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Saturday, September 06, 2003

This is becoming interesting

Does anyone remember the "Blair Doctrine?" In April 1999, Tony Blair gave a speech in Chicago laying out his "doctrine of international community."

Essentially, Blair was providing a public justification for NATO's intervention in Kosovo. He made a powerful speech, grounded in ideas about international interdependence, outlining a moral obligation to act against Milosevic:

"This is a just war, based not on any territorial ambitions but on values. We cannot let the evil of ethnic cleansing stand. We must not rest until it is reversed."

Much of the speech detailed other measures that fleshed out his doctrinal idea. While these were interesting and broad ranging (financial reform, trade, Kyoto, etc.), I'm not going to address them right now.

Instead, I'm going to focus on the bulk of the speech, which was devoted to questions of international security -- and specifically the prospective use of force:

"The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts."

This remains a central question of world politics, of course, and Iraq has only sharpened some of the argumentss. Though Blair discussed the merging of interests and moral values, he clearly recognized the need for limits on the use of force:

"Looking around the world there are many regimes that are undemocratic and engaged in barbarous acts. If we wanted to right every wrong that we see in the modern world then we would do little else than intervene in the affairs of other countries. We would not be able to cope. So how do we decide when and whether to intervene? I think we need to bear in mind five major considerations."

Because Blair is feeling so much political heat over Iraq, and the Bush administration seems to change the rationale for war on a regular basis, it is worth looking at the considerations Blair addressed. And to think of them in the context of Iraq.

"First, are we sure of our case?" Hmmm. Strike one.

"Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options?" The Germans and French certainly didn't think so. And neither did most of the rest of the Security Council and many, many other states. Strike two?

"Third, on the basis of a practical assessment of the situation, are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake?" Yes, the military is pretty effective at traditional war tasks. Ball.

"Fourth, are we prepared for the long term? In the past we talked too much of exit strategies." Rumsfeld declared the end of "exit strategies" just days after 9/11. Neither the US nor the UK seems to have an exit strategy for Iraq. Then again, it's not at all clear that they were prepared for the post-war Iraq situation. I recommend people check out the story about Anthony Zinni in today's Washington Post.

"And finally, do we have national interests involved?" Again, this seems subject to debate. Iraq is an important state, strategically located in the oil-rich Middle East. However, Blair clearly didn't think these kinds of wars should bring material gain to the intervening states. Much of the Arab world and even Western Europe has deep suspicions about US motives in Iraq.

Strike three? Maybe.

I apologize for quoting a lot of this speech, but it was a good one. Here's a final point to emphasize:

"Any new rules, however, will only work if we have reformed international institutions with which to apply them. If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar. But we need to find a new way to make the UN and its Security Council work if we are not to return to the deadlock that undermined the effectiveness of the Security Council during the Cold War."

So why am I going back to all this now? An AP story today strongly implied that the Blair government may be about to split with the US over the role of the UN in Iraq:

"We want the United Nations to have an important role and we want as much international support as possible for what we want to achieve in Iraq," a Foreign Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity. "Clearly we've been involved with lots of discussions with the Americans."

"Do we support the idea of a resolution?" he continued. "Yes, we do. ... Not necessarily this particular resolution."

A lot of media outlets in the US commonly report on the State Department's alleged rifts with the Pentagon. Given that Powell apparently convinced Bush to go back to the UN, the entire situation in Iraq could be about to change dramatically. As one headline stated, "State Dept. Outflanks Pentagon on Iraq."

If neither Powell nor Blair are willing to side with the Pentagon any longer, the neocons could at last be facing powerful political opposition.

Draw your own conclusions, but it looks like the US might genuinely have to turn over the keys in Iraq to the UN.

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