Besides being an embodiment of everything that is wrong with foreign policy pundits and elites, the bipartisan interventionist consensus and the profoundly unrepresentative nature of foreign policy “centrism,” the entire Kagan/Daalder op-ed founders on the central problem that it is an argument over how to “sustain broad, bipartisan support for interventions.” This is strange for a couple reasons. First, the Obama, Clinton and Edwards campaigns guarantee that the Democrats will continue to support interventionism of one kind or another should their side win in the next election and these campaigns represent strong interventionist strains inside the Democratic Party that are, alas, not going anywhere. The bipartisan consensus on intervention as such has hardly ever been more robust, despite the disasters this very consensus has brought on our country. You hardly need to abandon the Security Council to maintain it–indeed, I suspect that any move towards doing so would weaken that consensus considerably, since there are many CFR types and liberal internationalists who would not be interested in this proposal. Second, it is even more strange since they had just said this:
Throughout its history, America has frequently used force on behalf of principles and tangible interests, and that is not likely to change.
Presumably, if intervention is a natural expression of America’s acting on behalf of “principles and tangible interests,” there should not have to be a mechanism to sustain bipartisan support for it. The national interest and fundamental shared political principles ought to dictate that support for the interventionist option will be shared by a broad majority. If there is such broad support, what is the need for a new mechanism? The argument for a new mechanism suggests that the broad majority does not exist and the bipartisan consensus has to be maintained against the will of the American people (neither of which would surprise me). That this kind of policy creates deep and powerful divisions within both parties and splits the country roughly in half (and not strictly along party lines) suggests that it may be an unnatural, abnormal kind of policy, or that it is the sort that is instinctively opposed by large numbers of Americans who do not accept the elite’s definitions of “tangible interests” or their application of force on behalf of these “principles.”
Most of the op-ed is an argument for replacing the U.N. as font of legitimacy for armed intervention with the ridiculous Concert of Democracies. It is ridiculous because it is a naked extension of U.S. hegemony and it is an attempt to create a parallel structure that will rubber stamp Washington’s policies, a more enduring version of the Coalition of Small, Easily Intimidated Nations. Call it the Permanent Council of the Willing, or perhaps, given that legitimacy seems to be decided entirely arbitrarily under the Kagan/Daalder scheme, the Axis of Democracies. Consider this statement:
Because they share a common view of what constitutes a just order within states, they tend to agree on when the international community has an obligation to intervene. Shared principles provide the foundation for legitimacy.
Obviously, there have been alliances of states that had rather different understandings of a “just order within states” from those of the hegemonists today. Did their shared principles provide legitimacy for their invasions of other states? Will future alliances of despotic states be free to determine their the appropriate circumstances for “intervention” based on their “shared principles”? Or do we suppose that the U.S. and allied European and Asian states get to have one set of rules for themselves–which they get to enforce against themselves and thus never enforce–while judging the other states in the world by a much more rigorous standard?
There is one other obvious snag, which has already been pointed out elsewhere, and this is that “fellow democrats around the world” do not always or even very often agree with the need for some kind of intervention or, if they do acknowledge the need, they are not willing to endorse the use of force. Most “fellow democrats around the world” are strongly supportive of the United Nations and the protections provided to them by the U.N. Charterand secured by the UNSC. Indeed, the only states that usually have an interest in subverting or overthrowing the authority of the U.N. are states engaged in aggression, the promotion of terrorism or the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These states want looser controls on their freedom of action for themselves internally and in dealings with other states. They are, of course, quite willing to use the U.N. as a shield or a club when it suits them, but it is the great powers in particular that tend to find international law the most constraining when they are not able to use it as a means of dominating other states.
In post-Cold War times, cross-border invasions of small, militarily weaker states by their neighbours have usually been met with international intervention and/or condemnation. Many of the relatively new democratic states are not very strong militarily, and they have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo governing intervention. (Then there is the small matter of being bound by treaty law to abide by the Charter’s provisions, but never you mind that.) The “fellow democrats around the world” generally seek to abide by a principle of nonaggression. “[F]ellow democrats around the world” tend to be the ones who are among the most outraged at what has been done in and to Iraq. Are they very likely to sign off on another intervention in the future? Hardly.
Pushing this a bit further, we can see that relying on the approval of “fellow democrats around the world” would have meant, in the case of Iraq, accepting the objections of Canada, France, Germany and India, four of the “great democracies,” and holding off on the invasion and only proceeding with it with explicit authorisation from the Security Council. By the standards that Kagan and Daalder are setting for the new Concert, the Iraq war would probably never have happened. They would be unable to achieve those goals that they deem to be most important. The Concert is hegemonist in purpose, but it is actually hamstrung by its own obsession with respecting the opinion of democratic governments around the world just as if it were dealing with the Security Council. If it were true (and it isn’t) that the Security Council is lax in authorising interventions, this Concert would be no better and might even be worse (by “worse,” I mean worse from the perspective of the hegemonists). Unlike the U.N., the Concert could not be so easily pilloried and mocked by warmongers as an assembly of despots, kings and villains. To the extent that the democratic status of the member states would lend legitimacy in our own eyes their objections would be that much harder to ignore and reject. Viewed another way, the Concert approach would mean that the United States would theoretically make actions that the government deemed to be necessary for national security dependent on the approval of some significant number of democratic states, some of which might have moral, strategic or other objections that would nix any proposed action. If it was ridiculous, as the neocons would have it, to make a matter of national security dependent on corrupt and despotic governments, is it any less ridiculous to make it dependent on relatively decent foreign governments? According to the pre-war arguments war supporters made, the government is obliged, especially if the security threat is real (as it was not in the case of Iraq), to take “appropriate” action regardless of international law, the positions of other governments or the opinions of other peoples. The interests of democratic states, or even of the “great democracies,” do not always coincide, nor do they necessarily coincide all that frequently. The Concert is supposed to work because there is a greater chance of common agreement on the rightness and necessity of taking action in some conflict or crisis, but there is no guarantee whatever that there will be any such agreement. Most “fellow democrats around the world” think that international law actually exists and means something, while it is fashionable in this country among certain internationalists to doubt its significance or enforceability. Between these views is a vast chasm that cannot be bridged simply because all the peoples involved vote for their governments and extend some basic legal protections to citizens.
Having said all this, I suppose you might think that I would find the Concert a potentially attractive idea. It might conceivbably serve as a more effective check against intervention than the current system. Even so, the Concert is a terrible idea, since it is a transparent effort to the defeat the purpose of international law in the name of providing some supposed global order. To the extent that it is an attempt institutionalise past serial aggression in the name of “human rights” and democracy, it is an abomination that ought to be rejected completely.