Wednesday, March 26, 2003

# Posted 4:40 PM by Patrick Belton  

WILSON, JACKSON, AND BISMARCK, MAKE WAY FOR BLAIR, RUMSFELD, AND "CHIRACO-PUTIN:" Interesting op-ed piece in the NYT several days ago by spousal college advisor Timothy Garton Ash, in which Mr. Garton Ash compares the grand-strategic orientations he can't resist dubbing as "Rumsfeldian," "Blairite," and (my personal favorite) "Chiraco-Putinesque." Garton Ash, noting that the world's more powerful powers have split into maritime and continental powers (the US, UK, and Australia vs. France, Germany, Russia, and China), notes his hope that Blair's more multilateral approach will be the signpost of the future, in preference either to the U.S. administration's willingness to act alone, if necessary, in promoting democracy and fighting international terrorism, or to Chirac and (at times) Putin's quijotic hopes to create a alternate pole for the purpose of balancing unchecked U.S. power.

The argument is fine as far as it goes: in the post-WWII period, international institutions have served U.S. interests more cheaply, with greater legitimacy, and probably with a much higher track record of success than the U.S. could arguably have achieved if it had had to further its interests and values supported only by ad-hoc coalitions and its own and its allies' power. However, Garton Ash's argument fails to deal with what happens in the scenario in which comparatively minor world powers, such as France, motivated by dislike of the U.S. precisely because of the latter's superiority in state strength, then use their outsized power in international institutions (relative to their actual economic or military power) either to blackmail or to veto the U.S.'s attempts to act in the international community's interests and provide global security, a public good. Garton Ash's answer seems simply to be that Blair should have tried harder to court continental support, rather than jumping so quickly into an alliance with the U.S. - an argument which sounds specious. (Given the current governments in Paris and Berlin, a coyer Blair could have prolonged the process of diplomacy - itself a continental victory - but it is unlikely that he would have been able to gather their support for a war on Iraq.)

So what does happen in that scenario? Is it just barely possible that, within the constraints of a situation like that, the U.S. might have taken precisely the smartest course open to it- that is, creating a credible threat that it would indeed in the future go outside those international institutions, and therefore completely deprive minor countries from their power over the U.S. that derives strictly from those institutions (and the U.S.'s continued participation within them) rather than from their own national power? The U.S. would then have created strong incentives for minor countries not to use their vetoes in New York or Brussels for blackmail to secure side payments or as a means to keep their disliked, stronger neighbor Gulliver from ever using its military at all, save when directed from Paris. Were they to do so, those countries would succeed only in pushing the United States out of those institutions, and theeby robbing themselves of the outsized global influence that precisely those institutions confer on them. For a country which is roundly derided for its lack of tactical skill in diplomacy, this would have been quite an intelligent and long-sighted gambit indeed.

(P.S.: Entirely incidentally, if in the first sentence you noticed that there's been a high frequency of significant-other-directed nods in my recent posts - a phenomenon also noticeable in the posts of fellow DC-resident Andrew Sullivan ("Sullivinian," for Garton Ash?) - then one might perhaps draw the conclusion that perhaps the Federal City is still conducive to amorousness, even with the Clinton administration no longer in town any more.)
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