Obviously the blast faxes went out from Republicans, Inc. Bobo is also concern trolling today, just like Putzy yesterday. In “The Problem With Partners” he gurgles that as we enter Libya’s unknown, we should not react so strongly against unilateralism’s risks that we ignore multilateralism’s weaknesses. International cooperation is Teh Suxxors! WOLVERINES!!! Jeez… Mr. Herbert, in “Separate and Unequal,” says more than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, segregated schools remain a handicap for poor students. Here’s Bobo:
These days we are all co-religionists in the church of multilateralism. The Iraq war reminded everybody not to embark on an international effort without a broad coalition.
Yet today, as an impeccably crafted multilateral force intervenes in Libya, certain old feelings are coming back to the surface. These feelings have been buried since the 1990s, when multilateral efforts failed in Kosovo, Rwanda and Iraq. They concern the structural weaknesses that bedevil multilateral efforts. They remind us that unilateralism may be no walk in the park, but multilateralism has its own characteristic problems, which are showing up already in Libya.
First, multilateral efforts are marked by opaque decision-making and strategic vagueness. It is hard to get leaders from different nations with different values to agree on a common course of action. When diplomats do achieve this, it is usually because they have arrived at artful fudges that allow leaders from different countries to read the same words in a U.N. resolution and understand them in different ways. The negotiation process to arrive at these fudges involves a long chain of secret discussions and it necessarily involves eliding issues that might blow everything up.
Sure enough, the decision-making process that led to the Libyan intervention was remarkably opaque. (It is still not clear why the Obama administration flipped from skepticism to resolve.) More important, the nations have not really defined what they hope to achieve.
Is the coalition trying to depose Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi? Are coalition forces trying to halt Qaddafi’s advances or weaken his government? Would the coalition allow Qaddafi to win so long as he didn’t massacre more civilians? Is it trying to create a partitioned Libya? Are we there to help the democratic tide across the region?
The members of the coalition could not agree on answers to any of these questions, so the purpose of the enterprise was left vague.
Second, leaders in multilateral efforts often obsess about the diplomatic process and ignore the realities on the ground. The reports describing how the Libyan intervention came about are filled with palace intrigue. They describe the different factions within the Obama administration, the jostling by France and Britain, the efforts to win over the Arab League. It’s not clear who was thinking about the realities in Libya.
Who are the rebels we are supporting? How weak is the Qaddafi government? How will Libyans react to a Western bombing campaign? Why should we think a no-fly zone will protect civilians when they never have in the past?
In this, as in so many previous multilateral efforts, the process blots out the substance. Diplomats become more interested in serving the global architecture than in engaging the actual facts on the ground.
Third, multilateral efforts are retarded and often immobilized by dispersed authority and a complicated decision-making process. They are slow to get off the ground because they have to get their most reluctant members on board. Once under way, they are slow to adapt to changing circumstances.
Sure enough, the world fiddled for weeks while Qaddafi mounted his successful counterinsurgency campaign. The coalition attacks are only days old, but already fissures are appearing. The Arab League is criticizing the early results. The French are not coordinating well with their allies. NATO leaders are even now embroiled in a debate about the operational command structure.
Fourth, multilateral forces often lose the war of morale and motivation. Most wars are fought by nations — by people aroused not only by common interests but by common passions, moralities and group loyalties. Multilateral campaigns rarely, on the other hand, arouse people. They are organized by elites, and propelled by calculation, not patriotism. No one wants to die for the Arab League, the United Nations or some temporary coalition of the willing.
In the Libyan campaign, Qaddafi’s defenders will be fighting for land, home, God and country. The multinational force will be organized by an acronym and motivated by a calibrated calculus to achieve a humanitarian end.
Finally, multilateral efforts are built around a fiction. The people who organize coalitions pretend that all the parties are sharing the burdens. In reality, only the U.S. can do many of the tasks. If the other nations falter, the U.S. will have to leap in and assume the entire burden. America’s partners go in knowing they do not bear ultimate responsibility for success or failure. Americans do.
All of this is not to say the world should do nothing while Qaddafi unleashes his demonic fury. Nor is this a defense of unilateralism. But we should not pretend we have found a superior way to fight a war. Multilateralism works best as a garment clothing American leadership. Besides, the legitimacy of a war is not established by how it is organized but by what it achieves.
Cripes. Here’s Mr. Herbert:
One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.
Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.
Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.
More than a half-century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, we are still trying as a country to validate and justify the discredited concept of separate but equal schools — the very idea supposedly overturned by Brown v. Board when it declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Schools are no longer legally segregated, but because of residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and long-held custom, they most emphatically are in reality.
“Ninety-five percent of education reform is about trying to make separate schools for rich and poor work, but there is very little evidence that you can have success when you pack all the low-income students into one particular school,” said Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation who specializes in education issues.
The current obsession with firing teachers, attacking unions and creating ever more charter schools has done very little to improve the academic outcomes of poor black and Latino students. Nothing has brought about gains on the scale that is needed.
If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty. This is being done in some places, with impressive results. An important study conducted by the Century Foundation in Montgomery County, Md., showed that low-income students who happened to be enrolled in affluent elementary schools did much better than similarly low-income students in higher-poverty schools in the county.
The study, released last October, found that “over a period of five to seven years, children in public housing who attended the school district’s most advantaged schools (as measured by either subsidized lunch status or the district’s own criteria) far outperformed in math and reading those children in public housing who attended the district’s least-advantaged public schools.”
Studies have shown that it is not the race of the students that is significant, but rather the improved all-around environment of schools with better teachers, fewer classroom disruptions, pupils who are more engaged academically, parents who are more involved, and so on. The poorer students benefit from the more affluent environment. “It’s a much more effective way of closing the achievement gap,” said Mr. Kahlenberg.
About 80 school districts across the country are taking steps to reduce the concentrations of poverty in their schools. But there is no getting away from the fact that if you try to bring about economic integration, you’re also talking about racial and ethnic integration, and that provokes bitter resistance. The election of Barack Obama has not made true integration any more palatable to millions of Americans.
I favor integration for integration’s sake. This society should be far more integrated in almost every way than it is now. But to get around the political obstacles to school integration, districts have tried a number of strategies. Some have established specialized, high-achieving magnet schools in high-poverty neighborhoods, which have had some success in attracting middle class students. Some middle-class schools have been willing to accept transfers of low-income students when those transfers are accompanied by additional resources that benefit all of the students in the schools.
It’s difficult, but there are ways to sidestep the politics. What I think is a shame is that we have to do all of this humiliating dancing around the perennially uncomfortable issue of race. We pretend that no one’s a racist anymore, but it’s easier to talk about pornography in polite company than racial integration. Everybody’s in favor of helping poor black kids do better in school, but the consensus is that those efforts are best confined to the kids’ own poor black neighborhoods.
Separate but equal. The Supreme Court understood in 1954 that it would never work. But our perpetual bad faith on matters of race keeps us trying.