Old and in the Way

The American Street has sized up best the new paradoxes of foreign policy.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The events following 9/11 created an “empire” industry — millions of words written by pundits claiming that by intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq America was now a hegemon. The charge was that we are a world bully of sorts, intent on controlling the globe and ignoring the admonitions of more sober folk like the Europeans.

Yet even as university professors and consultants cling to such regurgitated and discredited postcolonial theories and Chomskyite drivel, the American profile abroad has made such conventional exegesis obsolete. In fact, we are adopting a radically new world role that defies conventional analysis as either imperialist or isolationist.

During this entire crisis tired voices of convention have misunderstood the nature of this war and the temporary presence of Americans in exotic places like the Asiatic provinces of the former Soviet Union, the Gulf, or Kurdistan. Instead of seeing such deployments in their proper context of ad hoc military efficacy and reaction to 9/11, they have instead shrilly alleged some sinister conspiracy to harness the world’s oil through the use of permanent military deployment abroad and perpetual war.

Fools! The real danger is not that we are interventionists, but rather are on the verge of a weird insularity not seen since the 1920s — a paradox of still being engaged abroad but not in the usual manner of the past. The American Street is in a strangely revolutionary — read “fed-up” — mood. It is growing distant from Europe. It is angry with the Arab world especially, and it is tired with South Korea — and most whiny nations that either take billions of dollars in direct American aid or ankle-bite under the aegis of American arms.

The result is while hothouse analysts in Paris and spoiled teenagers in Seoul with Reeboks and football jerseys damn America the imperialist, the United States they knew is changing right before their eyes in ways that they might not like in the next decade — but that will in fact relieve most Americans.

Redeployment of troops off the DMZ down to southern Korea has powerfully affected both South and North Korea, who have played at a silly game of triangulation the last few years — as if we, not a murderous communism, were their shared problem. In the process, too many Americans have seen too many secure and affluent South Koreans — in and out of government — slur the United States, as if we are dying to die in their country.

Thanks to such critics, millions of us have now come to the conclusion that after a half century of American support, thousands of American dead, and billions of dollars in aid, it is perhaps time to let the rich South Koreans protect themselves and be weaned from the American military. We gave them their country; now on the 50-year anniversary of the armistice, let them keep — or lose — it. Yes, let them, not 20-year-old young men and women from Des Moines and Missoula, find out whether their own Sunshine Policy really works. Having us defend them in perpetuity from a bankrupt third-world country would be somewhat like asking them to come over here to defend our own porous border with Mexico.

Oh, in explanation of our radical new redeployment, we will profess that the nature of war itself has changed or that it signals no cooling in our relationship. In fact, anytime American soldiers risk their life on a trip-wire vulnerable to 10,000 cannon while their benefactors march in the street against such a courageous presence and their corrupt politicians talk of a third way, it is long time to come home. Under the present radical mood in America, redeployment is the stale option — complete withdrawal along the Philippines or Panama model being the more preferred solution.

Now we are lectured by Europeans that Mr. Rumsfeld hurt Brussels’ feelings by politely pointing out the absurdity of Belgians indicting as war criminals American generals who rid the world of fascists. Good. Mr. Rumsfeld is, in fact, behind the curve: Most Americans would prefer that none of our NATO representatives at all be in such an Oz-like fairyland. The question is not whether we are rude to hosts who slander our officer corps — but rather what business do we have subsidizing such unbalanced allies at all? At the very least, an American-led NATO command should leave Brussels and rent out its headquarters to the new EU defense force.

Two years ago those of us who called for removing soldiers from Saudi Arabia were derided by an assortment of ex-diplomats and various think-tank apparatchiks funded by Gulf money. But most Americans are delighted at the idea — and are beginning to ask further why one dime of American money goes to a Palestine Authority that is as murderous as it is venal, or to an Egypt — or even Jordan — whose citizens have killed Americans while its unelected “moderate” leaders have chastised rather than thanked us for the billions of dollars received.

A quarter-century of subsidies created the “Korean disease” in Cairo and Amman — and it is perhaps time to alter all our unquestioning Middle East relationships with monarchs and dictators as well. The long-term outlook for Iran looks more hopeful than for Egypt — and our State Department and Middle Eastern experts should take a deep breath and ask why that is so. Principled resistance seems to bear more fruit than sending Abrams tanks to Mr. Mubarak or pretending that the Palestine Authority is a responsible government. A subsidized Jordan — the darling of our State Department — should now decide whether it belongs to the past or future Middle East, and then be treated accordingly. A charismatic young Westernized autocrat or his globe-trotting American step-mother does not necessarily ensure that his kingdom is either stable or friendly.

What is going on? After the defeat of the Axis and the long containment of the Soviet Union, the beneficiaries of past American sacrifices find their new identities in part by mouthing cheap anti-Americanism without cost. Fine; it’s a free world. But they forget that the Middle East, the DMZ, Cyprus, the Balkans, the former provinces of the Soviet Union, the world’s oil lanes, the shrines and icons of the West in Europe, all that and more thousands of miles from our own coasts can all blow up in their faces — and that we no longer can, or should, alone guarantee that they won’t.

