Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Daniel Greenfield: Obama’s Coalition of the Uncertain

by Daniel Greenfield

According to the media the diplomatic wunderkinds of Obama Inc. have assembled a coalition that is “broader and more committed” than the one that Bush put together against Saddam Hussein.
Bush couldn’t get France and Germany on board. Obama got France.

Unfortunately France is also about the only country in Obama’s coalition against ISIS. At least France appears to be the only country willing to commit militarily. Possibly the UK will join it, but after parliament turned down Cameron’s air strikes on Syria the last time around, that may be unlikely.

Kerry claims that some Arab countries might be willing to bomb ISIS, he just isn’t willing to say which ones, and meanwhile the standard for participating in the military campaign has been lowered to mean providing training and weapons to Sunni Jihadists in Syria. That means Qatar and Turkey, ISIS’ backers, can be in our anti-ISIS coalition.

Or maybe we’re in their ISIS coalition.

You would have thought that a Nobel Peace Prize winner and famous multilateralist (except when it comes to Congress or the Supreme Court) could assemble a bigger coalition than the crazed cowboy who alienated the French, but it turns out that while Bush could get multiple countries to commit actual troops to securing Iraq, Obama can’t even get anyone to do a flyby of ISIS.
Except the French.

What the multilateralists failed to understand during the Cold War was that countries join international coalitions for their own security. International law only matters when it is backed by iron and steel as a mutual defense pact, not when it wafts words of empty rhetoric at the podium of the General Assembly.

Poland wasn’t sending troops to Iraq because it was worried about Saddam Hussein. It made the commitment because it wanted to be part of a partnership with the United States that would also provide security in its own backyard.

That’s what NATO was originally for.

These days Poland won’t be sending 2,500 men to Iraq. It needs its soldiers back home now that Putin is on the rampage and Obama has shown that he can’t and won’t stop him. The same goes for most of the Eastern European countries that were eager to show that they could contribute to the Pax Americana.

Obama failed to deliver security to American allies. Now he can’t expect their help in Iraq.
Don’t count on much from Japan, the Philippines or South Korea either. They were also doing their part because the United States was keeping watch on North Korea and China. Despite Obama’s Asia pivot, the credibility is gone. Japan and South Korea will go through the motions and hope that the United States will eventually step in if things get really bad, but they aren’t counting on it anymore.
The very insults that the left tossed at Bush, warmonger and cowboy, were the reason he could bring together unlikely countries and get them to contribute boots on the ground. Meanwhile the very attributes that won Obama the Nobel Peace Prize are why the spearhead of his coalition is France.
Nations don’t fight for principles. They fight for self-interest.

The United States was able to assemble international coalitions because it could guarantee international security. Or at least it used to be able to. Obama offers empty words and that’s all that he gets in return.

Except for France, whose oddball mix of post-colonial proprietary sensibilities, international adventurism and arrogant presidents led to a long history of unilateral cowboy diplomacy. But in the Obama era it hasn’t been so much a case of France joining American coalitions as Obama joining French coalitions.

It was the French who pushed hardest for intervention in Libya and dragged Obama in. France took the lead in Mali. (But that only seems reasonable since the United States spent most of the 20th century being dragged into bloody French wars after the French had botched them as badly as they could.)

France didn’t stay out of the Iraq War because it’s a lover of multilateral diplomacy and international law. It actually enjoys bombing countries that it used to run. And it’s telling that the Nobel Peace Prize unilateralist is stuck in a coalition with France whose pint sized president is battling economic disaster and sex scandals, and is searching desperately for a way to change the subject by bombing something.

It’s ironic that America’s fiercest liberal advocates of diplomacy don’t actually understand how it works. They think of international relations as an ideal, when it’s actually a tangle of narrow selfish interests.

That misunderstanding led to the United Nations, a democracy of dictatorships whose members can’t agree on anything except hating Israel. And they wouldn’t agree on even that if the USSR and then the Islamic nations hadn’t created crude coalitions motivated by negative, rather than positive agendas.

Obama’s plan for local coalitions is doomed. The Saudis may oppose ISIS because it threatens them, but they still want Sunni Jihadists rampaging around Syria and Iraq to keep Iran in line. The Kurds aren’t fighting ISIS on principle; they’re in an extended territorial dispute with the Sunni Arabs. When the Kurds win a battle, they’re claiming territory for a separatist state. Such a state is a good thing, but you won’t get the Sunni Arabs or the Shiite government in Baghdad to agree.

We have no allies against Al Qaeda in the Muslim world because most of the Muslim world has been trying to use Al Qaeda against us and against each other. Saudi Arabia and Iran are both threatened by Al Qaeda, but have both tried to use Al Qaeda against each other and against us. Al Qaeda in turn used Iran to get terrorist training and used Saudi Arabia to get funds while remaining the enemy of both.

This convoluted mess of alliances between enemies is normal in a Middle East in which Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are in a covert coalition with Israel while remaining committed to destroying it.

In this current conflict ISIS is locked in a death struggle with Syria’s Assad even while selling him oil. It switches from fighting other Jihadist groups in Syria to allying with them in battles against Assad. Those also happen to be many of the same groups that we’re arming in the hopes of defeating ISIS.

American liberals think that having an Instagram account with a bunch of photos from Africa allows them to understand the rest of the world. History has proven them tragically wrong too many times to count. An internationalist liberal is the least likely to understand a world made up of tribalists pursuing narrow provincial interests. It takes an American tribalist pursuing narrow interests to understand them.

That’s why Republicans have traditionally done better at international diplomacy. It’s why Teddy Roosevelt and his big stick left behind a better legacy, not only for America but also the world, than the internationalist pieties of Woodrow Wilson. It’s why Republicans were able to end a Cold War with a big stick that Democrats had unintentionally begun by giving away Europe and Asia to the Communists.

If we’re going to defeat ISIS with coalitions, we ought to have a realistic view of local and international diplomacy. ISIS has at least as many enemy-allies as we do. They want to see it degraded, but they don’t want to see it defeated. And they also want to see us degraded, but not yet defeated.

The rest of the world isn’t interested in ISIS; it’s waiting to see if we can offer them collective security. And if we can’t, then our coalition will be as full of hot air as its leader.

Daniel Greenfield


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