Wednesday, August 20, 2003


Josh Marshal posts about the topic of Internationalizing the effort to stabilize Iraq. He lists a few key benefits to us on this matter:
One obvious reason to have more troops is that providing a secure environment is a sine qua non of almost everything else we want to accomplish in Iraq. Another is that it would give the occupation less of a US face, and thus help deflate the charges of neo-colonialism which hover over this whole enterprise. But there's another important reason. One of the medium to long-term challenges we face, I think, is that very few people in other countries have much invested in our success. I don't think most Europeans want us to fail exactly. But I think that the way this whole operation has gone down has made a lot of people want to see us at least get our nose bloodied or at a minimum fall rather short of a signal success. One might say, well, if the French think that, they suck. And maybe they do. But as a practical matter, it doesn't really matter if they suck or if this is a good moral argument against them. One reason is that it's not just the French. And, more to the point, it'll be very difficult to pull this off if everyone else around the world is sitting on the sideliness, quietly relishing our stumbles. By internationalizing this operation -- on our own terms, but still internationalizing it -- we'll get other countries invested in its eventual success.
I agree with everything Josh says here and really appreciate the third point he brings up because it is one that I have thought about before but not in this particular way in this particular situation. The Clintonian model for foreign policy was that the best way to reduce tensions around the world was to get as many people involved in the process as possible so that it was to no ones advantage to fuck with the effort. This is essentially what Josh is advocating as well.
The rejoinder to this argument might be that, well, all those other countries will pervert the enteprise to their own weenieful, relativistic, Brussels-esque ends. But, handled right, I don't think we have much to worry about. One of the great failings of the right's hostility to international institutions -- most notably, the UN -- is the inability or unwillingness to recognize how dominant our voice is in almost every international institution we claim membership in. What I fear is that the administration is going to wait too long to make a course correction.
This is, of course, the classic objection from the right to internationalization: it gives to much influence on the final outcome to people we don't like (damn frogs!). But, as Josh points out, this demonstrates a failure to appreciate just how much power America has on the world stage. In other words, if we want to, we can pretty much get everyone in line for whatever effort we lead. They may grumble, but America is just so damn huge that it is not to anyone's benefit to really piss us off. Bush would very likely have gotten his 2nd UN resolution if he had just waited a few more weeks. What the Bush administration has been doing, by its insistance on going it alone as much as possible, has been, ironically, to reduce the influence we have on foreign policy. Sure, we may be able to kick butt, for a while. Other nations may, in the future, prefer to just sit back and watch us squirm once things start to go bad (and eventually they always do go bad) rather than help us out. The cost to them of not getting involved may someday be less than the benefit they get from watching us lose another regional war. There is the additional danger that, given enough time, this "go it alone" strategy could turn smirking allies into disgruntled foes and ultimately into hostile enemies. But that is still pretty long-term (decades) and I would hope we would wake up before then and realize the error that is the Bush Doctrine. Of course, there is another possibility to consider: the Bushies aren't stupid. They probably know and understand all the points Josh has made in his analysis. But they still prefer the idea of going it alone to internationalization because the potential benefits, if it works, are so huge (at least in their think-tank models of what is supposed to happen). So what they will do is to push the cowboy policy to its breaking point and then, as Josh suggests, internationalize it just as things are about to fall apart. It's the kind of brinksmanship that gung-ho CEOs like our Dubya seem to relish. Reach for the Sun. If you get burned, turn around and grab the Moon and then crow about how that was what you wanted all along. The point is that we shouldn't assume the Bushies don't understand the dangers involved in their current approach. They just set the line of acceptable losses at a much higher level than would the rest of us mere mortals. We are being led by a group of bungee enthusiasts. It doesn't matter how close we come to the ground just so long as we can bounce back up before hitting bottom and man it sure was a shit-kicking thrill on the way down!


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