Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Zimbabwe and the death of Responsibility To Protect (update 8)

Tom Friedman blasts South Africa, China and Russia for killing the Zimbabwe resolution in the Security Council. (To which a South African official quipped that, if South Africa is now a "country with no morals," are there any countries with morals?)

The central flaw in Friedman's argument, however, is that he thinks the Zimbabwe resolution is a) within the Council's purview (strictly speaking, it isn't) and b) that it would actually do anything positive. In a post-Iraq world, interventionists are saddled with the burden of proof. My worldview is easy: China and Russia vetoing the Zimbabwe resolution probably won't lead to stable democracy in Zimbabwe, but then, at this point probably nothing will. By contrast, the double veto at the very least won't make things worse than they are already. In a post-Iraq world, this is a very salient point. The fact is, sanctioning ruling party members may well have torpedoed any chance of a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe. Granted, it's quite possible -- likely even -- that a power-sharing government will never come to fruition, but the point is, if the ruling party members are sanctioned, it definitely won't happen. Nobody talked about sanctions when Kenya's election was stolen, or when Nigeria's was stolen. Why Zimbabwe? If we're going to be righteous interventionists and take the Council far beyond its original mandate so that it deals with domestic problems rather than international ones, let's at least be consistent about it, rather than just going after countries whose leadership the US and UK don't like.

So, Tom, the reason the US is unpopular abroad isn't that we've got enough backbone to try to fix other countries' problems. It's that when we do try to fix them, we consistently make a hash of it. This undermines both the principles of sovereignty and our own credibility. If we protected the sovereignty principle a little more rather than running roughshod over it arbitrarily, our moral credibility to do something when the merit arises and the capacity is there (Kosovo, for example) would increase exponentially, as would our global approval ratings.

"The best leader is one whose existence is barely known. Next best is one who is lived and praised. Next is one who is feared. Worst of all is a leader who is despised." - Lao Tsu

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