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February 23, 2008

See If You Can Spot the Arrogance
Posted by David Shorr

This one's been nagging at me for a while. An early November Bloggingheads diavlog between Heather and David Frum really stuck with me -- well, at least a few minutes of it. There was a passage in their discussion of the relative merits of NATO and the UN that really captured the arrogance of certain strains of conservative thinking about other countries ('infantilizing' was Heather's no-less-apt word).

According to Frum, UN debates force representatives from other nations to take positions on issues toward which they would otherwise remain blissfully detached. As an example, Frum took the case of Chile's membership on the Security Council as the Iraq invasion was being debated. (You can find this at 6:30 of the NATO section of the diavlog.) According to Frum, the debate placed a burden on the hapless Chileans, who had no interest of their own in the matter. I don't know whether David Frum actually knows Chile's Ambassador in New York, Heraldo Munoz, but I do. Two problems. First, if you scan Amb. Munoz's bio, the idea that he would have trouble navigating any foreign policy challenge is ridiculous. In fact, Chile's opposition to the war despite its important trade negotiations at the time (which Frum mentions) made it all the more courageous. Second, please explain what it is about the Iraq War that wouldn't have been of interest to Chile or any other nation. We're talking about the validity of invading another sovereign country!! I'm not sure international issues come more consequential than that. And as it happens, Munoz has published a memoir, A Solitary War, detailing the diplomacy in the run-up to the war, when he was a top adviser to then-President Ricardo Lagos. [Note: this post has been edited to clear up my own confusion about which of my Chilean ambassador friends I really meant here.]

Which brings me to my other qualm with Frum's position. He makes a passing reference to Syria in a critique of the UN's universal membership (it's at 10:40 of that section). Frum is essentially arguing that undemocratic governments represent no legitimacy at all, and can therefore be ignored. As to Syria: "Who is Syria; it's a family." I carry no brief for the Assad regime and consider the Syrian pull-out of Lebanon as a UN success story. But in terms of an American view of whom we should have to deal with, this is a big problem. I don't know how close an identification Syrians feel with the Assads, but I suspect its closer than they feel with us. Graham Fuller dealt with this issue at length in a 2006 Stanley Foundation brief that begins:

The United States has a big problem with nationalism: it’s uncomfortable with everybody else’s. Yet there’s a great irony here: the United States seems quite unaware of the fact that it is one of the most enthusiastically flag-waving, nationalistic countries of the world. More remarkably, it regularly miscalculates the force of nationalism abroad. Today nationalism is probably the single most widespread ideology in politics across the globe. That the United States should be tone-deaf to this phenomenon in its dealings with others represents a serious vulnerability in the formulation of its foreign policies.


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That's a very old argument that Frum is making. People want us to pursue a global hegemony so that they don't have to worry their little heads about things like their own defense or who sits on what UN committee. It always makes me laugh when people in the US complain that we're expected to be "the world's policeman." We are. Because that's really what we want to be. Because a cop can generally get away with anything.

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