Today in the WaPo, Obama advisor Ivo Daalder and McCain advisor Robert Kagan get togther to put forward the Beltway Boys' justification for armed intervention. Neither addresses the important point that, no matter how you change the words, what they are talking about is military invasion - war. They say only America's friends need to agree before mounting a new invasion is OK, and not always all of them.
The critical question is who decides: Who decides whether a threat is sufficiently real or grave to warrant military action? Who decides whether the threat is directed against a specific state or whether it threatens regional or international security more broadly?So glib, how few of their readers actually realize Kagan and Daadler are in favor of walking away from the established international rule of law, as envisioned by Churchill and Roosevelt? They presume to know better than those great leaders.
The traditional answer, the U.N. Security Council, no longer suffices, if it ever did. Under the United Nations Charter, states are prohibited from using force except in cases of self-defense or when explicitly authorized by the Security Council.
...If not the Security Council, then who? The answer is the world's democracies, the United States and its democratic partners in Europe and Asia...Because they share a common view of what constitutes a just order within states, they tend to agree on when the international community has an obligation to intervene. Shared principles provide the foundation for legitimacy.
A policy of seeking consensus among the world's great democratic nations can form the basis for a new domestic consensus on the use of force. It would not exclude efforts to win Security Council authorization. Nor would it preclude using force even when some of our democratic friends disagree. But the United States will be on stronger ground to launch and sustain interventions when it makes every effort to seek and win the approval of the democratic world.
This is the primary foreign policy debate of our time, in a nutshell. Yet it seems that the "serious thinkers" inside the Beltway have a very different opinion on how to go forward than most Americans. James Joyner, a moderate conservative, writes:
The “Do Something Syndrome” has almost certainly not been killed off by the Iraq disaster and our gigantic standing military is the only feasible means by which presidents can respond to most of those problems. That, even though the military has shown time and again that it is an ineffective tool for those missions and we’ve made essentially no progress over the past decade and a half at transforming it into SysAdmin Force.While his colleague Alex Knapp adds, echoing Newshoggers own Shamanic yesterday,:
Daalder and Kagan believe that the key, then, is to figure out how to pick and choose missions and achieve domestic and international legitimacy. They put forth some good, if hardly novel, arguments along those lines. It seems to me, though, that breaking the cycle of intervention and failure would be more desirable.
Right now, we have somehow evolved to the point where sitting U.S. Senators, Congressmen and Presidential candidates blithely advocate invading sovereign nations (even including our allies) to the point of seriously advocating the use of nuclear weapons. These politicians are regarded as "serious thinkers" among the Washington establishment. (see e.g. Joe Liberman, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, etc.)By allowing the ideology-driven academics of the Beltway to run foreign policy and self-describe themselves as the only "serious" thinkers capable of advising senior politicians, Alex. Only inside the Beltway (and among the 26%ers) is the idea of armed intervention without international legitimacy still current. Brian Beutler notes:
On the other hand, there are other politicians who are willing to point out that most interventions fail and generally cause worse problems than they set out to solve. These politicians are commonly referred to as "whack jobs."
How'd we get to this point?
I can't honestly conceive of an odder marriage of convenience than the one between these two. It seems likely to me that what Ivo wants to say is "we need to seek consensus among the world's great democratic nations" whereas what Kagan wants to say is "the United States should do what it takes to be on strong grounds to launch and sustain interventions." But it also seems likely to me that if America's engagement with the world's democracies is premised entirely on the hope of continuing broadly interventionist military policies, then both our military and our diplomatic efforts will fail terribly.As a Brit watching the US debate this issue, I couldn't agree more with both James and Brian.
Part of the smoke-and-mirrors act which enables these "serious thinkers" to continue to claim to be not only credible, but the only credible voices on foreign policy thinking, is the way in which they conceal their past allegiances depending on their audience. It's something the corporate media doesn't seem interested in informing the public about.
Take Robert Kagan for example. He's described by the WaPo (every month) as "a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund." But those who follow the complex enter-relations of the think-tankers also know he is the brother of surge architect Frederick and the son of neocon leading light Donald. He was head of Reagan's Office of Public Diplomacy, which was created to push for U.S. support for Nicaraguan Contras. He has co-authored with neocon kool-aid purveyor Bill Kristol and was a member of the original neocon cabal, the Project for the New American Century. His wife was Dick Cheney's deputy national security adviser from 2003 to 2005 and is now U.S. representative to NATO. All of this makes a difference to his credibility as an independent advisory voice.
Ivo Daadler, on the other hand, is a long-term Democratic Party foreign policy insider. In 1995-96, he served as director for European affairs on President Clinton's National Security Council staff, where he was responsible for coordinating U.S. policy toward Bosnia. That didn't stop him from signing two PNAC letters in 2003, though. Indeed, he has written that Bush's current foreign policy is a return to that of Clinton - something I'd agree with but I doubt I'm as pleased about as Daadler is. He is a perfect representative of the Democratic foreign policy think-tankers who still adhere to the neo-liberal interventionist model which doesn't see the UN as useful and doesn't especially want to have to worry about international law. Since he's an advisor to Obama's campaign, I think it's safe to conclude there will be less daylight between Obama and H. Clinton's foreign policy platforms than either would like us to think.
Update BooMan, too, notices that these "serious thinkers" want to do an end-run around international law by side-stepping the UN. He writes:
In other words, if Daddy is going to suspend the driving privileges, they'll just cut Daddy out of the deal. They propose that the UN Security Council be supplemented with a Concert of Democracies that can bestow legitimacy on U.S. intervention when the U.N. refuses to go along. It's a repackaging of the New Europe Coalition of the Willing. Daalder and Kagan seem oblivious to the fact that the democracies of Europe either refused or quickly regretted aligning themselves with the neo-conservative plan.Good idea.
Iraq's lesson for America is that we cannot afford, let alone succeed, with a strategy of military intervention in the absence of truly compelling international consensus. If we gain nothing else from the debacle in Iraq, we should gain humility.
And we should know enough, now, to suspect the motives of those that argue against learning humility. Those that continue to rattle sabers and call for interventions...humanitarian, or otherwise, need to have a financial audit to see which war contractors and energy companies are financing their rhetoric.