WASHINGTON -- The cowboy has been retired. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is king. That's the conventional wisdom about Bush's second term: Under the influence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration has finally embraced ``the allies.''
This is considered a radical change of course. It is not. Even the most ardent unilateralist always prefers multilateral support under one of two conditions: (1) there is something the allies will actually help accomplish, or (2) there is nothing to be done anyway, so multilateralism gives you the cover of appearing to do something.
The six-party negotiations on North Korea are an example of the second. North Korea went nuclear a long time ago. Our time to act was during the Bush 41 and Clinton administrations. Nothing was done. And nothing can be done now. Once a country has gone nuclear, there is no return. The nukes themselves act as a deterrent against military measures. And no diplomat, however mellifluous, is going to talk a nuclear North Korea into dismantling the one thing that gives it any significance in the world.
Like most multilateral efforts, the six-party talks give only the appearance of activity, thereby providing cover to a hopelessly lost cause. Nothing wrong with that kind of multilateralism.
Lebanon is an example of the other category -- multilateralism that might actually accomplish something. The U.S. worked assiduously with France to draft a Security Council resolution that would create a powerful international force, and thus a real buffer, in south Lebanon. However, when the Lebanese government and the Arab League objected, France became their lawyer and renegotiated the draft with the U.S. The State Department acquiesced to a far weaker resolution on the quite reasonable grounds that since France was going to lead and be the major participant in the international force, we should not be dictating the terms under which the force would operate.
But we underestimated French perfidy. (Overestimating it is mathematically impossible.) Once the resolution was passed, France announced that instead of the expected 5,000 troops, it would be sending 200. The French defense minister explained that they were not going to send out soldiers under a limited mandate and weak rules of engagement -- precisely the mandate and rules of engagement that the French had just gotten us to agree to.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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