Sunday, June 18, 2006


A commenter (indirectly) chastised me in a post I wrote the other day. Tom wrote:

We could have respected international law and have solved the problem.
Tom wasn't exactly clear about which problem we could have solved by "respect[ing] international law", but he probably meant Afghanistan, or Iraq, or something.

Back on April 11th, I wrote a post about Nuclear Primacy and an idea for how to handle the Iranian nuclear crisis. My arch-enemy left a few comments, some of which parallel Tom's less precise comment.

In one comment in that thread I wrote:

Like it or not, we are the world's policeman. We're stuck defending the global order, such that it is. And now that Britain is effectively disbanding their projectible military force, we're stuck with an even greater share of policing the globe.

Pooh (that's the arch-enemy, for those that didn't buy the commemorative program at the gate) responded with:
Sure. If that's the case, maintaining the moral high-ground becomes a first order imperative. "Police" power is to a large degree a fiction agreed upon by the population. A side-effect of unilateralism (and, dare I add, torture) is the degrading of our perceived moral authority which serves to lessen the degree to which those being policed agreed. No, we don't need France, but they could certainly help, for example.
And lately, we have once again been hit with polls telling us that the world's opinion of the USA continues to fall. But all of this concern about "global opinion" and "international law" and the "international community" perplexes me. Essentially, these arguments state that we need to keep the respect of the world community. But why should we care about the world community's opinion?

Should we care about China's opinion of our policies or ourselves? How about Russia's? Of course, China and Russia aren't exactly paragons of virtue in these matters, so maybe I should look elsewhere.

Perhaps we should give more concern for the opinion of the Republic of France. After all, their Justice system is a model for the world.

Or perhaps that of the EU itself?

Of course, the Human Rights Watch tells us that this is the USA's fault, so I guess I shouldn't be so hard on the frogs.

But the Oil-for-Food scandal predates the USA's GWOT (although coverage of the scandal doesn't, IIRC). That scandal puts the lie to the contention that we should respect "international law" or the "international community". The scandal demonstrated that both of those esteemed institutions were for sale to whichever international hoodlum could scrape together enough cash. (Or in Saddam's case, its equivalent in oil vouchers.) The apparent lack of "outrage" by most of the citizens of the world further demonstrates the further uselessness of using international opinion as any kind of guide for action.

If you disagree with a policy or a tactic, fine. Make your case. But arguing about "moral authority" or "international law" or "the international community" is a non-starter, for these terms ultimately mean exactly nothing. Especially amongst "the international community" itself, which exhibits no respect at all for these concepts, unless it's in their own self-interest.

Update: Dang. I forgot I had already covered some of this ground. Damn this poor memory anyhow....


Pooh said...

The war on straw continues apace. Russia/China not= EU. I would think that that is rather self-evident.

Why do we care about about Russia or China's opinion? Well, we largely don't because they aren't the ones likely to help us out in any event - of course if we don't care about help then we're just going to end up fighting everyone eventually, and that usually works out well for the hegemon. Pax Romana.

Pooh said...

Though I am honored to be termed a nemisis! (oh yeah, and F the NBA, I'm with you now...)

Icepick said...

Pooh, the point is that something as nebulous as "respect" just isn't worth considering. France has been just as willing to ignore the UN as we have (or did I miss the SC resolution on the Ivory Coast?), they just can't do it on the scale we can.

Further, you can call it a straw man all you want, but the problem of the UN being bought and paid for by Third World dictators is a real concern. If permanent Security Council vetoes are for sale, the institution has FAILED. Parts of its multifaceted structure are worth preserving (the WHO in particular), but the General Assmebly and Security Council are abject failures.

You cite the Pax Romana, presumably as a counter-example. Frankly, I think you've got it exactly wrong in this case. The Roman Empire, even if you only consider the Western Empire, lasted longer than any other civilization I can think of that wasn't based solely on geography. Not a bad record, all-in-all.

Pooh said...

I'm not citing to UN as an example, because the UN is obviously very broken right now. That means the the UN is broken not that multinationalism is bad.

I'm specifically worried about NATO - yes Britain came with us (to their detriment) but there's two things at work here. Having France, Germany, etc. etc. with us will make things easier on several fronts (diffused costs, increased 'legitimacy' which like it or not matters. alot) And if they aren't with us that might be an indication that we are, you know, wrong. Is there anything wrong with going to your friend and asking "hey, what do you think of all this?" He might just have some suggestions as to things you overlooked.

Further, some international agreements we should follow because it is the right thing to do. Yes, I mean the Geneva conventions. If we want to claim the right to moral high ground, I'd kinda like it if we actually had a mountain of it, not a molehill - again "better than ____" isn't good enough.

Icepick said...

I had written a rather long comment rebutting (or at least challenging) several of your points, but it really comes down to this:

Who determines who has the moral high-ground? And what actual use is having the moral high-ground?

Icepick said...

Oh, I will ressurect this part of my now erased comment: If the French government is, you know, on the take from Saddam Hussein, how can their opinion be trusted? How is it that we ask them if we're wrong, but they never ask us if perhaps they're wrong?