December 12, 2013
Middle East peace deal ‘unlikely to happen’
Princeton professor John Ikenberry acknowledges obstacles but says US ‘morally’ obliged
John Ikenberry is an International Affairs professor at Princeton University and the co-director of Princeton's Centre for International Security Studies. He has written extensively about US foreign policy, including Liberal Leviathan and After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars. During a visit to Buenos Aires this week — he was invited by the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI) and St Andrew’s University — Ikenberry talked to the Herald about US foreign policy, the current state of relations between Washington and Latin America and the new round of peace talks in the Middle East.
Ten years ago, during the Bush administration, you argued that US multilateralism was in decline. Has it improved under Obama?
It has gotten better. I think Obama believes more strongly in multilateralism than many presidents in recent memory, certainly the last administration. I think that what restrains Obama’s ability to make that clear to the world and to use multilateralism more effectively is that he has a very tough domestic situation where the opposition is unrelenting and utterly opposed to new types of multilateralism, including new arms’ control agreements, global warming agreements, etc.
But what about the use of unmanned drones? I would think drone strikes go, in many cases, against multilateralism. And it’s not the opposition forcing Obama to use them...
I think that drones are part of a policy that’s been ongoing since 9/11 to attack al Qaeda wherever it is, so, in that sense, it is outside of the multilateral frameworks that most of us think are so important. I would like to see more efforts to put the so-called “war on terror” on a multilateral footing. This would include, in the long-term, redefining the war as a global problem with criminality that requires multilateral legal and police forces.
In that same essay (Is American multilateralism in decline?) you argued that the United States was “increasingly in a position to aid or hurt other countries.” Does that continue to be true or has the global economic crisis affected the US’s ability to influence other countries' decisions?
The US still remains the key state in the world economy. I think that today, maybe, the US has more authority than many years ago. The US is growing and working its way out of the financial crisis. It’s looking pretty good when you contrast it with Europe and even China, which is slowing down.
But wouldn’t you agree that the US public is tired of spending billions of dollars in wars that take place very far away, especially when the economy is still in recovery?
I do think that is true and I think that it’s not necessarily a bad thing... I don’t think that American leadership should necessarily be tied to intervening in every crisis around the world. In fact, one of Obama’s virtues is that he has been very careful about putting American forces — leave aside drones for the moment — on the ground in trouble spots that may create unending obligations. Part of leadership is learning when to say “no” to avoid the worst case.
How do you see the new round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians?
I think that the United States has to ultimately decide if it really wants to put its political capital, its authority and its role in the Middle East at stake in pushing for a settlement. If you are going to do that, it’s going to require pretty hard politics to get the parties to the table and to reach agreement. I think it’s not likely to happen but I think we should hope for it. It’s almost morally important for the US to be speaking to this issue. Israelis and Palestinians are starting to have, to an extent, the sense that time is not on their side, that the clock is ticking.
Israel has announced new settlements again. Can you envision a Palestinian state in this context?
I think it’s true: if Israel doesn’t go for a two-state solution soon, the conditions for a two-state solution will disappear. And they’ve already been disappearing... that would leave Israel with the very, very unhappy condition of being an occupier and the inability to be what it dreams to be, which is its own Jewish state, in its own boundaries and respected by the world. So I think the United States has to be a good friend and speak to those issues and put things on the line and really push hard.
How close would you say Washington and Latin America are right now in comparison to how close they were during the Bush administration?
My overall impression is that relations are better. They are not necessarily the warmest that they could imaginably be, but they are business-like and proper. I think there's lots of places where they can find common ground, particularly on economic issues.
I am optimistic for the future. I think there’s a real possibility for Latin America and the United States to find some ideas that they may have in common about economics and growth, especially in the aftermath of the financial crisis that, to some extent, discredited certain ideas that Latin America never really liked. There’s the opportunity for a post-crisis new synthesis.
Would you say the NSA leaks will affect relations between Washington and Latin America in the long-term?
Probably not, but they’ve created a burden on the United States to explain itself. I do think Obama has pushed very hard to reintroduce the US to the world and I would hate to have the NSA leaks put back that effort to reestablish American credibility.