Daniel Henninger at The Wall Street Journal writes a harsh obituary for the internationalist school of dealing with foreign crises. Time and place of death: March 2011, Libya:
Not the 28 members of NATO, not the 15-member U.N. Security Council, not the 22 nations of the Arab League could save Libya’s rebels from being obliterated by the mad and murderous Moammar Gadhafi. The world has just watched the collapse of internationalism.
The world’s self-professed keepers of international order, from Brussels to Turtle Bay, huffed and puffed, talked and threatened. And they failed. Utterly.
But what we’ve watched is not merely the failure of the gauzy notion of “internationalism.” It’s more specific than that. What has collapsed here is the modern Democratic Party’s new foreign-policy establishment.
Barack Obama is the first Democratic president to assemble a foreign-policy team made up entirely of intellectuals who for years have developed a counter-thesis to the policies of presidents extending back to John F. Kennedy. We are in a “post-American world,” they have argued, in which the U.S. is obliged to pursue its interests in concert with the rest of the world’s powers, never alone.
The uprisings against autocracies in 10 separate Middle Eastern countries, a crisis inherited from no one, was their real-world test. In Egypt, they fumbled. In Libya, they have failed.
The poster boy for this internationalist view is White House deputy Ben Rhodes, who told a reporter last week: “This is the Obama conception of the U.S. role in the world — to work through multilateral organizations and bilateral relationships to make sure that the steps we are taking are amplified.”
Days later, bemused Libyan rebel spokesman Essam Gheriani remarked in Benghazi: “Everyone here is puzzled as to how many casualties the international community judges to be enough for them to help. Maybe we should start committing suicide to reach the required number.”
The piece is for subscribers only, but the rest of it is well worth reading if you can access it.
There are no simple alternatives to President Obama’s approach — one can hardly call it a strategy — with Libya. A no-fly zone would not have been without some risk, although it’s hard to imagine that the Libyan air force could really mount a threat that would greatly outweigh the benefits such action would have brought the rebels.
But the point today is not so much that Obama took one action when he should have taken another; it’s a little late for that. It’s more about whether Obama’s alternative model for dealing with these crises works. As Henninger so starkly explains, it hasn’t.
And Libya is not the first failure. In the first Gulf War, in Bosnia and Kosovo, and in Afghanistan — the supposed “good” wars — the “international community” only stepped forward when America led. Henninger calls Libya the “first test” of the model when America doesn’t eventually step forward, but I’d disagree. In Darfur and in Congo, to name two places, we went along with the internationalist approach — while hundreds of thousands of people died.
This is not a plea for Team America: World Police, with U.S. soldiers going hither and yon every time some tinpot dictator gets cranky or worse. We have every right to expect our allies to commit and contribute along with us if they are going to lecture the world (and us) about peace and human rights. But evidently we cannot reasonably expect them to do so when we are noncommittal — if “noncommittal” is what you can really call it when the U.S. president says repeatedly that the leader of another country must step down and then does nothing of consequence to follow through.
As Henninger explains,
what we have seen [with Libya] is that a world in which the U.S. doesn’t unmistakably lead is a world that spins its wheels, and eventually the wheels start to come off. When the U.S. instructs the Saudis not to intervene in Bahrain, and the Saudi army does precisely the opposite, the wheels are coming off the international order.
America has been leading unmistakably for the better part of a century now. If you think we can’t afford the price of doing so anymore, whether in blood or treasure, fine. But no responsible leader, on his way out, can pretend that things will run smoothly on their own after he leaves. And no responsible leader drops the reins and merely hopes someone else will pick them up.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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