The Limits of Sovereignty; The Legitimacy of Collective Action (Carroll Andrew Morse, 11/17/05, Tech Central Station)
[G]iven reasonable certainty that the Bush administration is not making high-profile noises against Syria without preparing to follow through, what happens next? The answer will depend, in large part, on the usual critics of Bush administration foreign policy. Syria’s crude use of political violence provides an opportunity to unify a number of American foreign policy strains that have recently been estranged from one another. Syria’s assassination of a political leader is frowned upon not only by hawks of various stripes, but also by process-oriented liberal internationalists — who do not like one state interfering with another through the use of violence — and by realists who view the assassination of leaders as dangerously destabilizing. Add in the growing contingent who believes that the United States should more skillfully combine participation in international institutions with the pursuit of American interests, and there should be a wide constituency for meaningful action against Syria.
In the best case outcome, America bootstraps the world towards a meaningful act of collective security. The liberal internationalists take the lead on the political left. They help forge an agreement between America’s different foreign policy elites on a plan for dealing with Syria that has tangible goals, realistic deadlines, and an enforcement mechanism. Confronted with a united America, nations not always inclined to support US foreign policy decide that sacrificing one clumsy dictator is more prudent than spending — perhaps overspending — the political capital of the United Nations to protect assassins harbored by the Syrian government. Syria, lacking any meaningful international support, is forced to turn over its government officials and nationals involved in the al-Hariri assassination. The growing spectacle of weakness and incompetence undermines Syria’s government, setting Syria on a path to political modernization.
And in the worst case? The liberal internationalists succumb to their own worst tradition. Instead of leading, they follow the lead of the visceral anti-Bush partisans and join tortured arguments that at best ignore, and at worst justify, state-sponsored political assassination. Sensing a divided America, the UN is never compelled to move beyond approving resolutions that do nothing more than threaten other resolutions. The Bush administration — strongly committed to the idea that not acting once engaged shows dangerous weakness — assembles a coalition outside of the UN to act against Syria. A divided Congress either barely supports or barely rejects action outside of the UN and future political assassins are emboldened during a debate where many members of Congress declare that no one should act against political assassination without UN permission.
Not everyone believes that action outside of the UN following a UN non-response qualifies as a “worst case scenario”. A United Nations that refuses to act against cross-border assassination — an offensive act of war by any reasonable standard — serves no purpose and should be allowed to continue its slide into irrelevance. Will the liberal internationalists and the further leftward skeptics of George W. Bush’s foreign policy take this opportunity to demand that international institutions take a stand against anarchy? Or will they continue to undermine the legitimacy of those institutions by using them as justification for surrendering to anarchy?
Sadly, the reality is that there are only a handful of liberal interventionists around–Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, George Packer, Ed Koch, Joe Lieberman, and a very few others–and even several of them go wobbly any time the rest of the Left criticizes George Bush loudly enough. we do well to recall Mr. Walzer’s question after we toppled the Taliban, and his sad answer:
[C]an there be a decent left in a superpower? Or more accurately, in the only superpower? Maybe the guilt produced by living in such a country and enjoying its privileges makes it impossible to sustain a decent (intelligent, responsible, morally nuanced) politics. Maybe festering resentment, ingrown anger, and self-hate are the inevitable result of the long years spent in fruitless opposition to the global reach of American power.
Given that American power has been used over the last ninety years to defeat colonialism, Communism, Nazism, and now Islamicism, the opposition to that reach must be called indecent.