Dialogues

Your Conversion

First of all, Bob, thanks for situating us in intellectual history. Being compared to Kant was a real serotonin booster. However, if indeed, as you claim, Kant was inclined to apply sweeping moral rules without due consideration of their case-by-case effects, then I think the Kant trophy should go to the Bush policy you’re defending. Namely: that all terrorism is equally bad—there’s no such thing as a freedom fighter—and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with all state enemies of all terrorists until evil is banished from the earth.

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By the way, in the course of critiquing that policy, I didn’t, as you suggest, recommend “encouraging Uighur separatism” in China. I said, “I haven’t done enough homework” to say which separatist movements we should oppose and which we should keep our hands off of. My point was that the whole “clash of civilizations” paradigm you’ve embraced could lead us to see all Muslim separatists as the enemy, whereas some of them have valid grievances and no beef with the United States unless we give them one.

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I’m disappointed that, after all that build-up, you don’t have a detailed long-run plan for fighting terrorism, but I’m happy to see you embracing my hobbyhorse, “world governance.” The first time I heard you do this was while you and I were debating in early 2001 in New York. At the time I wasn’t sure whether you meant it or were just staging a pre-emptive strike, trying to keep me from lecturing you about the need for an enforceable biological weapons convention. (Only a year earlier, I had used you as a classic example of a world-governance skeptic.) But I’m starting to think you may be serious. Your sentence about patriotism becoming “obsolete” was dreamier than even I normally get!

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So congratulations on having evolved to a higher level of consciousness than many of your fellow foreign policy “realists.” You apparently realize that, even from a standpoint of strict American self-interest, supranational governance will grow more useful, given various technological trends, including those I laid out in my first posting. Now that you’re on board the one-worlder bandwagon, you’ll naturally be turning to me for guidance. I’m happy to oblige.

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First of all, I actually agree with you that the coming decades will demand some bare-knuckled Realpolitik. Right now the world is a jungle—with nuclear and biological weapons residing God knows where, creepy states like Iraq walled off from the world’s view, and failed states, like Somalia, full of dark corners for terrorists to hide in. These are exactly the sorts of problems world governance is supposed to help correct, but for now it isn’t up to the challenge.

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Where you and I disagree, oddly, is that you’re in a sense more Panglossian than I am. You seem to think a system of global governance will build itself, on auto-pilot. You write that the goal of foreign policy is just to keep America “maneuvering in a wily enough fashion to preserve its power for enough decades, so that interlocking global institutions can mature in the meantime.” In other words: We keep pursuing the foreign policy you’ve been prescribing for years, then at some point world governance will blossom deus-ex-machina-like and end foreign policy as we know it.

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This scenario has attractive features—such as saving you the trouble of rethinking any of your views on foreign policy. Unfortunately, it’s wrong. How America does its wily maneuvering will determine how smoothly structures of world governance evolve and how effective they are. A “realist” who sees that only world governance can save us in the long run (that’s now you) will have different short-term prescriptions than one who doesn’t.

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Consider an issue that was prominent in last night’s State of the Union address: Iraq. My guess is that, in the end, the Bush administration will 1) demand that Iraq let weapons inspections resume; and 2) threaten war if Iraq refuses. This isn’t necessarily something for a one-worlder to oppose. After all, ever since Iraq expelled U.N. inspectors, it has been in violation of international law. But how exactly you present this ultimatum to Iraq depends on what your actual goal is. Is it a) to go to war—in which case the demand for inspections is a mere pretext and will be presented in terms that Saddam Hussein is unlikely to accept; or b) to nurture the further evolution of a world governance and thus hasten the day when such governance will be up to the challenges foreshadowed by Sept. 11?

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If you wisely choose b), then your goal is to get Saddam Hussein to either 1) accept an unprecedentedly robust and intrusive inspection regime under the auspices of the United Nations; or 2) be punished by a military assault that is at least somewhat multilateral and has the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. (Some people would say that the second is hard to pull off, but I think there’s a way to do it—more on which later.)

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Of course, unenlightened “realists” (those who don’t see the need for world governance) will favor a)—creating a pretext for a basically unilateral invasion of Iraq. These realists wouldn’t favor, for example, offering to drop the manifestly counterproductive sanctions against Iraq in exchange for new, tougher inspections (an offer that would give Saddam Hussein a face-saving way to accept the inspections). And these realists wouldn’t worry about getting the U.N.’s blessing for any ensuing war against Iraq.

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Often, in little ways, our foreign policy makers do things that affect the legitimacy of international law and hence the evolution of effective global governance. (Recent example: Should we abide by the Geneva rules on the treatment of wartime captives?) So you can’t just claim to favor world governance at some point in the distant future and then leave your real-time foreign policy unchanged. If you want world governance to emerge in timely and non-catastrophic fashion (e.g., not in desperate response to Chicago’s being vaporized, but rather as a way to prevent that), you’ll have to build it slowly, bit by bit. So the question is, Bob, do you really want world governance? Or are you just trying to shut me up?

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If the latter, I’ve got bad news for you. Your last posting left me itching to say so many things that next week I’ll devote one of my “Earthling” columns to continuing my response. At that point I’ll dramatically unveil more of my war-on-terrorism agenda, as well as explain how we could get the U.N. to validate a war against Iraq, as well as complain about you mischaracterizing me as a Wilsonian idealist—and more!

I feel guilty about this since you don’t have a Slate column of your own, but if you feel like replying, I’ll turn the Earthling logo over to you for one installment (and split the dough with you 50-50!). In any event, this exchange has been fun. I’m happy to end it on the hope that you’re in the process of becoming one of the few foreign policy “realists” who deserves that label.

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