Cut America Some Slack
On a Lighter Note than Last Posting—Not
For five years we have been lectured that George Bush ruined the trans-Atlantic relationship. But now we see pro-American governments in both France and Germany, and a radical change in attitudes from Denmark to Holland to Italy. The truth is that the Europeans neither hated nor loved Bill Clinton, whom they on occasion privately seethed at for not exercising leadership, or George Bush who swaggered and talked tough to them during the lead-up to Iraq and seemed to them to be rudely unilateral. Instead, after getting their teen-age anger out, they are starting to see that the United States did not fabricate Islamic radicalism nor order them to let in and then not assimilate millions of now angry Muslims.
For all the cheap shots, the European public is worried about importing half their natural gas from Vladimir Putin, who now bullies Eastern Europeans, former Soviet republics, and dissidents well beyond his borders on the premise that his oil wealth and nukes ensure Europe can’t and won’t do anything.
Europeans know they won’t or can’t stop the Iranians from getting a nuke, but hope someone—that is, the United States—will. And from the Spanish flight from Iraq after the Madrid bombing, the spectacle of the British naval personnel in Iranian hands, and the continental paralysis after the Danish cartoons and other serial Islamic affronts to free expression, Europe knows that radical Islam is both dangerous and has little respect for either European moral authority or force of arms.
So it is they, not us, that are returning to sobriety in matters of the trans-Atlantic relationship, and they are doing this not because of affection for George Bush, but despite their anxiety about him. And that is good news, since it suggests the warming exists apart from personalities, and reminds us that if the so-called and much deprecated “West” were ever to act in unison (the former British commonwealth, Japan, the US, and continental Europe), then radical Islam would simply have no chance against 8-900 million of the planet’s most productive, ingenious and democratic peoples.
At some point, European statesmen are going to bump into a great truth: that they spend almost nothing on defense, but intrinsically have access to the United States military, both by shared values, or at least the memory of shared values, and the allegiance of the American people to this now ridiculed, now archaic notion known as the "West." All they have do is to occasionally show some warmth to the United States, and we crazy American people whether in World War I, II, the Cold War, or the war on terror, give our all to them—at no cost. We sense that Merkle and Sarkozy and the majorities that elected them, finally fear that they were reaching the point of American exasperation at which the old ties were broken for good, adn Europe was truly to be on its own, and thus pulled back--in time?
The Danger is Isolationism, not Preemption
If I were a European, Taiwanese, Saudi, or almost anyone else who habitually complains about American presumptuousness, I would worry that the American public is reverting to its (natural?) 1930s sort of isolationism. Tired of cheap anti-Americanism, the burden of global defense obligations, and the continual erosion of the dollar, they wish to pull in their horns and let others in multilateral fashion pick up the slack.
Perhaps the European rapid reaction force could respond to Estonia’s plight should Putin send in a punititive brigade. Maybe the UN could provide the necessary deterrence to protect Taiwanese autonomy should the island provoke mainland China to the point of invading.
No doubt the EU3—Britain, France, Germany—could warn Iran not to nuke Israel—or else. These are not longer just parlor-game musings, but the look of the world if the exhaustion of the American people is reflected in retrenchment, best summed up by “These people are not really worth it, so let them handle their own affairs.” It would be a very dangerous attitude to adopt, but one psychologically understandable.
Globalization is mostly driven by the United States, whether defined by the spread of the English language, crass advertising, the Internet, American pop culture of rap, jeans and I-pods or worldwide businesses like Starbucks and MacDonald’s. A global sameness seems to trample traditional cultures and appeal to the masses worldwide despite lectures from their elites about the dangers of such American-induced contamination.
This influence of the United States is not attributable to strategic location like that enjoyed by a Germany or Iran. We don’t have vast oil reserves like a Saudi Arabia, or an enormous population such as India or China.
Instead, it’s what we do rather than what we have that attracts others. Our radical Democratic culture of informality and inclusiveness results in an unusually tolerant and secure society, in which participation is open to all. Being an American can be like playing at a cut-throat, madcap poker table, but it invites any to play who are willing to ante up and risk their all.
We can see this dynamism not just by the flood of immigrants—America takes more of them than all industrialized countries combined—but by the nature of some of them. Those who are sometimes most publicly critical of the United States, privately seem to like us a great deal. Why else would the dictator of Pakistan, an Amal militia leader in Lebanon, or a Turkish Islamist Prime Minister entrust their families either to live in the United States or to go to school here? Only in America can a Palestinian criticize the Hamas leadership, a Turkish woman wear a scarf, or a female Saudi student date.
In terms of foreign policy, many of our troubles result not, as charged, from imperialism, but from this very democratic fervor. Of all the critiques of our experience in Iraq, few have pinpointed our chief challenge: we extended one-man, one-vote and thereby empowered the traditionally downtrodden, and denigrated Shiite population, to the chagrin of Sunni elites in and outside of Iraq. It mattered little that few of the Shiia were educated, or had any experience in governance: in the naïve American sense, as free people born into the world as equal as any others, they had a right to run or ruin their own country.
By the same token, radical American egalitarianism is what terrifies our Islamist enemies. Bin Laden—many of the terrorist’s family were living in the United States on September 11—knows the insidious dangers of Americanization, both from his own wealthy youth spent enjoying the high life, and the failure of his Sharia law to compete with Spiderman for the attention of most of his flock.
China, Wave of the Future?
Other superpowers like India and China pose as third-world revolutionary powers. But both are plagued by caste and rigid political or class obstacles to full participation in their societies. A Chinese can become a fully-accepted American citizen. A non-Chinese American black, white, or Hispanic would never fully be accepted as Chinese—even with mastery of the language and the formal acquisition of Chinese citizenship.
Abroad China does not care from whom it buys or to whom it sells, and hardly cares about promoting democracy abroad. In short, it is still America that is the most radical, revolutionary, and destabilizing nation of all—and thereby disliked for precisely the opposite reasons that the Left proclaims.
What's Being Left Have to Do With It?
What, then, is the radical Left good for? Mostly psychological cover. It is our version of the Athenian elite demagogue’s dung on his boots or Medieval indulgences or the Bible in the hand of the philandering fundamentalist. Its rhetoric alone allows Edwards to enjoy his mansion, Gore his jet, the Kennedys’ their drink and drugs, Bill Clinton his sex, and Soros his billions—and China its cutthroat acquisitions abroad and its suppression at home. Proclaiming to be a man of the people these days can cover almost anything from living like 18th-century royalty to making the foreign policy of the United States look downright saintly.
Postscript on last posting:
I am afraid that I got a lot of email about my rants about the brave new world of multicultural, yuppie international business people, and the pretensions that this new class of financial enterprenuer embraces to hide his zest for profit. And I am afraid that I feel my thoughts were too kind, rather than cruel. I don't mind graduate schools of business. They do a lot of good in ensuring American competiveness. But like John's Edward's haircuts and paid $50,000 dollar sermons on poverty to gullible middle-class university students, we should not take their claims seriously—of promoting either liberal education (which I heard) or international brotherhood. And when they pontificate, as I was lectured, that the "nation state is through", one wonders which nation state protects their entire system of global security, freedom of trade, and the rights of ships and planes to navigate without fear of piracy or attack. Or is it the UN? World Court? EU?