Since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. has been in the throes of a heated debate over the extent to which it can, and should, engage in unilateral action. Neconservatives inside and outside of the Bush Administration have argued that the world finds itself in a unipolar moment. That is, the United States is a global hegemon whose leadership and active involvement are required if major international problems are to be resolved. Those opposed to the Neoconservative position have responded forcefully that this may well be the case, but the United States can not afford to act unilaterally. It must constrain itself to act multilaterally and within international institutions such as the United Nations whenever possible. They contend that the United States engagement in Iraq has come at great cost to the country owing to the international opposition that the intervention has engendered.
Now comes Darfur where the Arab Islamist regime in Sudan is engaged in a genocide against black Muslims. The United States has thus far constrained itself to act within multilateral institutions. The result? Over 200,000 are thought to be dead and over a million displaced thus far. The actual figures are likely to be considerably higher.
Darfur reminds one of Kosovo where the United States had to provide the leadership to help the hapless Europeans put an end to the violence. In Kosovo, the United States was able to get NATO to act. In Darfur, it appears we might not get anyone to act.
When the international community can not muster the determination to act multilaterally, should the United States simply let problematic situations continue unabated? The Bush Administration’s opponents would appear to answer “yes" because the cost of unilateralism is too high. The United States is not only facing the question in Darfur but in Iran as well, and it is likely to have to decide in other important regions in the near to mid-term. Isn't the cost of multilateralism too high when it results in paralysis?