March 17, 2003


A DISCREDITED U.N.: This is one benefit to either exile or a successful war that I didn't mention below. This is an important point, because some on the center-left see a discredited UN as a cost, not a benefit, and this is at the core of their grumbling lately about the Bush administration's handling of diplomacy. James Taranto tackled this last week (second item here). Wrote Taranto,

The most charitable interpretation of this sudden hesitation is that our liberal friends are confused about ends and means. The liberation of Iraq is less important to them than the maintenance of what Marshall calls the "world security system"--meaning the U.N. and NATO. But the "world security system" is only a means to the end of world security... the U.N. has failed to meet its challenge.
Marshall responded that this was "a differenece of opinion," and I'll take his explanation of this difference piece by piece:
Taranto, and those who believe as he does, see the decapitation of the Iraqi government as the linchpin of international peace and security. We see it as extremely important, but as a means to creating a more stable, safer world order.
I'm not sure how Marshall devines that Taranto sees taking out Saddam as the "linchpin" of security, and not an extremely important means to a greater goal. I can't speak for James Taranto, but I can speak for myself, and I certainly agree that Iraq is an important means to a more stable world. But I disagree quite profoundly with Marshall's assumption that the "world security system" necessarily involves NATO and the UN. More on that in a minute.
Fundamentally, we see the preservation of our key alliances and standing in the world, indeed the 'world security system' itself as even more important than Iraq. And when we see the president destroying those to get into Iraq, we have little choice but to say he's on the wrong track.
Marshall is throwing a lot of jargon around without defining it. He aludes to "key alliances" but doesn't say what they are. Are France and Germany key allies? If so, why? I think our alliances with the UK and Australia are the key alliances, and the Iraq war seems set to strengthen them.
Taranto and Co. are following a fairly thin logic which states that since the UN didn't do what we wanted it to, it's defunct and irrelevant. Indeed, they seem to be saying the entire framework of American-sponsored global institutions and alliances is defunct because of this. And thus we have to start over completely from scratch.
Once again, I can't speak for Taranto, but my foreign policy outlook is close to Taranto's and I don't think, as Marshall implied, that the UN became irrelevent because of its failure in Iraq in 2003. The UN's relevence was, at best, on life support throughout the 1990s; this is just its death rattle.

The UN exists so that communist and democratic countries can talk to each other. NATO exists to contain communism. The problem, as I'm sure you've guessed, is that communism is, to say the least, not as important a factor in geopolitics as it once was. These Cold War institutions that Marshall clings to are no longer appropriate, nor are they capable, of dealing with the threats of today's world. From an American standpoint, preserving these institutions makes no more sense in 2003 than preserving European footholds in the New World made in 1803. It doesn't make sense to preserve alliances for their own sake when their very raisons d'etre no longer exist. It does make sense to promote new ways of thinking about the order of the world. That's why the Anglosphere is the most important idea in geopolitics today. The UN is, to put it bluntly, not a good idea anymore, and the same may be true of NATO. We can do better.

Posted by John Tabin at March 17, 2003 06:57 PM