Our concern instead is to clean up Afghanistan and Iraq, warn Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to change — or else — and then hunt down every last al Qaedist. And for now our own war against terror is plenty enough to worry about — especially when it is being won on the battlefield without a great deal of help from our bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia and with a lot of criticism from allied hosts from Germany and Greece to Okinawa and South Korea.

So what accounts for this sudden paradox of independent action abroad while becoming ever more skeptical of traditional alliances?

The general public at last understands this post-Cold War teenager syndrome — that perpetual dependency creates envy and jealousy. After all, we would find it strange if our own American teenagers were to wear German T-shirts, play French music, and watch Belgian videos as they painted anti-European graffiti on our walls and their parents in New York sued Chirac or Kohl for European criminal neglect in the Balkans. Our own senators and representatives do not engage in German bashing while the Luftwaffe has 100 jets parked outside of Washington protecting our eastern seaboard. It all reminds me of a Greek hotelier — replete with American Ray-bans and Eminem blaring in his portable CD player — this week who snapped at me that Americans were all over the globe sticking their noses in the business of innocent others like poor Mr. Milosevic — but lamentably not as tourists coming to Greece as in the past.

There is common ground between liberals and conservatives to start downsizing from places like Saudi Arabia, Germany, South Korea, Turkey, and as much of Western Europe as possible. The former either fear the label of imperialism or, as in the case of the Gulf, don’t like us propping up corrupt governments. The latter are more hard-headed, and see only increasing costs — political, monetary, psychological — with decreasing benefits.

The real global story is not “anti-Americanism,” but perhaps a growing American weariness with strident allies and the braggadocio of pathetic Middle Eastern despotisms. If I were a functionary of the European Union, I would either have an emergency meeting right now to explore ways of stemming a rising, grassroots tide of Middle America’s anger against Europe or alternatively allot 400 or 500 billion Euros per annum for its own unilateral and collective defense. We in America are waiting for sober Europeans to question their current frightening leadership that came of age in 1968, but now shrug that the Schroeders, Fischers, and Villepins may not be so aberrant after all. The EU, remember, is now being asked by Mr. Abbas on the West Bank to stop subsidizing Hamas.

So in response, what should we do?

Keep quieter and carry a far bigger stick. Methodically and politely transfer, redeploy, and reduce troops from countries that have opposed our efforts of the past two years or whose populations simply profess no overt support for the United States. Seek real friends — the fewer the better — in Eastern Europe, on the Black Sea, or around the Gulf who want American troops as a reflection of genuine mutual security needs, appreciate the economic stimulus such bases provide, and quite simply like the United States.

Here at home, new thinking is encompassing immigration reform, as well. A country that cannot count its own illegal aliens — estimates range from 8-12 million — with a porous 2,000 mile border is not secure despite twelve carrier battle groups. We must accept that it is a cornerstone of Mexican foreign policy to export illegally each year a million of its own to the United States to avoid needed reform at home and to influence American domestic policy.

And if one wishes to find real anti-Americanism, there is no need to go to Brussels or Damascus. Simply peruse the Mexico City newspapers, read what Mr. Fox says to non-Americans, or listen carefully to la Raza (a blatantly racist term analogous to the old German concept of a pure Volk) dogma in the southwest. Papers in Mexico often mirror those in the Arab world — blaming the United States for Mexico City’s own failure to address self-created pathologies. If we truly wished to help Mexico and its people, then we would not be complicit in the present corrupt status quo by allowing its ruling families to export millions of potential dissidents and would-be reformers.

It is not a moral thing for either Mexico or us to barter in human capital, as we accept tens of thousands of poor economic refugees who work at menial jobs that we say we cannot do. Both the race industry on the left and the corporate right must accept that they are on the wrong side of history, and it is time to return to the sanity of measured, documented, and legal immigration — jettisoning the charade of consular IDs, billions lost in unfunded entitlements, and everything from driver’s licenses to in-state tuition discounts for those who are here illegally. Rwanda, the Balkans, and separatist Muslim communities in southern France should remind us all of the wages of ethnic separatism, chauvinism, illegal immigration, and the creation of a second-class citizenry relegated to menial work.

Thousands of influential Americans in Washington and New York, revolving in and out of government on a perpetual basis, at home, on the networks, and in newspapers, will resist all such reappraisals tooth and nail. It is not just that their foundations receive money from a variety of foreign and domestic special interests, or that they enjoy flying to Brussels, or being courted in Georgetown by diplomats — or liked being liked.

It is less dramatic than all that. Instead, a change to a new muscular autonomy for conventional policymakers simply represents an entire paradigm shift, an acceptance that their world has been turned upside down after September 11.

You see, their old way of doing business is now both old and in the way.


©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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