OxBlog

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PREACHING THE GOSPEL OF MULTILATERALISM: Bloggers have a weakness for attacking enemies who don't exist. In our minds, we slowly invent mythical debate partners who passionately believe everything that we know to be objectively wrong. Often, instead of dismantling the argument of an actual opponent, we score clever points at the expense of our imaginary counterpart.

Thus, it came as great relief to me yesterday morning when I encountered a true-to-life advocate of pathological multilateralism. And it wasn't just some random schmuck. It was the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whom I once served as a lowly peon.

Even a glance at Dr. Mathews' biography is enough to know that she has a powerful intellect and tremendous record of accomplishment. I happened to run across Dr. Mathews yesterday morning, when she delivered some opening remarks at a conference for young professionals in the field of foreign affairs.

Just as Bernard Lewis turned to the past to explain what went wrong in the modern Middle East, Mathews turned to the past to explain what wrong with American foreign policy. Her answer is that it fell prey to pathological unilateralism.

As she recounted, the great tragedy of the 1990s entailed America's failure to sign a great host of important international treaties, such as the Kyoto protocol, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the anti-landmine accord and the charter of the International Criminal Court. As Mathews candidly observed, it was the Clinton administration that set the United States on a dangerously unilateral course.

I have a different candidate for the great tragedy of the 1990s: Rwanda. Followed by Bosnia, Somalia and Haiti. In my mind, there was a total disconnect between Mathews hopeful commitment to multilateral instruments and the brutal reality of the real challenges to democracy and human rights in the post-Cold War era.

According to Mathews, the wisest end to which the United States can direct its great power is the forging of an international order based on cooperation and law. Not surprisingly, Mathews had very little to say about the profound flaws of institutions such as the United Nations that nominally exist to promote cooperation and law.

According to Robert Kagan, also an employee of Dr. Mathews (as well as my old boss at Carnegie), Europeans tend to be "principled multilateralists" in the sense that they see the United Nations as the legitimate arbiter of international affairs. In contrast, even most Democrats in the United States are "instrumental multilateralists" who prefer to have UN support but ultimately believe that acting in accordance with American values is more important than UN approval. On this subject, Mathews sides with the Europeans.

When listening to advocates of this sort of multilateralism, critics such as myself tend to watch for indications of the advocate's naivete, since we quietly suspect that such intelligent individuals could only maintain their faith in the UN and international law by closing their eyes to its flaws. As it turned out, Mathews delivered.

In her introduction of keynote speaker Robert Gallucci, Mathews described the United States' 1994 nuclear accord with North Korea as "the signature diplomatic achievement of the Clinton administration". Yes, that accord. Yes, that North Korea. The one that did so much to vindicate the hawkish article of faith that you simply can't trust extremist dictatorships to abide by their commitments.

Although currently the dean of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, Gallucci is also the former State Deparmtent official who negotiated the 1994 accord with the North Koreans. He is not a naive man. In his keynote address, he spoke very frankly about the tremendous threat presented by a nuclear North Korea and a soon-to-be nuclear Iran.

But when it came time for Q&A, I was in a feisty mood. This was supposed to be a non-partisan conference for young professionals, not a chance for Dr. Mathews to preach the gospel of multilateralism. So I decided to throw an elbow in the speakers' ribs.

During my turn at the microphone, I began by observing that Dr. Mathews' praise of the 1994 accord as the previous administration's signature diplomatic achievements may have struck some of us in the audience as "an effort to damn the Clinton administration with very faint praise."

I said I appreciated how hard it is to negotiate with the North Koreans and how much Dean Gallucci accomplished in that regard, but based on his experience, is there any hope now that we can have more than paper agreements with the North Koreans?

Gallucci was not amused. He said that the phrase "paper agreements" is evidence of very shallow thinking on the part of critics. After all, what are treaties supposed to be written on other than paper? Those who insist the use of this derisive phrase tend to be those who just don't understand that diplomacy is necessary.

But that was just the beginning. At one point, Gallucci paraphrased part of my statement and then dismissed it as "crap". Really. He then came up with a very artful excuse for the North Koreans' secret violation of the 1994 accord. He said they anticipated that the next administration might have very little appreciation for diplomacy, so it would be best to hedge their bets.

