Michael Gerson

Another approach is to supplement the U.N. with a more capable and cohesive international organization such as NATO. But while NATO has helped with logistics on peacekeeping operations in Darfur, it is very unlikely to seek or accept greater global responsibilities.

At the White House, I watched President Bush ask NATO leaders to come to Darfur's rescue only to find his request roundly ignored. NATO seems fully occupied and completely exhausted by its limited exertions in Afghanistan. European militaries are dramatically underfunded for far-flung missions. And many Europeans seem fully prepared to accept the free ride of American security protection while contributing little to the security of others.

Another option is to bypass the United Nations. "We can have a league of democracies," argues McCain, "to impose sanctions and to cut off many of the things and benefits that the Iranians are now getting from other democracies. I think it's clear that the United Nations Security Council will not act effectively, with Russia and China behaving as they are." McCain is proposing, in essence, to create a new NATO that actually works.

But a new global alliance of 100 democratic nations (McCain's goal) that excludes Russia and China would naturally be viewed with open hostility by both. And it is hard to imagine timid nations such as Germany, or many Pacific nations living in China's immense shadow, offending Russia and China by joining up. Besides, democracies can also be craven and irresponsible. Japan and India, while seeking Burmese natural gas, have done little about Burmese oppression. South Africa has hardly been heroic on Zimbabwe.

So what realistic option will the next president have when the next genocide commences or the next proliferation threat arrives? Probably a coalition of the willing, led by America. It is the paradox of American influence: In a crisis, our power is irreplaceable -- and we want nothing more than to replace it.

Michael Gerson

Michael Gerson writes a twice-weekly column for The Post on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy. Michael Gerson is the author of the book "Heroic Conservatism" and a contributor to Newsweek magazine.
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