The U.N., American Power and Fareed Zakaria

One interesting debate with implications for post 2008 is already occurring. Many of you, Dear Reader, may have already been following it. This one centers on the proper role of American power, particularly under the U.N.

Not a new subject on its face — controversy predates floridation, ‘black helicopters’ and Kofi Annan. The current impetus is a new Fareed Zakaria tome coupled with something called the “Princeton Project”. A brief recap can be found here.

The Princeton Project (now out some two years) proposes an alternative mechanism to the U.N., a ‘coalition of the willing’-esque ‘Council of Democracies’ should Russia and China not surrender their Security Council vetoes. Should the U.N. (China or Russia) balk at ‘regime change’ or other use of force, this alternative mechanism could be used for official sanction. At the core of this new concept is the still simmering notion of American imperial exceptionalism. The Stiftung is hardly the 10,345 th to note the Neocon nature of it all.

Michael Lind in the link above quite appropriately disabuses TPM Cafe readers of some intellectual sleight of hand. He correctly notes that the American liberal tradition embodied by Roosevelt’s intended post-war vision (starting with the U.N. Charter in S.F.) assumed a legal international order with cooperation among the powers on the security council. A Stiftung family member attended the UN Lake Success meetings. All of this very much in the liberal tradition.

That plan, as Lind notes, fell to the wayside after 1945 for a couple of reasons. First, concern over Soviet expansionism/Communist gains in Europe. Second, Washington oddly did not realize how feeble Britain had become. Not only in 1947 Greece but across the empire. Hence the Marshall Plan, etc. And finally, overt conflict at Berlin, the fall of China and the Korean War. (Note that U.N. sanction for that was possible only because the Soviets boycotted the Security Council vote).

Even so, if the U.S. tried to move to as Lind labels it from traditional American liberalism to an ad hoc and improvised “Plan B”, it was not an easy go of it. Contrary to what many think today, the U.S. military demobilized astonishingly fast from Europe in 1945. The Marshall Plan and money to Europe (offered even to the Soviets) alone was not an easy sell. We couldn’t disagree more with David Reiff’s response to Lind that continuity marked U.S. post war policy more than the discontinuity. What Reiff et al. simply overlook is the context and importance of how and why Paul Nitze wrote NSC-68, perhaps the most famous and influential document fixing U.S. Cold War policy (and often mistakenly seen as a frenetic intellectual riposte to Foreign Affair’s ‘X’ (Kennan) argument for limited containment).

NSC-68′s very existence proves Lind’s point about a discontinuity. Nitze wrote NSC-68 with the language and structure literally in his words to “bludgeon the mass bureaucratic mind of Washington.” Nitze needed to created Crown Prince-like change. In other words, a truly radically new way of thinking, preparation and acting. This has nothing to do with continuity. Moreover, the Stiftung doesn’t need a foot note in a book to tell him this. We spoke with Nitze about it all, and the whole era, etc. (even a bit about walking in woods).

For a while, the Western Europeans on their own attempted defense against both a future resurgent Germany and the existing Soviet Army. One example is the 1948 Brussels Treaty. Unlike much one might read on the Internet, the truth about the Brussels Treaty is that Britain tried to play it’s traditional role as balancer and “guarantor” with Montgomery in command. Britain, however, did not have clout, money, power or will to pull it off. This only underscored the European resolve to bring American power back into the Old World. NATO from its birth was designed to “keep the Americans in, the Germans down, and the Russians out.”

Why the U.S. should maintain the same distortive strategic and foreign policy commitments absent the Soviets is as relevant today as it was circa 1994 because of the Warlord’s regime. The fora or forum which should decide matters — should the U.N. be reformed and remain the final arbiter on use of force? Should the U.S. turn to the Princeton Project’s Necon ‘Council of Democracies?’ Ad hoc but long standing organizations like NATO? Lind is quite right to note how a cynical Neocon regime Part Deux under McCain could manipulate the Princeton mechanism. He also honestly raises situations like Kossovo.

The primary challenge for us today as it was in 1947 is how to understand the world around us and align U.S. power and commitments wisely. The Stiftung has long argued the need for a substantial realignment before it is forced upon us by circumstances. One thing we hope all have learned from the Warlord’s regime and its rotting, terminal carcass? Process indeed does matter. To avoid a ‘meet the new boss’ knock on the forehead, Neocon-esque bullshit should be called at its earliest inception. If the Demos once again falls for manipulative tricks like hard sells of alluring abstraction, constant elevation of specifics to general, and cases based on emotive semantics — well then, things won’t have changed much at all.