June 11, 2008

It (Sovereignty) Lives!

In this morning?s Times, Madeline Albright laments the ?grim reality? that the ?the notion of national sovereignty as sacred is gaining ground? and that (perish the thought) ?many of the world?s necessary interventions in the decade before the invasion [of Iraq]? in places like Haiti and the Balkans ? would seem impossible in today?s climate.? Oh yes, think of how terrible the world would be now if we hadn?t ?restored democracy? to Haiti or bombed Serbians on behalf of a gang of drug dealers and Islamicists? Where would the international community be without ?Kosovo??

Madame Albright also does us a service in revealing the exact terms in which the Left Beltway establishment is willing to criticize the Iraq war: the invasion is bad because it hurts our chances of intervening elsewhere (the exact same logic we hear from supposedly contrite neocons. Interventionism must be saved?from itself! 

Among the morass of silly jargon in Albright?s essay, one paragraph jumped out from the rest. After singing the praises of the greatest ?humanitarian? hits of the ?90s, she states:

These actions were not steps toward a world government. They did reflect the view that the international system exists to advance certain core values, including development, justice and respect for human rights. In this view, sovereignty is still a central consideration, but cases may arise in which there is a responsibility to intervene ? through sanctions or, in extreme cases, by force ? to save lives.

Yes, I don?t think the New (Reptilian) World Order of conspiracy theory lore is about to arise; however, quite frankly, if interventions anywhere and at anytime at the behest of a UN ?emergency? mandate does not represent world governance than I don?t know what does. The real issue seems to be one of language, as Albright would much prefer to indulge in the happy shiny bullshit talk one usually hears reverberating around college dorms:

The global conscience is not asleep, but after the turbulence of recent years, it is profoundly confused.

Or try: ?At the heart of the debate is the question of what the international system is. ?[I]s it a living framework of rules intended to make the world a more humane place??

Then there?s this paragraph, which proves just how stupid ideology can make you:

Many diplomats and foreign policy experts had hoped that the fall of the Berlin Wall would lead to the creation of an integrated world system free from spheres of influence, in which the wounds created by colonial and cold war empires would heal.

It?s worthwhile looking back at what actually happened during the tumultuous period of 1989-91. Ironically, the ball got rolling when some reform-minded socialists began chanting ?We want to stay!? and ?Goby, Goby!? in the streets of Leipzig (these people were hardly anti-Communist or anti-Moscow and after unification they wound up in the Green Party). Anyway, the mere presence of average people on the streets questioning the government quickly let the genie out of the bottle, and a reform movement swiftly morphed into one of German unity and national consciousness, a dynamic that recurred across the old Soviet Union.

Neocons and Cold War liberals can talk all they want about ?the struggle for the soul of the world,? but the fact is the period of 1989-91 marked the rebirth of national sovereignty, and in many cases national consciousness. It?s taken almost 20 years for internationalists like Albright to recognize that the post-Cold War world is not particularly hospitable to American unipolarity, less so to a ?global community.?

Moreover, the ?sphere of influence? question was in many ways the opposite of what Albright describes: it was about the superstate?s power to intervene within a defined supranational space?this is hardly something Albright opposes, indeed, she simply wants a kind global version of the Truman or Brezhnev doctrines. Albright wants to dress up everything as a question of value (who?s ?humanitarian??) when what?s at really play is a questions of power (who decides?). 

I recommend that Madame secretary keep chanting to herself over and over again ?The global conscience is not asleep,? ?The global conscience is not asleep? to scare away thoughts that the global order was fatuously conceived, disastrous in practice, and (thankfully) coming to a close.     


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