Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Folly Marching on

For Mr. Obama, this may be the gift that keeps on giving for a very long time - and well past the apparent expiration date of one of its givers.  I speak, of course, of Sec of State Hillary Clinton, who (along with Samantha Power and UN rep. Susan Rice - a threesome whom Jacob Heilbrunn has aptly named the Valkyries of US foreign policy) led the charge to have the US go after Qaddafi.  Hillary, of course, will likely not be around to see the end-game, having decided not to re-up as Secretary of State in any second Obama administration. Heilbrunn goes on:
 if the venture goes south, Obama knows squarely where to stick the blame. Clinton, Power, and Rice have taken their biggest gamble. The liberal hawks and neocons may well have prepared a new foreign policy disaster should Libya devolve into tribal warfare. And so this is a crucible for the idea of humanitarian intervention. If it fails, the liberal hawks will return to ignominy. At least until the next crisis erupts.

Paul Pillar elaborates on the "flash mob" that got its way with Obama:

 Within the U.S. administration the strongest impetus came from those (identified by Jacob Heilbrunn [4]) who were haunted by the memory of non-interventions of the past and especially by Rwanda in 1994. To sally forth on behalf of Libyans today was for them a way of saying “never again”. Across the Atlantic the biggest push to intervene came from Nicolas Sarkozy. In part this reflected the French president's hyperkinesia and desire to assert French leadership. It also was a reaction to the perception that France had been slow off the mark in reacting to upheaval elsewhere in the Maghreb—especially Tunisia, where the consorting by Sarkozy's foreign minister with the old regime became something of a scandal. In Britain, David Cameron's seizing of the issue, besides being a welcome distraction from the harsh austerity measures his government has been imposing, was a taking up of a role that all British prime ministers, especially Tories, seem to be expected to play at some time in their tenure. That is the role, shaped in the past by Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, of slaying some foreign dragon. Already Cameron is receiving applause [5] from most of the British political spectrum for having a “good war”.

Pillar also goes on to comment that, event though the decision to intervene may appear much less flawed that the one spearheaded by Obama's predecessor, our boy emperor,
The latest episode shows . . . that although a sound process is important it does not guarantee a cogent decision—especially when the participants are coming at it from so many different directions. The failure even to agree on a clear scope and objective (is Qaddafi's departure part of what is sought, or not?) is now being reflected in multilateral disagreement–the sort of thing that has long disgusted unilateralists—over questions as basic as who should be in charge of the military effort  Neither is there any guarantee that the outcome of that effort will be one that any of us will like.

These problems in the decision-making process also feature in David Brooks' piece in the NY Times, where (as is his wont) good old American exceptionalism looms large:
multilateral efforts are built around a fiction. The people who organize coalitions pretend that all the parties are sharing the burdens. In reality, only the U.S. can do many of the tasks. If the other nations falter, the U.S. will have to leap in and assume the entire burden. America’s partners go in knowing they do not bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure. Americans do.
All of this is not to say the world should do nothing while Qaddafi unleashes his demonic fury. Nor is this a defense of unilateralism. But we should not pretend we have found a superior way to fight a war. Multilateralism works best as a garment clothing American leadership. Besides, the legitimacy of a war is not established by how it is organized but by what it achieves. 

In the end, though, the new BRIC bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China) may have the last word. As the NYT reports, they have weighed in to condemn the FAUS bloc (France, Anglo, US) for its massive interference in Libya. As one Chinese tabloid notes:
“Just let them agonize there in Libya. . . . No matter what happens to Qaddafi, a chaotic Libya will become an unshakable burden for the West forever.”


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