The Collapse of Internationalism

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, March 2, 2011.

From Daniel Henninger, the Wall Street Journal:  Not the 28 members of NATO, not the 15-member U.N. Security Council, not the 22 nations of the Arab League could save Libya’s rebels from being obliterated by the mad and murderous Moammar Gadhafi. The world has just watched the collapse of internationalism. …

Barack Obama is the first Democratic president to assemble a foreign-policy team made up entirely of intellectuals who for years have developed a counter-thesis to the policies of presidents extending back to John F. Kennedy. We are in a "post-American world," they have argued, in which the U.S. is obliged to pursue its interests in concert with the rest of the world’s powers, never alone.

The uprisings against autocracies in 10 separate Middle Eastern countries, a crisis inherited from no one, was their real-world test. In Egypt, they fumbled. In Libya, they have failed. …

The new Democratic theory of the proper U.S. role in the world was articulated in a July 2008 document, "Strategic Leadership: Framework for a 21st Century National Security Strategy." It described itself as "an intellectual and policy blueprint for the next administration."

Its authors included James B. Steinberg, who is now Mr. Obama’s deputy secretary of state; Ivo Daalder, now U.S. ambassador to NATO; and Anne-Marie Slaughter, until a month ago the State Department’s director of policy planning. Susan Rice, who is now our ambassador to the United Nations, wrote the preface.

Their blueprint, a tour of the world’s regions, counsels constant multilateral cooperation, institution-building and consultation. While it admits U.S. preeminence, it is largely a meditation on the limits of American power and authority. This is the document’s final, summarizing sentence: "And such [U.S.] leadership recognizes that in a world in which power has diffused, our interests are best protected and advanced when others step up and at times lead alongside or even ahead of us."

In the Middle East, no one has stepped up, no one is leading alongside and our allies are in the rear, accomplishing nothing while they wait for . . . America.

This was a test case, and what we have seen is that a world in which the U.S. doesn’t unmistakably lead is a world that spins its wheels, and eventually the wheels start to come off. When the U.S. instructs the Saudis not to intervene in Bahrain, and the Saudi army does precisely the opposite, the wheels are coming off the international order.  (photo: Getty)

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