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The peace camp and the challenge of international order

January 25th, 2003

Jack Strocchi poses the challenge:

Now it is time for the peace bloggers to start doing their sums. If the US caves in, I issue this challenge to the most competent advocate in the peace camp: what will the long term consequence for international order be when the US is forced to backdown and relinquish global threat neutralisation responsibilty to the impotent and inept UN and the unwilling EU?

Given that Jack has adversely characterized the EU and UN, let me observe that the US is thoroughly ill-suited to the role of hegemon in which he wants to cast it. The US record in the Middle East proves this. The problem states in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran (as well as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and OBL himself) are current or former US clients, and the problems we have now can be traced directly to past US policy. In addition, the US has excluded all other powers from intervening in the Israel-Palestine dispute, and the disastrous failure to achieve peace must be laid at the door of the successive US administrations who have asserted ownership of the problem.

The defects of past policy are entirely evident today. The first is a black-and-white notion of good and evil, which, when combined with realist power politics produces disastrous outcomes. One regime is demonised as uniquelyevil, with the result that all its enemies are regarded as good. In the 1980s, Khomeini’s Iran was the villain and Saddam was “a thug, but our thug”, using weapons of mass destruction with the tacit approval of the US. Today, Saddam is the villain and the Saudi and Kuwaiti governments are good guys.

The other, even more noteworthy defect is a short attention span. In five years time, Iraq will still be a mess but the Americans will have forgotten about it and moved on to some other concern. If anyone picks up the pieces it will be the EU and UN that Jack derides.

The alternative to US hegemony is a series of messy compromises, formulated on a case-by-case basis. I’ll post more on what this means in the case of Iraq soon.

It’s getting harder to read the tealeaves as the UNMOVIC report (Jan 27) and Bush’s State of the Union speech (Jan 28) draw closer, but the latest reports saying that the U.S. May Not Press U.N. for a Decision on Iraq Next Week seem to support the messy compromise scenario.

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