May 07, 2003


Calpundit has an interesting article on multilateralism. He mentions US use of multilateral methods in Korea, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine, and then asks:

These are all good reasons for multinational collaboration in foreign policy. They are also reasons put forward by conservatives and by a conservative administration. So why is that Iraq, uniquely in the world, seems to be the one place where none of this matters?

Well, the trite answer is that we have lots of tools in our toolkit, and it's not good to assume that every problem is a nail.

The more serious answer is related to national interests. In the Korean situation, the countries neighboring North Korea have far more interest in the situation than does the US. China and Japan do not want a nuclear-armed North Korea. China does not want Japan and Taiwan to obtain nuclear weapons, which a failure to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons would almost certainly lead to. South Korea does not want to lose Seoul, and does not want to have to pay for bringing North Korea back from the brink. (It would much rather the US pay to keep North Korea barely intact.) The US, on the other hand, just wants the region to be peaceful, and for the representative and capitalist South Koreans and Japanese to remain representative and capitalist. Frankly, we don't have a strong and immediate interest here, which is why we're considering pulling our troops out of South Korea.

In Afghanistan, we use other nations to help keep the peace and to help reconstruct for a few reasons. Mainly, we wanted at the start to keep NATO involved and relevant (it's no longer clear that this is a long-term US goal, after France's stonewalling on defending Turkey), share the costs and give other nations reasons to keep Afghanistan peaceful and on an upward path. The US only has a security interest in keeping Afghanistan from returning to being a base for terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and we have plenty of troops on hand for that. I would argue that we have a moral obligation to Afghanistan, but I also realize that morality is almost never actually in play in international politics.

In Israel, I think that our main reason for being involved is to keep a lid on the conflict. I don't know that we care if it gets resolved or how, as long as the other Arab nations are not incited to cease co-operating with us in the War on Terror, with selling oil and with other genuine US national interests. We certainly want Israel to remain representative and capitalist, and want to convert other nations in the region to that model, but I don't know that this has anything to do with our involvement in the peace process. I suspect that if we weren't engaged heavily in the region because of the war on terror, we would have completely withdrawn from the process once it became clear that the Palestinians were not negotiating or acting in good faith. As it is, we are making ourselves a target of Arab rage for no good reason. So using the Quartet is useful to somewhat deflect that rage and to give the Palestinians' non-Arab supporters (the UN, Russia, the EU) reasons to actually pressure the Palestinians to stick up to any agreements.

The US has a direct financial interest in Europe. We want Europe to remain representative and capitalist, certainly, and in order to do that the Europeans have to be defended. It costs us a lot of money to defend them, that we'd rather spend elsewhere. There is a raft of indications that the US is about to do just that, whether Europe spends on its own defense or not. This is risky, in that if Europe remains undefended, and an aggressive nation appears in in midst or on its borders, that nation may be able to capture Europe or pressure it in ways that are bad for our interests.

Iraq is a very different matter. In addition to our short-term interests in the War on Terror (Iraqi support for Palestinian radicals, development of weapons of mass destruction, training terrorists and the like), Iraq is a largely secular and educated state. This makes it a perfect place to try to set up a federal, representative republic with a capitalist economy. This would make a fine example for the rest of the Arab world to emulate (by popular demand, and almost certainly against the wishes of the rulers of those other Arab/Muslim nations), so that we would be forced to fight fewer wars in order to end support of terrorism from Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia (and to a lesser extent some other Arab/Muslim nations). Thus, it is heavily in our interests to resolve the Iraqi situation in the way most favorable to us. On the contrary, the UN, France, Germany, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt all have reasons to want us to fail. The UN needs us to fail to prove that only UN-sponsored intervention works. Germany, France and Russia need us to fail for economic reasons (and, in the case of France, for face-saving reasons). Iran, Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia want us to fail to preserve their interests in Iraq, prevent us from coming after them, and not incite their own people to try to emulate an Iraqi success by overthrowing their current leaders. Turkey needs us to fail so that they will be able to continue intervening in Kurdish territory. As a result, it will be the US, Britain, Poland, Australia and a few other countries who rebuild Iraq.

Posted by Jeff at May 7, 2003 01:51 PM | Link Cosmos
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