I think it is safe to say that the invasion of Iraq is likely to go down as one of the worst foreign policy disasters in American history. As The Economist noted this past week, the Bush Administration’s negligence and incompetence in carrying out the invasion has bordered on the criminal.
At the same time I depart from many of the critics of the war in their reading of American motivations for the conflict. If Iraq didn’t have huge oil reserves we wouldn’t be there, but oil was not the primary reason for the invasion, nor were imperial ambitions or pressure from the Israeli lobby. I fault the administration for many things, but I do believe that their desire to bring democracy to the Middle East was genuine, even if misguided.
Regardless of the original motivation, U.S. moral legitimacy is now questioned in most parts of the world and U.S. standing is at all-time lows. Our military is over-stretched; while we can barely meet our ongoing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, nevertheless we must continue to pressure Iran and North Korea.
At the same time, the genocide in Darfur continues unabated and there is almost no possibility that the U.S. military will get involved. Some point to this as U.S. hypocrisy; we were among the first to call the conflict genocide, but we have failed to act. While I would support U.S. involvement (this would meet the criteria for a “just war”), I think the critics have it exactly backwards.
If ever there was an opportunity for the other members of the world community to prove that they can act independently of the United States to address an issue of such magnitude, it is now in Darfur. Instead we get nothing but inaction and cowardice. The African Union won’t even criticize Mugabe as he cracks the skulls of his opponents. The Egyptian government won’t even work with the new Secretary General of the U.N. to pressure the Sudanese government; the Egyptians insist on more “dialogue” while women and children are slaughtered. And the Arab states? They have spent the past year on the U.N. Human Rights Commission criticizing Israel almost daily, but when it comes to Sudan (let alone their own human rights abuses) they are so quiet you can hear the crickets. As for the French and Germans, who in my view have a special obligation to prevent genocide, we also get nothing but talk.
Where does this leave us?
1. Whether we like or not the world is comprised of state actors who will rarely, if ever, put significant numbers of their troops on the line to intervene in humanitarian crises, even those of the magnitude of the Sudanese genocide.
2. People love to complain about the U.S., but whenever there are serious conflicts people look to America for leadership. Unless America gets involved other nations rarely do, unless it is in their immediate interests.
3. None of this is likely to change anytime soon.
So for those who crave a more humane international system, where evils such as genocide are not tolerated by the community of nations, our best bet may be to work to change the leadership in the United States. Until other nations prove that they can step up and meet some of these challenges on their own, we are left with the unfortunate conclusion that U.S. leadership, as imperfect as it is, is basically what we must rely on.