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[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicy.com: Are the Obama folks genuine multilateralists?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2012 23:35:59 +0100

_multilateralists> Are the Obama folks genuine multilateralists?

Posted By <http://bosco.foreignpolicy.com/blog/7> David Bosco
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/images/091022_meta_block.gifThursday, February
9, 2012 - 11:45 AM http://www.foreignpolicy.com/images/091022_meta_block.gif

FP executive editor Susan Glasser and Turtle Bay's Colum Lynch
ussian_relationship> sat down this week with U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan
Rice. In the course of the conversation, she offered the most detailed
response I've yet seen from an American official to the charge that the West
abused its authority in Libya under Resolution 1973:

"We made very, very clear -- I made very, very clear -- in laying out to the
Security Council what this authority would entail. The protection of
civilians, as mandated and drafted, in what became Resolution 1973, was
going to involve air strikes against [Muammar] Qaddafi's command and control
centers, air strikes against moving columns, air strikes against any asset
of the regime that would threaten civilians. We discussed this at great
detail and we, in fact, debated language that laid all of that out in great
specificity so that countries could not claim that they didn't know exactly
what they were granting when passing that resolution," said Rice. "We wanted
the council to make a clear eyed decision. If they hadn't supported this it
wouldn't have happened.But in voting for it, or not opposing it, the council
gave a clear-cut green light. Now there may be some cynical folks who say
that perhaps the Russians and the Chinese were trying to give the coalition
-- NATO, and Western and Arab powers -- enough room to hang themselves and
they're frustrated that that wasn't exactly the outcome. I don't know. But I
do know it was very clear what they were voting for and the outcome was one
that was potentially foreseen ... although I understand that you have to be
somewhat nuanced to see it. But the resolution and the actions of NATO
really were genuinely to protect civilians, they were not designed for
regime change.What transpired was that, in addition to the NATO air campaign
to protect civilians, [there was] growth and transformation of the
opposition. They cohered ultimately into a sufficiently capable multi-front
force to ultimately topple Qaddafi."

Rice appears to be insisting not that there can be reasonable disagreement
about the scope of the resolution but that Russia, China, South Africa, and
India are disingenuous in asserting that NATO's activities went well beyond
what the Council had authorized. At the same time, she does appear to
acknowledge (although her words are not entirely clear on this point) that
there were two distinct phases to the operation: the first designed to
protect civilians from immediate attack and the second to help the
transformed opposition topple Qaddafi. Rice also suggests that the rebel
forces were transformed through some organic process, adroitly sliding over
the question of whether foreign military advisors and arms shipments of
dubious legality were an important part of that transformation.

The debate about whether the West was disingenuous and manipulative in its
use of Security Council authorization has now run for months, and the camps
are pretty well delineated. Rice and others (see Erik Voeten's smart post
he-security-council-vote-on-syria/> here) insist that the BRIC claims to
have been snookered are not credible. Others, myself included, see the Libya
operation as fairly clearly in excess of Security Council authority (though
not necessarily bad policy).

On its own, this debate is not all that important and should probably now be
consigned to dusty law reviews, where folks can wrangle over the fine points
of old Security Council resolutions for years. But there is embedded in this
debate something important: the question of whether the Obama administration
is genuine in its professed committment to multilateralism. Steve Walt, in
response to an earlier post of mine,
doubles down on his insistence that the administration (and interventionists
more broadly) are deeply hypocritical:

The real puzzle is why advocates of intervention are so fond of invoking
multilateralism, institutions, and the importance of international law, and
then so quick to ignore it when it gets in the way of today's pet project.
Realists aren't always right, but at least we're not hypocrites.

The charge here is that many of those who claim to respect law and
institutions in fact use them as mere means to an end and will happily
discard them when inconvenient. They do not see them as genuine restraints
that should be respected for their own sake, but as tactical instruments to
be deployed and withdrawn as the situation demands. The administration loves
the UN's Human Rights Council when it is criticizing others, but feels no
obligation to respond seriously to the UN special rapporteur on
extrajudicial killings when he asks about American targeted assassinations.

Nor does the administration appear inclined to part with the customary
great-power privileges that sap the legitimacy of existing multilateral
institutions in the eyes of much of the world. Despite the administration's
claims to want a more equitable international architecture, for example, it
quietly backed Europe's bid to maintain leadership of the IMF. It shows no
signs that it will surrender its customary privilege of naming the head of
the World Bank and open that process to international competition. And on
perhaps the most enervating issue of great-power privilege--the structure of
the UN Security Council--the administration has zero appetite for reform.

Hypocrisy may be too strong a term here. I'd say it's just more evidence
that the actual practice of politics makes pragmatists of everyone.


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Received on Fri Feb 10 2012 - 17:36:37 EST
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