"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)

ISG, Part V: "The Cold Equations" (3)


The rest of the Kiesling quotes.

"America is still the beneficiary of a source of international legitimacy powerful enough, when the government looks after it, to compensate for all the frictions U.S. power generates. The United States is brother in arms with national armies all around the world" (56). "Humans bristle at the presence of armed strangers -- with their alien gods and suspect sexual appetites -- on the sacred soil of their country. America has military installations in at least forty countries around the world, and uniformed military personnel in many others. [...] The brilliant Greek populist prime minister Andreas Papandreou won thunderous applause at every campaign rally by promising to evict the four U.S. military bases in Greece, but the bases stayed and the voters did not punish him. Shared military mobilization against a common threat exploits the nationalist instinct that would otherwise make us unwelcome" (56). [Kiesling gives a large number of examples: e.g., U.S. soldiers, and even nuclear missiles, on German soil during the Cold War (thanks to fear of the USSR); bases in Saudi Arabia (fear of Saddam Hussein), South Korea (North Korea), etc. -- not to mention the places we are seen as liberators (Kuwait, Kosovo).]

"One of the key goals of U.S. diplomacy is to find affordable ways to persuade our foreign partners to adopt a threat perception that legitimizes America's privileged role in the world" (57). [Alas, unlike the Soviet Cold War threat,] "The Islamic terrorist threat does not legitimize the U.S. military partly because many foreign partners believe current U.S. policies heighten the threat rather than reduce it" (57).*

"[S]tates bind themselves by treaties only when they wish to bind a dangerous rival as well. [...] The problem with denying the application of international law to the United States is it makes international law less compelling as a political excuse for foreigners to behave decently" (58, 59). "Appealing to the Geneva Conventions [...] is free and even admirable, provided America pays the negligible extra cost of having to abide by them itself" (59).

"Today, the world's main source of transnational legitimacy is the UN, a large, unwieldy, inconsistent body that Americans are taught by their nationalist politicians to despise" (59). "UN employees perform many necessary and praiseworthy tasks around the world, tasks the U.S. government has no desire or standing to perform itself. It was not for that reason, however, that the United States created the UN during World War II. Even if the UN stopped performing those good tasks and was ten times more corrupt than America believes, its existence would still be justified by U.S. national interests. America is indebted to the UN as the one institution that can legitimize American leadership in policing the planet" (59). "The virtue of the UN is that it can speak to an unruly member state as an elite club of which that state is a member and beneficiary, enforcing a set of rules to which that state has formally and legally agreed. When the UN speaks, a politician who obeys can shield himself from domestic criticism by pointing to international and domestic law to legitimize his obedience. Normally the UN's voice will harmonize closely with America's. When the United States alone does the talking, it offers less political cover to the politician who listens. The UN is never as large a fig leaf as a prudent politician would like, but American unilateralism is heroic nudity by comparison" ((60).

"The price of UN membership ordinary Americans seem to resent most is an affordable and necessary one: the criticism of its behavior America hears in the General Assembly and some of the specialized committees. The General Assembly gives every state in the world the right to make speeches no one will listen to and vote for resolutions no one will implement. America buys the necessary cooperation of small countries by giving their leaders a token fifteen minutes on the world stage and by giving their senior bureaucrats and politicians or their spouses a well-paid UN job in New York. If the small nations of the world did not have a guaranteed seat and voice, a guaranteed right to prove their sovereignty by trash-talking the superpower, the UN would lose the precious domestic constituencies that make its universality possible. Without universality, the UN could not serve U.S. national interests" (61).

"When the United States invaded Iraq, the world's anger focused not on Saddam's guilt or innocence but on the U.S. assertion that its military power was subject to no outside law or institution. This assertion weakened the UN, marginally destabilized the planet, and caused additional foreigners to hate or fear America. Every time the United States undermines the UN, it loses a little more access to the legitimacy a strong UN could give it when it needs it, such as when the UN made Desert Storm [the 1991 Gulf War] legitimate and practically cost free for the United States as the world's collective response to the Iraqi seizure of Kuwait in 1990. America's long-term national interest lies in strengthening respect for the UNSC [Security Council] as a compelling excuse for countries to obey international law" (62).

