by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
There was a time when the political lines about foreign policy were well drawn. Those on the Left felt that American democracy and global capitalism did not necessarily offer the rest of the world a much better alternative than either Soviet-sponsored Communism or third-world thuggery. Instead, in this view, American realism favored order, but not spreading liberty or social justice abroad — and only managed to promote overseas more of the unfairness and racism that we supposedly suffered from at home.
Everything from Vietnam to Nicaragua was seen through this reductionist prism, assuming a haughty United States at odds with indigenous reformers the world over. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rise of the capitalist juggernauts China and India, the globalization of the world economy, radical social and economic changes here at home, and the spread of Islamic fascism, none of those old views makes sense anymore.
President Bush was criticized by many Democrats on both practical and political grounds for ostracizing Yasser Arafat, the past beneficiary of a rigged vote. Yet most are silent now about the news that local elections are now taking place for the first time in nearly a decade. Why voting all of a sudden now? Was the president right in seeing the removal of this so-called national liberationist as a key to democratic change on the West Bank?
The old critique of American policy in the Middle East was driven by charges of petro-imperialism — that we would do any and all things to secure fuel for our gas-guzzlers. But China now satisfies most of its skyrocketing oil appetite from Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Oman. Unlike the United States, there is no internal Chinese opposition to question the new superpower’s oil politics, which are heating up global energy markets. The so-called Peoples Republic cares only about price and availability. It worries not at all about its petro-trade’s subsidizing Wahhabism, theocracy, or Islamic extremism.
We may still rant about the American rejection of Kyoto. But is anyone alarmed over the hundreds of coal plants sprouting up in India and China to ensure billions of people that there will be enough energy for a possible future lifestyle of the type we now take for granted in Santa Barbara and Nantucket? In short, we will soon enter an age in which China may well change the world’s environment, affect the price of oil, and govern the world’s trade as much as the United States — and will care almost nothing about what Western liberals say, secure either that its fraying socialist veneer or sheer size and power will earn it a pass from the censure of Western intellectuals.
If we thought indigenous liberationist movements of the Islamic world — who have beheaded and killed to be free of Western religious tolerance, equity for women and homosexuals, and voting and human rights — put an enormous strain on the ossified Left, wait until Mao’s old socialist utopia begins to send ultimatums to the democracies of the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. What will Earth First do when this socialist behemoth sprouts its oil rigs in the Arctic tundra and pristine seas?
The international media is not up in arms about the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh or the video execution of democratic activists in the streets of Baghdad — at least not as they once had been over the televised shooting of a Vietcong captain by South Vietnamese general Nguyen Ngoc Loan. Of course, the democracy activists in Iraq were working only for freedom, not, like Loan, for socialist tyranny. The only political consistency for the media’s reaction or lack thereof seems to be the particular affinity of the shooters and victims for the United States: Pulitzer Prizes when a Communist is shot by an American surrogate; snores when the murdered Iraqi idealists shared an American vision of elections.
Consider further: The United States runs staggering trade deficits with most of the world. Its dollar is at an all-time low. Its postwar international protocols — from the World Trade Organization to the United Nations — either favor the non-West or look unkindly toward the United States. The American military, at great risk and cost, alone in the world saved Kosovars, Afghans, and Iraqis from tyranny. For all the Vietnam-era rhetoric about American meddling, the elected Karzai and the provisional Allawi are a far cry from the Shah, Pinochet, or Somoza. We are doing things in the Middle East that make no sense in terms of traditional economic or political advantage — and yet still bring out 1960s-era stegosauruses alleging imperialism and hegemony.
What has happened? Sometime around the 1980s, the Right saw the demise of the Soviet Union as an opportunity to evolve beyond realpolitik to promote not just anti-Communism but grassroots democracy, coupled with free-market globalism from Eastern Europe to Latin America and Asia. In contrast, the hard Left stayed in its knee-jerk suspicion of the West and continued to give a pass to authoritarians from Cuba to Iran who professed socialism, thinking that the world was a static zero-sum game in which somebody’s gain spelled another’s loss — oblivious that real wealth could be created by a change of mentality and technology and not mere exploitation.
As the old politics lie in ruin from hypocrisy and incoherence, the Left needs to get a new life. Here are a few more suggestions:
- Remember that multilateral inaction — whether in the Balkans, Rwanda, or Darfur — is often calculated, selfish, and far more lethal to millions than risky interventions like removing the Taliban and Saddam.
- Quit idolizing Europe. It was a far larger arms merchant to Saddam than was the United States; it supplied most of Dr. Khan’s nuclear laboratory; it financed much of the Oil-for-Food scandal; and it helped to create and tolerate the Balkans genocide. It has never freed any country or intervened to remove fascism and leave behind democracy — silly American notions that are to be caricatured except when it is a matter of saving Europeans.
- Stop seeing an all-powerful United States behind every global problem. China is on the move and far more likely to disrupt environmental protocols, cheat on trade accords, and bully neighbors. The newly expanded Europe has a larger population and aggregate economy, stronger currency, and far less in trade and budget debts than does the United States — and is already using that economic clout for its own interests, not global freedom from dictators and autocrats.
- Don’t believe much of what the U.N. says anymore. Its secretary general is guilty of either malfeasance or incompetence, its soldiers are often hired thugs who terrorize those they are supposed to protect, and its resolutions are likely to be anti-democratic and anti-Semitic. Its members include dozens of nations whose odious representatives we would not let walk inside the doors of the U.S. Congress. The old idea of a United Nations was inspiring, the current reality chilling.
- Stop seeing socialists and anti-Americans as Democrats. When a Michael Moore compares beheaders to our own Minutemen and laments that too many Democrats were in the World Trade Center, he deserves no platform alongside Wesley Clark or a seat next to Jimmy Carter or praise for his pseudo-dramas from high Democrats. Firebrands like Al Sharpton and Michael Moore are the current leftist equivalents of 1950s right-wing extremists like the John Birchers. They should suffer the same fate of ostracism, not bemused and tacit approval.
- Ignore most grim international reports that show the United States as stingy, greedy, or uncaring based on some esoteric formula that makes a Sweden or Denmark out as the world’s savior. Such “studies” always ignore aggregate dollars and look at per capita public giving, and yet somehow ignore things like over $100 billion to Afghanistan and Iraq or $15 billion pledged to fight AIDS in Africa. These academic white papers likewise forget private donations, because most of the American billionaires who give to global causes of various sorts do so as either individuals or through foundations. No mention is made of the hundred of millions that are handled by American Christian charities. And the idea of a stingy America never mentions about $200 billion of the Pentagon’s budget, which does things like keeping the Persian Gulf open to world commerce; protecting Europe; ensuring that the Aegean is free of shooting and that the waters between China, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are relatively tranquil; and stopping nasty folk like the Taliban and Saddam from blowing up more Buddha monuments, desecrating Babylon, or ruining the ecology of the Tigris-Euphrates wetlands.
Action and results, not rhetoric and intentions, are what matter. Cease blaming others for declining popularity. There is neither a Karl Rove conspiracy nor an envisioned red-state theocracy. No, the problem with our Left is what killed the dinosaurs: a desire to plod on to oblivion in a rapidly evolving world.
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson