When Mitt Romney made his infamous remark about Russia being our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” his inartful sound bite ended up drowning out what he said next, which was an important—and much more nuanced—point. Romney noted that it has begun to matter less how dangerous we perceive nations like Iran or North Korea to be if we can’t take collective diplomatic action and put concerted pressure on them. To do that, we would need to build coalitions at multilateral organizations–something made virtually impossible by Russia’s Security Council veto and their de facto veto over NATO action they don’t like.
While this may not make Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” it does severely hamper exactly the kind of international cooperation that the Obama administration claims to prefer over (the usually straw-man) unilateral action. Put more simply: sanctions can’t prevent war if they don’t exist. I was initially puzzled by the Obama administration’s relentless mockery of Romney’s point, since he was basically defending the Obama administration’s method of international relations. But then it became clear: President Obama has no intention of using multilateral organizations to advance his foreign policy either. And so we led from behind–which means “followed”—France in Libya, a modest intervention that has been something close to a complete disaster, as we have seen in the events since—and the administration’s cover-up of those events. And now the New York Times reports from Turkey:
For weeks, Turkey’s leaders have faced a public backlash over their aggressive posture toward Syria, a sentiment owed partly to a feeling that Turkey may be on the right side in the fight but that it is isolated, without the backing of its Western allies, including the United States, as China, Russia and Iran have lined up forcefully behind the government of Mr. Assad. That feeling deepened after the latest crisis.
“We are now at a very critical juncture,” Melih Asik, a columnist, wrote in the centrist newspaper Milliyet. “We are not only facing Syria, but Iran, Iraq, Russia and China are behind it as well. Behind us, we have nothing but the provocative stance and empty promises of the U.S.”
The Turks also believe something needs to be done about Syria—which killed five Turkish civilians this week—but are hesitant to take too much unilateral action. What they’d really like is to see the West take its hands out of its pockets. Of course, we have a multilateral organization of democracies to do just that: NATO. What are they up to? The Times explains:
NATO held an emergency meeting on Wednesday night and condemned the attack, but it did not suggest that it would invoke the clause in its charter that would require a collective response by NATO allies to the conflagration between Syria and Turkey.
A NATO member was attacked by Syria, so NATO called an emergency meeting to shake their heads and purse their lips. What would the free world do without emergency meetings?
This is, of course, a complex situation. There are clear obstacles to any hopes of repairing frayed ties with Turkey, and those obstacles were not put up by Americans. And as Brian T. Haggerty writes today in Bloomberg, any intervention in Syria would probably mean a lot more than we might think. But Haggerty’s article—intended to explain how difficult it would be for a limited intervention by the West to defeat Bashar al-Assad and his forces—only goes to show that the fall of the house of Assad is far from inevitable, and that the rebels—whose side we claim to support—are nowhere near winning.
If the president wakes up each morning hoping to hear that the conflict in Syria has miraculously ended, he will begin each day a disappointed man. But not nearly as disappointed as the Syrian rebels and Turkish civilians who are learning the hard way that Obama’s interest in multilateral problem solving was a campaign slogan, not a strategy.