James Dobbins Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Nation Building: Conversation with Ambassador James Dobbins; Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, Rand Corporation; February 28, 2005
by Harry Kreisler

Page 7 of 8

Learning Multilateralism

If we take your two volumes and look at them side by side, one gets the sense that if, God forbid, these kinds of situations arise in other parts of the world, a synergy between these two models of working together offers the best possibilities. Now of course, such a solution requires an acceptance of a multilateral way of approaching the world and not a unilateral one.

The other petard that the Bush administration seems to have been hoisted on is their way of [handling] Iraq with regard to the American domestic political system: "We're going to move on this and we're not going to have a debate." But then with regard to the UN and a history of putting aside multilateral agreements, it leads one to the conclusion that your reports wouldn't have influenced the administration [even] if they had been written in an earlier period, where [the administration] could sit and study them before they decided to [invade] Iraq.

Well, although the administration hasn't been particularly ready to acknowledge mistakes, it's been fairly quick to correct some of them, and I think they've moved away from the unilateralist approaches which characterized policy for the first few years. The costs of the Iraq operation have been very sobering. I tend to think that we hit the limits of unilateralism in about November of 2003. That was the point at which we invited the UN back into Iraq to help us constitute an Iraqi government. That was the point at which we decided to end the occupation and turn power back over to Iraqis. And I think this is the point at which we asked NATO to play a bigger role in both Afghanistan and Iraq. People realized that we tried the unilateral approach and it just wasn't getting us where we wanted to go, that we needed a greater level of burden sharing. I see the administration moving in that direction, not necessarily acknowledging that it made mistakes but implicitly altering course.

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