OMG, Hillary Said Other Nations' Views Can Be More Influential Than Ours [UPDATED]
Posted by David Shorr
"the US stands for our values, our interests, our security, but others have to be prepared to take the same steps in support of universal values and interests... this is exactly the kind of world I want to see, where everyone else isn't standing on the sidelines while americans lay down our lives. Part of leading is making sure you get other people on the field, and that is what I think we're doing."
The secretary of State unreflectively made the statement that it mattered more what Turkey and Saudi Arabia said about Syrian repression than the United States. "If other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it," was Clinton's justification for doing so little. That's quite a breathtaking world view for the chief diplomat of the world's most powerful country. We are unimportant in the global debate about freedom and governance, but Saudi Arabia and Turkey have standing. On one issue Secretary Clinton was unmistakeably correct: "it's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go."
So yes, it makes perfect sense for the responses of Turkey and Saudi Arabia to be watched more carefully and carry more weight than America's. (Besides, maybe behind the scenes the US is urging them to abandon Assad.) And no, we don't need to have conniption fits whenever the United States steps back and lets the spotlight fall on others. I published a Democracy Arsenal post on this very issue four years ago in connection with humanitarian intervention / the Responsibility to Protect. Robert Kagan and Ivo Daalder had written a chapter for a book I co-edited, saying that undemocratic governments had no legitimacy or standing to validate intervention. I argued that, on the contrary, if lesser oppressors joined in condemning the more savage forms of atrocities, it only heightens the pariah's isolation.
One strange thing about Kori's post is that she acknowledges that "Clinton is right that the United States has allowed responsibilities to accrue to us that many states benefit from, and that a more evenly distributed burden sharing arrangement would be preferable." Well, the only way that's going to happen is if the United States defers to others in just the ways that prompt cries of "weakness!" or "declinist!" from our conservative friends.
A last couple thoughts about the administration's posture on Syria. Despite Kori's worries, just last month US Amabassador Robert Ford was given a hero's welcome by resistance forces in Hama. And if you're wondering about sources of caution in calculating how far US policy should go, you really should read Eric Martin's brilliant six-step playbook for how conservatives always demand that more be done. Talk about predictable, I sure wish we could reach a point when that broken clock could be deemed un-newsworthy.
UPDATE: When I wrote this post, the signs of Gaddafi's downfall were just starting to emerge. Not only was the Libya operation an example of the exact approach Clinton was articulating, Kori's post included a critique of "shoving the work off onto others" constituted a failure of leadership and betrayal of the hopes and expectations of those carrying out struggles for their freedom. The apparent success in driving Gaddafi out of power -- with Libyans as the primary authors, in contrast to Iraq -- would seem to undercut the notion of Obama shirking and dooming the effort to liberate Libya. None of his critics will say it; so I thought I should.