The Rev. Geoffrey Black, the new president of the United Church of Christ, has written a letter to President Obama congratulating him on his Nobel Prize. Most of it is standard boilerplate–“honor is well deserved, ” “mantle of leadership,” “encouraged to hope again,” etc. But there’s one thing that Black says that has become an article of faith on both the political and religious left, and it has to do with George Bush’s supposed “unilateralism” as opposed to Barack Obama’s “multilateralism.” Black writes:
…and your explicit turn away from unilateralism in international affairs…
That Barack Obama is a “multilateralist”–i.e., prefers to work with international organizations and coalitions of nations to deal with world problems, is beyond question, and he is widely celebrated (not least in Oslo) for it. But in the process of saying so, the record of his predecessor always gets slammed for being “unilateralist,” go-it-alone cowboyism. But this is what the last eight years actually saw:
•Six-party talks with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program (usually trashed by those on the left, including the National Council of Churches and UCC, that thought bilateral talks were the way to go).
•Negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program handled by a European threesome of Great Britain, France, and Germany, which approach was supported all the way by the United States, as were the pitiful and sometimes counterproductive efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The U.S. also sought tougher sanctions on Iran through the UN Security Council, but these were blocked at every turn by Russia and China.
•Repeated attempts to get the Security Council to take action on the Sudanese genocide that were always blocked by China.
•Attempts to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the formation of a “Quartet” (the U.S., Russia, European Union, and Security Council).
•A six-month effort to get the Security Council to enforce its own resolutions and sanctions against Iraq, which, when it proved futile, resulted in an invasion supported by almost thirty nations.
•A response to September 11 in Afghanistan that included working with Afghan opposition, with most of the outside forces for the first several years supplied primarily by NATO allies in Europe and Canada.
Say what you will about the efficacy of Barack Obama’s multilateralism, but the only way that one can properly call George Bush a unilateralist is by setting up George Orwell’s memory hole and dropping large portions of the history of the last eight years down it.