Wow. I guess that means any treaty signed with a Democratic administration isn't worth much, because the other party might have to pre-emptively violate it if they anticipate a Republican victory in the next election.

Anyhow, I don't hold it against Gallucci that he got rough with me. I was the one who departed from the civil conventions of the foreign policy establishment in order to foster provocative debate.

Now, I ought to mention that before asking my question, I intentionally decided not to state my name for the record. I wanted the speakers to remember my question, not who asked it. But Washington is not a very big place, and I wouldn't be displeased if either Dr. Mathews or Dean Galluci stumbled across this post. If they have any responses to this post, I would be glad to republish them verbatim.

The blogosphere has a charming habit of forcing august personages to engage the arguments of grenade-tossing upstarts. I like that.
(11) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
So essentially, Galluci believes that it was all Bush's fault, even 6 years before he was elected.

Good grief.
 
Good grief, indeed. I'd laugh if I weren't about to cry. What a bubble they live in. And how dare you try to burst it!

Lack of conscience and common sense. A lethal combination. But, hey, we can all pat ourselves on our backs in sentences that last for minutes, so we win--Bush is a fool!What does it matter that we stood by and all but applauded the death by starvation of millions and the condemnation of hundreds of thousands to the gulag--One cannot underestimate the legitimacy Clinton and his minions gave to that regime (would it have fallen? we'll never know will we..feh...) at a critical time to its existence and the luxury of time it gave for North Korea to pursue the development of weapon programs they now fault Bush with having alllowed. I tend to the belief that people can't be that stupid. That they must be Machiavels. That they really did mean for North Korean regime to survive and increase in danger. As someone living in the region, I can only ask America, please, never let that bunch near power again. l think history will judge the malaise and delusions of the Clinton years as every bit, if not more, tragic than the Neville Chamberlain thirties. Ironically, only those they condemn can possible save their historical hides.

If North Korea is their success and Rwanda their failure, then success and failure are truly one and the same. Bloody hands.
 
To be fair, Rwanda was everyone's fault--you think Congress and the American people where hankering to get in there and help? Not so much.

But I do agree, the 1994 agreement avoided a war, but I don't know if I would consider it a crowning achievment...
 
Is that what Bob actually said? Because I've heard him talk about this issue a lot and I've never heard him make the precise argument you describe.

Consider it this way: the 1994 AF prevented over a million South Koreans being killed on the first day of military action. It left loopholes the North Koreans exploited. It was never supposed to be a final deal, but part of an ongoing process -- one the Bush administration dropped.

The 1994 AF wasn't a stellar diplomatic moment, but it was the best option among some very bad choices.
 
I could definitely accept the argument that the 1994 AF was the least bad option. But to describe it now as the administration's crowning achievement (which Mathews did, not Gallucci), reflects a remarkable ability not see the AF's flaws.

As for Bob's statement, I summarized it to the best of my recollection. Of course, it's always better to have more than one eyewitness account.
 
So the North Koreans knew Gore would not win the election in 2000? Perhaps they have more political savvy than, oh, 90% of the media. Or maybe they just listened to a couple of his speeches. I blame Rove.
 
I have heard Madeline Albright refer to the AF as the Clinton Administration's crowning achievement several times. I have never heard Dean Gallucci refer to it that way. However, I have heard him refer to it as his personal career capstone. (I'm an SFS grad, so I'm aquainted with him).

That being so, I think this is simply a case of an individual being too close to the issue to make an objective judgment. No doubt he took your rather undiplomatic question as a personal attack.

In any case, if the AF was the Clinton Administration's crowning achievement, then that is a sad reflection on the Clinton Administration. The AF didn't solve the issue, it deferred it.
 
I could agree that the 1994 accord reflected a major personal acheivement for Gallucci. Negotiating anything with the North Koreans is very, very hard.

Ultimately, he is responsible neither for the fact that Pyongyang cheated nor for the policy decision by the White House to have confidence in Pyongyang's intentions.
 
"To be fair, Rwanda was everyone's fault--you think Congress and the American people where hankering to get in there and help? Not so much."

True. When something like that happens there is plenty of blame to go around. That is where a good or even great leader would step in and do somnething. Unfortunately that was severely lacking in the 90's.
 
The 90s? I'd say we've had a paucity of such leadership for, well, forever. The American trackrecord on genocide pretty much s*cks.
 
As opposed to what, the French record?
 
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