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May 8, 2004
Brooks: Ctrl-Alt-Del

David Brooks gets uncharacteristically hysterical in today's New York Times op-ed piece, but in his wildly pessimistic viewpoint he does score one important point regarding international relations and the role of the UN. In order to get there, though, you have to wade through a lot of hair-shirt rhetoric:

It's pretty clear we're passing through another pivot point in American foreign policy. A year ago, we were the dominant nation in a unipolar world. Today, we're a shellshocked hegemon.

We still face a world of threats, but we're much less confident about our own power. We still know we can roll over hostile armies, but we cannot roll over problems. We get dragged down into them. We can topple tyrants, but we don't seem to be very good at administering nations. Our intelligence agencies have made horrible mistakes. Our diplomacy vis--vis Western Europe has been inept. We have a military filled with heroes, but the atrocities of a few have eclipsed the nobility of the many.

In short, we are on the verge of a crisis of confidence.

Brooks' argument that our confidence is in crisis doesn't feel like good, long-range analysis as much as it does overreaction to the events of the past two or three weeks. In the past two and a half years since 9/11, we have toppled two of the most oppressive tyrranies in the world, especially in Iraq, where torture and genocide had made hash out of the refrain, "Never again." America has freed 50 million people in that time, and has done so with less than 1,000 battle casualties, an unprecedented feat and one that not only demonstrates our power but also our ability to project that power while doing our best to minimize collateral damage.

However, Brooks uses this to make a point, and a good one at that, regarding the futility of the UN. How can we expect to spread democracy and self-determination to all peoples of the world while forcing our efforts into the UN harness, while it brims over with petty dictatorships and warlords?

In this climate of self-doubt, the "realists" of right and left are bound to re-emerge. They're going to dwell on the limits of our power. They'll advise us to learn to tolerate the existence of terrorist groups, since we don't really have the means to take them on. They're going to tell us to lower our sights, to accept autocratic stability, since democratic revolution is too messy and utopian.

That's a recipe for disaster. It was U.S. inaction against Al Qaeda that got us into this mess in the first place. It was our tolerance of Arab autocracies that contributed to the madness in the Middle East.

To conserve our strategy, we have to fundamentally alter our tactics. To shore up public confidence, the U.S. has to make it clear that it is considering fresh approaches.

We've got to acknowledge first that the old debates are obsolete. I wish the U.S could still go off, after Iraq, at the head of "coalitions of the willing" to spread democracy around the world. But the brutal fact is that the events of the past year have discredited that approach. Nor is the U.N. a viable alternative. A body dominated by dictatorships is never going to promote democratic values. For decades, the U.N. has failed as an effective world power.

We've got to reboot. We've got to come up with a global alliance of democracies to embody democratic ideals, harness U.S. military power and house a permanent nation-building apparatus, filled with people who actually possess expertise on how to do this job.

No doubt, the UN could function perfectly well as it was initially intended: a multilateral platform for diplomacy which brings all nations to the table simultaneously. The US has no need to walk away from that. Where the UN has failed is in the imposition of a shadow "world government" enforcing its own laws and regulations. In the first place, that structure is fatally flawed by its own membership; can you think of a more ludicrous notion than putting the Sudan, China, and Cuba on a Human Rights Committee? The Sudan wants to implement Shari'a law, which punishes adultery by stoning to death the women involved. Besides, the last development most UN members want to see is greater democratization; they're at Turtle Bay to hang onto as much power as they can. The Oil-For-Food program revealed how corrupt the UN has become, mostly due to a complete lack of controls on the Secretariat and the unwillingness of member nations to act as a check against its operation; in the case of UNSCAM, that willingness sprang from the petrodollars being stuffed into member nations' pockets.

Finally and most importantly, the twelve-year odyssey of Saddam Hussein demonstrated the full measure of ineptitude and emptiness of the UN Security Council in particular. Willing to pass resolution after resolution, allowing Saddam Hussein to defy those resolutions year after year, and sticking the US and the UK with the bill for their failed "containment" strategy -- did you see much in the way of anyone else's military enforcing the sanctions? -- the UNSC has been shown to be the Hamlet of the world, sputtering with indecision until far too late, and in that role has become the perfect antecedent of the League of Nations.

Brooks is correct; it's time to look to new solutions, such as the G-20 plan floated earlier this year. In order to bring freedom to the world, we cannot allow ourselves to be deliberately slowed down or halted by being yoked to dictatorships through the UN. We do have to reboot. We need to clear our assumptions from the screen and take a fresh look around us and at our priorities. If we are serious about spreading freedom and democracy as a way to ensure our national security -- and I strongly believe that to be the best strategy -- then we need new partnerships and new institutions based on those ideals.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 8, 2004 8:37 AM

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» Time to reboot? from House of Payne International
Captain Ed has a very thoughtful response to the most recent David Brooks editorial. (I find this particularly important because, according to the all-knowing internet, I am David Brooks.) [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2004 12:25 PM

» Energy - Low from The Politburo Diktat
My energy is low, comrades. I must suppose that my good friend, Captain Ed, will consider me another hair-shirt David Brooks. So be it. I am struggling mightily here. These are tough days. If President Bush rides out the recent storms, and some good re... [Read More]

Tracked on May 10, 2004 8:36 AM

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