December 31, 2003


American Diplomacy And the New Shape of the World: Critics who accuse the United States of a strident new unilateralism often have an agenda of their own: to keep America's power in check. (Clive Crook, 12/31/03, Atlantic Monthly)

The past year has seen a momentous change in the way the world is ordered—a change very much for the worse, according to a good deal of supposedly informed opinion in the United States and the great majority of commentators everywhere else. To assert and advance its own interests, America has repudiated the institutions and the very principle of lawful cooperation among nations, it is argued. This would be immoral, the charge continues, even if it were not directly counterproductive—but it is that as well. America's new posture, the critics agree, has made the world a more dangerous place, not least for America itself.

The destruction of Saddam Hussein's regime was the most forthright demonstration of this new thinking. The Bush administration explicitly rationalized the war in terms of a new security doctrine that calls for pre-emptive action against emerging threats. This is a policy that, to put it mildly, is difficult to square with current understanding of international law. [...]

Some of the administration's critics are willing to admit that the U.N. has its faults, and even to acknowledge that America's government owes its first duty to America's citizens. Nonetheless, they argue that the United States, in its own interests, should lead efforts to reform the U.N.—and to breathe life into multilateralism more generally. With American goodwill, and not without, a global order based on law and international cooperation could be built. That is the claim. By the same logic, the Kyoto accord may be flawed, but America should strive to fix it rather than merely walk away. And again, despite safeguards already built in, some supporters of the International Criminal Court concede that it may leave Americans unfairly exposed to unwarranted or malicious prosecution; so strengthen the safeguards, they insist, rather than trying to wreck the whole process.

This kind of argument is based on two very serious mistakes. The first is a delusion about goals. The premise here is that the United States and its putative U.N. partners have the same priorities, or at any rate that the goals they have in common matter more to them than the aims that divide them. After September 11, in fact, one might have hoped that this were true: The whole civilized world, it is clear, really does face a terrible common foe. Yet many countries still see the main purpose of the U.N. and its satellites as not to meet such threats but to contain the power of the United States. French diplomacy before the Iraq war made it plain that France sees untrammeled American power as a greater threat to its interests than Saddam Hussein ever was. France is not alone in this. [...]

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that intelligence and good faith prevailed around the world, and that different countries' goals and priorities were sufficiently well aligned to make formal and institutionalized multilateral approaches at least feasible. Would that clinch the argument? Not at all, because the multilateralists' second fatal error is to suppose that structured multilateralism is intrinsically superior to the unilateralist alternative of ad hoc "coalitions of the willing."

Why is this a mistake? Because the kind of institutionalized multilateralism that the U.N.'s champions dream of is inescapably undemocratic. America's government can be ultimately accountable to the American people or ultimately accountable to the U.N.; it cannot be accountable to both.

Mr. Crook here captures quite nicely the two great challenges to traditional sovereignty, that by the Left--transnationalism--which seeks to bypass democracy and impose a global elites' agenda; and that by the Center/Right, which holds any regime that does not meet liberal democratic standards to be illegitimate. Each new vision is revolutionary to a degree we don't yet seem to realize.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 31, 2003 8:22 PM

Your comment captures the issue better than the article. It is simplistic to argue against multilateralism on democratic grounds alone. Any federal system accommodates divided loyalties and accountabilities, and some do so quite well. If this were the only problem, the leftists' admonition to "fix" the system would have some credibility.

The fundamental problem is the necessarily amoral underpinning of world federalism. Some in Europe may push for the UN to check the U.S., but, to give them their due, they are also pushing a supranational vision they have signed on to domestically as an antidote to war, which has become unthinkable for Europeans. They aren't all hypocrites. They have also developed some (weak) institutional bases for enforcing groundrules--fascist or marxist regimes need not apply.

Not so on the world stage where anybody with a flag and a presidential limousine gets in the club. The failed hopes of the UN and its Charter stem from the bureaucratically inevitable and very human (and, in some senses, conservative) propensity to value form and process over content. The vile, desperate efforts of many Western nations and NGO's to preserve the "system" at Durban in the face of unadulterated evil was one of the most callow moments in the history of international relations. Kicking someone out of the club is wrenching and difficult, and so the show must go on whatever happens.

(I marvel frequently at how many of my Canadian friends have developed such a fierce, visceral attachment to the UN, they will back it to the hilt instinctively without even bothering to learn what it is doing. For many progressives, the UN simply cannot be wrong by definition. A little like old-fashioned, ultramontane Catholics, except that the UN speaks ex catherdra all the time.)