"Diplomats discover that recognizable, even logical, rules have evolved in every country to solve the universal problems of allocating scarce resources and generating scarce legitimacy. [...] The task of diplomacy is to find ways the U.S. government can advance its national interests without requiring a foreign society to violate its rules" (68). "In the popular mind, diplomacy is the art of negotiating treaties and resolving international conflicts. I have never seen a real international conflict resolved. Strictly speaking, the task is probably impossible. The most primitive and basic rule of every society, a rule diplomats can bend but not break, is that what is ours must remain ours. Instead of solving conflicts, therefore, diplomats find themselves managing them. Diplomacy redefines bloody battles over disputed tracts of ground as vague, open-ended political processes. It is remarkable how well and peacefully two peoples can live almost side by side, in Cyprus for example, while the harsh frontier justice they yearn for recedes imperceptibly down some endless diplomatic corridor" (69). [Emphasis mine, provided because this idea is extremely important for our ISG discussion. Finally, then:]

"President Bush assumed when he invaded Iraq that the local rules were so arbitrary and evil that the Iraqi people would be grateful when U.S. power rewrote them. Military power indeed allowed him to tear up the Iraqi rule book, but few Iraqis would obey an alien replacement. The result was chaos" (68). "American politicians' self-congratulatory assertions of American uniqueness are a mistake because they play into the narrative of the hostile Other. President Clinton had a rare gift for expressing American values in a way that recognized that foreigners had them too. President Bush prefers, for domestic political reasons, to imply that America is a uniquely virtuous and legitimate purveyor of freedom and democracy. The original context of his statements was the intended war to the death against Muslim zealots allegedly** intent on America's extermination. When the president changed his tune to emphasize democracy building rather than weapons of mass destruction, his hoped-for democratization of the Arab world was already firmly embedded into a narrative of methodical, long-term efforts by the selfish Other to destroy a traditional, virtuous, and beleaguered society. The best service the United States can provide Arab democrats who wish to avoid being gunned down in the streets of Baghdad is to keep firmly silent while they themselves point out that the roots of democratic decision making can be found centuries ago in their own society" (141-142).

And with that, we're ready to tackle the ISG report itself...or will be, in a few days, when I'm done (a) reading it, (b) collating opinion, and (c) just plain cogitating. Hope to see you then! :D

93 93/93 -- AJ

* The CIA agrees with this assessment, btw (that current U.S. policy is making for more, not less, danger from terrorism), and one needn't look far for evidence that they're right. For example, two of the muscle guys in the gang that kidnapped Christian Peace Team members in Iraq -- murdering one of them -- had apparently not been radicalized until the U.S. killed their families at Fallujah. All war includes civilian casualties, of course. This makes wise people very careful when, where, and how they go to war.
** The argument can be made that their actual intent has more to do with getting the U.S. to cede control of the Middle East than American extermination per se. Whatever one thinks of this argument, that was certainly Bin Laden's original intention, which is why (e.g.) he stopped attacking the Russians when they pulled out of Afghanistan. Al Qaida itself began as an attempt to drive us out of the Saudi bases ("in the land of Mecca itself!") we took at the time of the 1991 Gulf War, possibly under less than straightforward circumstances, and never left. No, I'm not arguing that we should have left them, nor is Kiesling; I'm just clarifying that "allegedly," above. The "allegedly" is, of course, a good deal stronger when describing Saddam Hussein's intentions.

I might note too that this is part of what makes Iran's mullahs different, to my mind, particularly now that we've just about handed them control of the Middle East: the exterminationist intent, particularly against Israel, seems far more persuasive to me than in, say, the Arab countries. More on all that later.
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