Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Inherit the wind

Recommended: The Way We Live Now
The War over Iraq is refreshingly direct. Saddam is a bad man, he ought to be removed, and only the US can do the job. But that is just the beginning. There will be many more such tasks, indeed an infinity of them in coming years. If the US is to perform them satisfactorily—"to secure its safety and to advance the cause of liberty"—then it must cut loose from the "world community" (always in scare quotes). People will hate us for our "arrogance" and our power in any event, and a more "restrained" American foreign policy won't appease them, so why waste time talking about it? The foreign strategy of the US must be "unapologetic, idealistic, assertive and well funded. America must not only be the world's policeman or its sheriff, it must be its beacon and guide." What is wrong with this? In the first place, it displays breathtaking ignorance of the real world, as ultra-"realist" scenarios frequently do. Because it confidently equates American interest with that of every right-thinking person on the planet, it is doomed to arouse the very antagonism and enmity that provoke American intervention in the first place (only a hardened European cynic would suggest that this calculation has been silently incorporated into the equation). The authors, like their political masters, unhesitatingly suppose both that America can do as it wishes without listening to others, and that in so doing it will unerringly echo the true interests and unspoken desires of friend and foe alike. The first claim is broadly true. The second bespeaks a callow provinciality. Secondly, the Kristol/Wolfowitz/ Rumsfeld approach is morbidly self-defeating. Old-fashioned isolationism, at least, is consistent: if we stay out of world affairs we won't have to depend on anyone. So is genuine Wilsonian internationalism: we plan to be at work in the world so we had better work with the world. A similar consistency informs conventional Kissinger-style realpolitik: we have interests and we want certain things, other countries are just like us and they want certain things too—so let's make deals. But the new "unilateralist internationalism" of the present administration tries to square the circle: we do what we want in the world, but on our own terms, indifferent to the desires of others when they don't share our objectives. ... Unless Kristol and his political mentors can explain why an ambitious new American international mission to put the globe to rights is silent on Israel; why the newly empowered American "hegemon" is curiously unable and unwilling to bring any pressure to bear on one small client state in the world's most unstable region, then few outside their own circle are going to take their "mission statements" seriously. Why should the US administration and its outriders care? For a reason that the men who constructed the postwar international system would immediately have appreciated. If America is not taken seriously; if it is obeyed rather than believed; if it buys its friends and browbeats its allies; if its motives are suspect and its standards double— then all the overwhelming military power of which Kristol and Kaplan so vaingloriously boast will afford it nothing. The United States can go out and win not just the Mother of All Battles but a whole matriarchal dynasty of Desert Storms; it will inherit the wind—and worse besides.


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