Bush's heroism is not so much his fight for democracy, which, after all, is not suitable or workable or definable or even desirable everywhere equally. It is his concept of rogue states and his commitment to destroy them. It is not based upon positive law or technical definitions, which multilateralism must be, but on common notions of baseline morality and the ability to recognize evil and stand up to it. All honour to him. But as the left, even the American left, hates morality above all else, it is easy to see why they hold him in such contempt.

Remember how the cynical, experienced and quite personable judge laughed at Cooper's naivity in High Noon as he was fleeing the town to save his skin? Those are our sophisticated liberal elites.

Posted by: Peter B at January 1, 2004 6:46 AM

"They have also developed some (weak) institutional bases for enforcing groundrules--fascist or marxist regimes need not apply."

The EU is both fascist and marxist,and the Great Powers(France and Germany)ignore any rules they find inconvenient.

"Remember how the cynical, experienced and quite personable judge laughed at Cooper's naivity in High Noon as he was fleeing the town to save his skin? Those are our sophisticated liberal elites."

On the contrary,the judge(our elites)is waiting for a chance to shoot Gary(us)in the back as he faces the gang.

We'll win the war on terror when we win the civil war at home,till then Iraq,Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict are,though important,sideshows to the main conflict.

Posted by: M. at January 1, 2004 3:35 PM


C'mon, you can't call present day Europe fascist or marxist whatever concerns there are about the direction it is heading. To do so makes debate impossible and also makes it difficult to recognize the real thing when it arises. The Poles have more than a little experience with both of those and they are trying to get in.

You think the elites want to shoot us in the back? I think they want to force us into endless workshops and "dialogue" all sense out of us with empathetic smiles.

Posted by: Peter B at January 2, 2004 8:44 AM

I think your definition of "fascism" may be too narrow. If you keep it to Nazi or Mussolini, you are correct the the EU is not Fascist.

Yet the EU ideology has little respect for the individual, or even the individual state. They are currently working to create a system where Brussels can hike Poland's or Ireland's taxes (or prevent a tax cut) with out input from the nation's citizens.

IMO, this sort of un-democratic centralization is certainly "fascism" of some sort. Furthermore, I tend to disregard the notion that fascism is defined by it's opposition to "Marxism".

Sure, these two anti-individualistic ideologies do compete for power, but both are implacable foes of an American style "bill of rights", and join in their attempts to undermine our worldview.

France has police stake out parking lots to make sure no one works more than 35 hours. Germany jails you if you attempt to home school. If this is not fascism of some sort, then what is it?

Yes, these horrible things did come about in a "so-called" democracy, but these nations, if they stay on this course, will soon cease to even be defined as "free."

Posted by: BB at January 2, 2004 11:59 AM


I don't disagree, but the word fascist imports something more frightening and murderous than heavy-handed democratic socialist statism.

Posted by: Peter B at January 2, 2004 7:38 PM



Franco's Spain was fascist. Hitler's Germany was Socialist.

Posted by: oj at January 2, 2004 7:44 PM


Franco's Spain was not fascist, Hitler's Germany was not socialist in the sense of the state owning the means of production and neither was democratic.

Posted by: Peter B at January 3, 2004 10:58 AM


Spain, Chile, etc, were clasically fascist, combining authoritarianism in most walks of life with relatively capitalistic economy. Nazi Germany was socialistic and totalitarian, with the Party commanding the economy, even if it didn't actually own the companies.

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2004 12:10 PM


Fascist is a bad word. Franco was Christian and authoritarian and anti-progress. That makes it impossible for him to be fascist. His son-in-law ran the Fascist party in Spain, but Franco never allowed it to take power, preferring to govern a coalition of Fascists, Carlists and monarchists. If you think he was fascist (or that Pinochet was ),you are debasing the currency and insulting the memory of the victims of real fascism.

You have argued many times that fascism is a product of modern secular materialism, and I agree. Does that sound like Franco? He was an old-fashioned Spanish/South American caudillo, albeit with a bite.

Aren't you a Kirkpatrick fan?

Posted by: Peter B at January 3, 2004 6:22 PM


You're right that the terminology is squishy.

I don't think the Nazis and Italians were fascists.

I was taught that fascism is authoritarian rulre from the Right coupled with relative capitalism.

Posted by: oj at January 3, 2004 6:38 PM