We need a clean slate in the postbellum world.
by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review Online
What is a base? Is it something lke the facility in Saudi Arabia that enrages the local population, provides a rallying cry for unhinged Islamists, protects a medieval monarchy from an emerging consensual society in Iraq, and can’t be used fully in a time of war? Or is it perhaps like our air facilities in Turkey, where over 80 percent of the local population demanded that we not use our resources there in the recent war against neighboring Iraq?
In the three-week war, transportation and communications were facilitated from Germany, but such rights were already guaranteed under NATO accords. And what an armored division was doing there anyway is still not quite clear with “Germany up, Russia in, and us out” in the European mind — especially when Austria directed us to keep our military convoys away. Given Mr. Schroeder’s recent anti-American campaign — and polls revealing that a third of German youth think we may have had a hand in the 9/11 disaster — it is hardly a mutually-agreed-upon center for joint defense against a common enemy. In fact, there is no real joint defense; there is no common enemy; and soon there should be no shared depot.
The fact is that the Iraq war proved to us that many of our bases are in the wrong place; and those that aren’t too often could not be used. I think under current practice we could better define an existing base as either a nexus for local anti-American resentment or a means of exacting political or financial concessions.
What is an ally? Were NATO brothers like France and Germany allies — whose U.N. performances made China’s seem friendly? Is Greece an ally — whose mass anti-American demonstrations were larger than those in Cairo or Damascus? Perhap it’s Mexico, which opposed our efforts in Iraq and exports 1-2 million of its own people illegally across the border as a means to prevent much-needed radical reform at home. In this context, the current meaning of “ally” too often reads as a state benefiting from American friendship that in turn expresses its thanks by gratuitous expressions of hostility in times of crisis.
What is the United Nations? It cannot stop slaughter in Liberia, as it did not in Rwanda or Serbia. It asks the United States to preempt in Liberia to prevent chaos — but not in Iraq, when our security and the world’s stability were in far greater danger. The only time many of its members ever approve of the idea of democracy is when voting in the General Assembly; horrific regimes like Libya, Syria, and Iran sometimes chair committees on humane causes. France claims it is a powerful nation worthy of a veto on the Security Council, but it is also a mere one state in a new European Union that as yet has no collective voice at the U.N. A better definition for the current body is something like the following: an international organization where Western liberal states seek to ingratiate themselves with tyrannies, theocracies, and tribes — appeasement winning accolades of justice, while principles earn slanders of racism, colonialism, and imperialism.
What is a military alliance? Is it a bilateral, consensual effort to prevent military aggression? That is not quite the situation in Korea, where intellectuals write revisionist histories blaming us for the conflict; where a young generation demonstrates against our presence; where politicians employ bribery to open dialogue with the enemy North — and all the while 38,000 Americans patrol as sitting ducks for Communist artillery. Or is it NATO, where the host city of Brussels seeks to indict American generals as war criminals, and most of the member states spend only half what America does on defense?
We need to redefine quite radically all these concepts in the post-9/11 world. Quietly and without fanfare, we will by necessity soon come to see the world in entirely different ways. Bases must be far smaller and built at the invitation of the host, and we must have in advance a clear understanding of under which exact conditions they can be used. Our German deployment should be cut up and resituated among many Eastern European countries, with advance guidelines as to how soldiers can be sent out should trouble arise in the Middle East.
We should also accept the notion that neutrals are not allies, and thus should not pillory them for their triangulation. We are angry at France only because it is a duplicitous ally; once we cease seeing it as a close friend, we will be no more angry with it than we are with Sweden or New Zealand — which both have at times expressed their anti-Americanism, and expect nothing from us should they find themselves in crises. Germany’s behavior now grates on us, but only because we expect it to be a Britain — rather than a Belgium, to which it is far more closely attuned. We should never be angry with Canada, simply because we should never expect anything from it — inasmuch as it has long ago decided to emulate the European Union model. Let us respect its status as a neutral and pacifistic state that neither wishes nor deserves cooperation with the United States in defense matters.
By the same token, we must cease treating belligerents as friends and friends as neutrals (or worse). It makes absolutely no sense, for example, that Egypt has hundreds of Abrams tanks (that can only be used against Israel) while Australia has none. Indeed, the latter proved resolute and supportive in our current crisis; the former, constantly critical. More importantly, Australia is a rich, democratic, continent-sized nation, with common traditions and values like our own — and has been at our side through every major war.
Surely, Canberra’s past history and present friendship — coupled with its strategic location, stuck as it is with neighbors like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, China, and North Korea — make it a key ally worthy of American deference and military assistance. The old notion that prosperous, friendly Western countries do not need our assistance, while fickle non-Western states deserve blackmail aid, is passé — and, of course, has no public support. Most Americans would rather give 600 tanks to Australia than sell one to Cairo; or prefer to work closely with the democracy in India than with the dictatorship in Pakistan, where the current, transitory order is one bullet away from Islamic chaos. Not a single Muslim in democratic India is an international terrorist; in contrast, terror is the chief export of the Pakistani madrassas.
Because Europe uses the United Nations to restrain American initiatives, it is precisely there we also must quietly turn, with principled reforms rather than bluster and invective. As part of a broader initiative with democratic India, we need to insist on the latter’s membership in the Security Council, along with Japan. France should share its veto with the entire European Union. And any nation that wishes to enjoy a vote in the General Assembly must first prove that its own citizens enjoy the same privilege at home.
Future military alliances should not be predicated on large bases, which ultimately encourage insidious relationships, where the dependent party resents the troops, chafes at paternalism, and develops a naive view of the world. Given the far greater economy and population of South Korea in comparison with the North, there is little reason to deploy American troops on the DMZ at all. A gradual withdrawal — with promises that in a time of conflict our planes and missiles will be right behind South Korean youngsters as they slog toward the front — makes far more sense. Note the difference with our real ally Israel, which confronts its formidable enemies with our material help — but without thousands of American soldiers on its Green Line.
In the months since the Iraqi war, the world situation has, in fact, starting to calm down; and with that equilibrium comes the realization that the old Cold War protocols no longer apply, and that the United States is in a far stronger position than ever before. With China and Russia claiming neutrality; with Britain, Australia, Japan, and much of Eastern Europe allied; and with India increasingly receptive to American peace-feelers — we should worry less and less about Old Europe and the tired Arab street, whose collective bark is far worse than their bite. The sad fact is that, for billions of people in an emerging Asia and the Americas, Europe and our enemies in the Middle East are mostly irrelevant, and will become even more so in the months ahead.
©2004 Victor Davis Hanson