Home/Daniel Larison/Truly Multilateral

Truly Multilateral

From a purely Realpolitik perspective, Qaddafi also gives the U.S. a Muslim foe who—unlike even Saddam Hussein—is not particularly beloved by the Arab street, much less Arab leaders. Which explains why, unlike the war in Iraq, this military intervention is truly multilateral. ~Jason Zengerle

Zengerle’s right that Gaddafi has been targeted because of the extent of his international isolation. As I’ve said before, this is why one of the lessons other authoritarian regimes will probably draw is that Gaddafi’s mistake wasn’t his brutal repression of opposition, but rather his failure to cultivate stronger ties with states that wield significant influence and aren’t concerned about how he governed his country. The attack on Libya sends the message to authoritarian states that engagement and security cooperation with Western governments provides no guarantee against attack in the future, and it makes cultivating ties with one or more of the abstaining major and rising powers much more attractive.

Gaddafi has as many enthusiasts and backers in African Union states as he has detractors and enemies in Arab countries, but the AU isn’t very important in the scheme of things and its governments have been largely ignored during this crisis. It’s understandable that intervening governments that were looking for a green light from a regional organization would look to the group made up of governments that mostly hate Gaddafi. It’s also a reminder that the “truly multilateral” nature of the intervention depended to a large degree on privileging the Arab League’s position over that of the AU.

As Rogin reported yesterday:

Bosco also said Obama was practicing “a la carte multilateralism” by trumpeting the endorsement of certain regional international organizations, such as the Arab League, while dismissing the opinions of other groups, such as the African Union, which strongly opposed the intervention.

“There’s a legitimacy shopping exercise that’s going on here,” Bosco said.

The more we dig into it, the more we see that the “truly multilateral” boast is not very meaningful. Apart from providing political cover, Arab League support doesn’t amount to anything concrete. Two of the Arab League states that border Libya, Algeria and Sudan, resisted the call for outside intervention, so the “unanimity” of the League’s request exaggerates the degree of support for the intervention among those states that will be more directly affected by continued fighting in Libya. If the war drags on, it wouldn’t be surprising if Algeria and Sudan covertly helped reinforce Gaddafi. Algeria has denied earlier reports that it was doing this, but Bouteflika has every reason not to want another nearby dictatorship to collapse. It has been Libya’s neighbors in North Africa that have been the most reluctant to intervene, and none of them is directly participating in the intervention, which makes the war seem more like the invasion of Iraq than its backers would like to admit.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles