Monday, March 21, 2011

Obama's Liberal Internationalist Intervention

Ross Douthat is getting to be like his old self! This is an excellent essay, "A Very Liberal Intervention." The key to remember here is that "liberal" has some dual usage in this piece. Most folks think of "liberal" as referring to left-of-center politics domestically, but in the discourse of international relations, "liberal" is construed more in the classical economic sense of markets and institutions. Political liberals at home promote liberal institutionalism abroad, which means a reliance on international institutions and the submission of U.S. power to the constraining effect of multilateral organizations. The United Nations is the epitome of "liberalism" in both senses of the word. It supports a leftist agenda through an internationalist regime of supranational power. If that's at all confusing then folks will understand why "progressive" is a far superior label for leftists. The power of the individual or the autonomy of states is reduced either way. In any case, check out Douthat's argument:

In its month-long crab walk toward a military confrontation with Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Obama administration has delivered a clinic in the liberal way of war.

Just a week ago, as the tide began to turn against the anti-Qaddafi rebellion, President Obama seemed determined to keep the United States out of Libya’s civil strife. But it turns out the president was willing to commit America to intervention all along. He just wanted to make sure we were doing it in the most multilateral, least cowboyish fashion imaginable.

That much his administration has achieved. In its opening phase, at least, our war in Libya looks like the beau ideal of a liberal internationalist intervention. It was blessed by the United Nations Security Council. It was endorsed by the Arab League. It was pushed by the diplomats at Hillary Clinton’s State Department, rather than the military men at Robert Gates’s Pentagon. Its humanitarian purpose is much clearer than its connection to American national security. And it was initiated not by the U.S. Marines or the Air Force, but by the fighter jets of the French Republic.

This is an intervention straight from Bill Clinton’s 1990s playbook, in other words, and a stark departure from the Bush administration’s more unilateralist methods. There are no “coalitions of the willing” here, no dismissive references to “Old Europe,” no “you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Instead, the Obama White House has shown exquisite deference to the very international institutions and foreign governments that the Bush administration either steamrolled or ignored.
Keep reading at the link above. Douthat lays out a nice analysis of the pros and cons, although he misses one key objection to the administration's policy: dithering. The month-long delay of action is not the result of the need to build consensus with allies. It's the result of Obama's indecisiveness and indifference. And readers should not read this as a blanket endorsement of the intervention. Like Egypt, it's not clear what what kind of government is likely to come to power. Extremists groups are on the rise globally, and it's radical Islamism at the state level that's going to be our biggest challenge over time (not just transnational terrorist groups). Had Obama acted sooner the U.S. would have had more opportunity to promote democrats over Islamists. By now though, Islamist extremists have endorsed the rebel action and made plans for regime change. Here then is where the White House is failing American security, and it's a good bet that Hillary Clinton announced her eventual departure for this very reason.

In any case, I don't normally credit him, but Josh Marshall has a thoughtful piece on all of this, so what the heck? Some additional thoughts to consider, at the least: "
Just a Bad, Bad Idea" (via Memeorandum).


Anonymous said...

"Had Obama acted sooner the U.S. would have had more opportunity to promote democrats over Islamists"

oh how the fuck would you know? jerk.

Yeah don't worry about getting anyone else to do some heavy lifting. Just max out on American casualties to make your cowardly safe-at-home fat ass feel all tough.

RINO said...

That's the problem with ditherers, they try and figure out the possible repercussions of their actions, instead of going in guns a blazin and waiting to see what happens.