Tuesday, December 31, 2002

I'm not a regular reader of Oxblog, but I ended up finding a link by Instapundit to supposed takedown of Josh Marshall. At the heart of it is an odd assertion:

Schroeder in Germany, Lula in Brazil, now Roh's victory in S. Korea…[this is the] latest 'wake-up call' to [the] U.S., but [it's] not clear what's being heard." Marshall notes that each of these election outcomes had "deep local determinants" and was fundamentally "multi-causal." Fair enough. But, Marshall concludes,

...add these and other election results up and you start to see that hostile reactions to America's newly strident and confrontational stance in the world are becoming an important force in world politics and an important force in the domestic politics of many of our allies.

Not so fast. First of all, Lula's victory in Brazil is an indication of the strength of American values, not a backlash against them. Lula was once a true working-class radical who campaigned in denim and spoke of socialism. As a result, he lost three consecutive presidential elections. This year, Lula decided to wear a suit, accept a binding commitment to IMF economic policies, and pledge to fight inflation and budget deficits.
David is correct in that Lula had moderated his position somewhat, but it's very different to say that said moderation is why he was successful; as David (somewhat misleadingly) noted, Lula's popularity has been building for a while, and he managed to achieve victory against Cardoso's hand-picked and resolutely pro-American successor, Jose Serra. Even if Lula had moderated his position, he's still to the left of his opponents and certainly to the left of the United States' government.

(Heck, look at how financial markets reacted to his election. They knew quite well what it would mean: that it was a rejection of the Washington Consensus, and that Lula's moderation might not prevent him from acting in the interests of the poor Brazilian North.)

Besides, Lula has pretty clearly set himself apart from the United States: he supports both Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, and has been openly hostile towards the FTAA due to the possibility (heck, certainty) that it would be little more than an invitation for the United States to access whichever markets it wishes and prevent access to its own market in turn. His advocacy of the Brazilian-led MERCOSUL trading body has little purpose except as a way of ensuring that South American interests are represented; and the only reason why that would even be an issue is if he didn't trust the United States' leadership of the FTAA.

No, David, Lula's win was definitely a message to the United States by the Brazilians as well as a rejection of the ruling cabal, and the moderation doesn't make sense as a movement towards the United States, but only the moderate elements within Brazil itself. I personally think that Marshall has a point; anti-Americanism has become a force in world politics. Whether that's good or bad is immaterial; it's practically inevitable, as people are not going to react kindly to a great power that is attempting to wield that power in ways that may not be in their own interests, and that claims an exceptional level of insight and morality that many probably consider overstated if not fallacious. (Except when exploiting it for their own purposes.)

More interesting is his followup on power:

Not by a long shot. What Marshall doesn't ask is whether anti-American rhetoric results in anti-American actions, or whether it is just a diversion from fundamentally pro-American foreign policies. Take Schroeder's latest speech for example. While he talks about searching for alternatives to war, he also refuses to rule out German support for a UN-authorized invasion of Iran. And Schroeder adds that: "We Germans know from our own experience that dictators sometimes can only be stopped with force."
I'm going to assume that that was a typo, and that he meant "Iraq". (Then again, given time...) Anyway, the key point there is not the "invasion" aspect, but the "UN-authorized" aspect. Most of the opposition of a unilateral invasion of Iraq comes not just from the "invasion" part but the "unilateral" part; the Germans (like rather a lot of people both inside and outside of the United States) are deeply ambivalent about the idea of the United States acting as a hegemonic power, and Iraq is seen both by advocates and opponents of the invasion as a testing ground for this idea; that it will be a symbolic gesture much more important than Saddam Hussein, Iraq, or George Bush himself. The whole point of the U.N. authorization is not to watch the U.S. get what it wants, but the symbolic element of asking permission. That's what the Germans were interested in, and still are.

(It's kind of a variation of the importance of civilian oversight of the military, although on a much different scale and involving a different kind of relationship).

See, here's the thing. David said that "If I've been a little harsh, it's because I'm worried that a lot of very intelligent and well-intentioned individuals have begun to see multilateralism as an end in itself rather than a means of promoting democracy and human rights across the globe." That's right, they have, and it's for the same reason that democracy is often seen as an end in itself, even if it doesn't promote what some consider the right things; it's because many people understand (not believe, understand) that no single individual, no single people, and no single nation should wield unchecked power over another, whether well-intentioned or not. Even a power with the best of intentions can and probably will eventually become corrupt without a counter-pressure to keep it in check. A relatively benign dominant political culture simply ain't good enough, exceptionalism or no. That culture can be changed, can be subverted, and can be ignored if things are kept below the radar- which is pretty easy with the disinterest that the American public has in foreign policy. Multilateralism is a check, and an important one, whether it fits the United States' short-term strategic interests or not. I'm sure Americans would feel the same if it were the Brits that ran the show.

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