Bruce D. Jones1
In the first decade of this century, the Middle East and neighboring regions emerged as a key battleground for what has become the central political war of the day: the use of U.S. power and its relationship with existing multilateral instruments. The collapse of the Middle East peace process, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have challenged both U.S. and international perceptions of threat, security, and order. In turn, the responses to these events have been influenced by the resulting debates.
U.S. actions in this arena have been attacked from a number of angles, but nowhere more sharply than on the question of unilateralism. These attacks built to a crescendo following the repudiation of the Kyoto treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention review conference, and similar measures. As John Van Oudenaren has noted, "unilateralism has emerged as the most contentious issue in U.S.-European relations." 2
More recently, Security Council deliberations over whether to authorize U.S.-led military action against Iraq, i.e. the debate over a putative "second resolution, " became ideological and shrill, veering between competing exaggerations of the role of the U.N., and between competing idealistic accounts of the nature of U.S. power. In the face of American pundits who drew caricatures of U.N. negligence and appetite for appeasement that verged on black helicopter imagery, European politicians defended a U.N. whose role was so central and record so spotless that it was unrecognizable to anyone who had worked at the U.N. or studied its performance. While U.S. neo-conservatives described a role for American power that was both extraordinarily expansive and utterly benign, politicians, commentators, and populations from Europe, the Arab world, and elsewhere began to perceive U.S. actions as the greatest threat to world stability.
This battle between straw men and blind men obscured more than it has revealed about the sources of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle East, or the role of the U.N. and multilateral action in that policy. The record reveals a more variegated picture of forms of engagement by the U.S. with multilateral institutions, allied powers, and regional actors in the implementation of its Middle East policy. In terms of decision-making, the evidence suggests that U.S. decisions concerning the use or avoidance of multilateral instruments for