Sunday, April 18, 2010

Multilateralism: Sorta Kinda

My weekly visit to Watching America was an odd one yesterday. Some of the articles selected were downright weird. Others were simply diatribes against the US (and what's with the multiple articles from Pravda?). I did find one rather thoughtful opinion piece in Le Monde. It's an analysis of Barack Obama's foreign policy to date. Not surprisingly, the writer doesn't see all that much difference from that of George W. Bush.

For Mr. Obama, as for Mr. Bush, the goal is still the same: Affirm the primacy of the USA in the world. However, in contrast to his predecessor, who strove to reach that goal by crushing others, Mr. Obama is clearly seeking to make American leadership more legitimate and perhaps even more appealing. But this doesn’t mean in any way that the USA is inclined to share power with others or to accept the rules of multilateralism without conditions.

In reality, Mr. Obama relies on three complimentary methods, in decreasing order of importance: unilateralism in vital situations for the United States, selective bilateralism with all countries that matter to the United States and, finally, residual multilateralism when the first two options are insufficient or unsuitable. The USA’s weak interest in multilateral solutions is obvious in areas of strategic importance for American power: finance and business.


The United States is not prepared to invest in multilateralism unless it would allow it to move its priorities forward. And, in most of the important cases, multilateralism is a clear set back. The Iranian case, which is extremely strategic for the USA, in reality is only falsely multilateral, as the actors that are really influential are limited in number. In fact, they imposed their own rhythm and ignored French alarmism, not so much by naivety as by strategy.

The writer also commented on one other area in which the Obama administration has engaged in what might be called "faux multilateralism," that of global climate change. Copenhagen didn't succeed not just because China dug its heels in, but also because the US allowed the Chinese to do so. Because of the increasingly complicated ties between the two countries (they practically own us, and we're the biggest purchaser of Chinese goods), the Obama administration cut our trade partner more slack than it needed to.

While the writer felt that Europe also shares in the blame for the failure in Copenhagen by not giving it the high level attention it deserved, I wouldn't be so harsh. Europe carried the load at the last conference, the one the Bush administration didn't think it was important to attend. Much of the EU has done a pretty good job at approaching the goals set at that conference, something the US hasn't even begun to consider. Yes, there's a global climate bill flapping in the breeze in Congress, but no one is doing anything to push even that weak tea forward.

All of which brings us back to the concept of multilateralism in Mr. Obama's lexicon: it's old Bush and the neocons' policy dressed in new, more dignified clothes.

Well, at least this administration hasn't started bombing Iran.




Blogger GB said...

Give it a few months...

I find it funny that so many peaceniks supported Obama in 2008. He never purported to be an overall anti-war candidate and is much more of a hawk than public opinion would lead you to believe. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when the thought of a country like Iran getting a nuke becomes more realistic.

But it is very difficult to garner global support when you speak of a new cooperative era yet pursue foreign military policies similar to that of your much-loathed predecessor. Obama is walking a thin line...

Check out my blog Young Politics for more stuff like this.

4:55 PM  

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