO, because he believes that demographics are at the heart of international politics, and that this will lead to war between China and all of NATO.

    Bush neocons would be in favor of enlarging NATO, if it meant that anytime the Pentagon arrogates regime change the US can pick and choose various Ďcoalitions of the willingí and call it multilateralism. I think the actual effect of this is that the countries leaders are going to become more nationalist in their outlook- to the immediate detriment of the EU at first but ultimately to the US because this really would mean that the US is going to have to officially take on the duties of managing an empire- and I donít think anyone in government has thought through the implications. No matter what they say, the assumption in Iraq was that we were going to get standing occupation forces from elsewhere and keep the US military free to make the world safe for democracy. Right now, countries all over the world are looking at this turn of events and re-evaluating their relationships to the US and each other. The US vs. Islam is bad enough in that context, even if it makes for good Ďn simple Republican damn-the-terrorists talk, but where this will really become scary is in countries with vast resources, growing economies, loose nukes, and no international organizations whatsoever, like on the Pacific Rim.

    The question in the air post-Kosovo, and that you asked in your post (what is the benefit of including France as a legitimizing power)- is really to ask what exactly is the strategic relationship between the US and Europe. I donít know, and I said before- French intransigence may come from a variety of self-interested estimations, but the problem is their articulation of anti-Americanism is resonating with most of the world right now. And the US isnít buying the case anymore either- so itís hard for me to see how the result of this isnít going to be a more isolationist outlook from the US, and a decrease in support for democracies, which I think will prove an unhealthy mix.

  3. nicholas says:

    for me, it doesn’t only mean france. i would have been happy with russia.

    but to be fair, france and germany are the leaders of the european union. it’s foolish, in my opinion, to chart a course for US foreign policy _in general_ that doesn’t include them.

  4. alex says:


    As for Russia, Putin went public that he was warning the US before the war that Russian intelligence said Iraq was planning terrorist attacks on the US.

    France has specifically organized its foreign policy around limiting US “hyperpower.” They acted unilaterally to screw us repeatedly (violating sanctions and opposing UN enforcement of resolutions etc). Perhaps it would be nice to include France and Germany, but at what cost? These guys couldn’t be bothered to deal with the balkans (in their backyard)!

    Note: The majority of Europe believes Israel is the biggest threat to world peace.

  5. nicholas says:

    i don’t exactly understand what putin’s warnings have to do with getting russia on board with the iraq invasion…

    basically france and russia just wanted their deals for oil to be honored to some extent.

    given everything that’s happened to date, was it really worth holding such a hard line?

    if iraq were our only problem, then sure, fuck ’em.

    but now we’ve got a really crappy precedent for iran.

    our threat of force isn’t really stronger – it’s obvious we don’t have the forces to invade and occupy on our own.

    meanwhile we’ve lost potential diplomatic and economic allies.

    are we really better off (strategically) than we were 4 years ago?

  6. alex says:

    That may be true of russia but I don’t think its true of France and, if that is the argument, how much should we have paid them to abide by their treaty obligations? And how much value would we really have gotten given that they had been screwing us on this stuff for 10 years (and we’ve given Russia copious amounts of foreign aid).

    Are we better of strategically than we were 4 years ago? NO QUESTION.

    Al Queada is organizationally fucked right now. Saddam is gone. We have a decent chance of democracies in both those places. We control the biggest oil reserves on the planet. Saddam is no longer using Oil for Food money to fund Al Queada or terrorism in general. Libya is no longer on the verge of having nukes.

    If the cost of all this is French pissiness well, yes, then fuck ’em. The French have been trying to balance the US since the cold war. They were the ones who invented “third way” politics.

    As for Russia, they’ve been supplying Iran with nuclear technology for a decade as well. We’re in much better shape to threaten Iran than we were before we invaded Iraq.

  7. liberal safety-net man says:

    alex wrote:

    “Al Queada is organizationally fucked right now. Saddam is gone. We have a decent chance of democracies in both those places.”

    spoken like a true neocon who does not understand stateless terorrism. al-queada is NOT a place!

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