The Boomerang Effect

Be careful of what you wish for.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

The Security Council is a funny place. I watched the Chinese ambassador grimace at Mr. Powell’s speech — and thought of the entire country and hallowed culture of Tibet, now swallowed by his government. Not far away was a functionary from Syria, which has simply absorbed Lebanon. The Russian ambassador voiced pacifist objections too — whose country recently flattened Muslim Grozny. The French dignitary was waving his arms about preventing precipitous unilateral action… Well, you get the picture.

Since September 11 we have seen an array of strange developments illustrating the law of unintended consequences. Hypocrisy, irony, and parody — however we wish to characterize these surreal events — at least bring surprising moral clarity and, with it, real wisdom.

It used to be that some well-intentioned Americans thought the all-wise U.N. should supersede the efforts of the big powers that had once acted unilaterally and without the approval of lesser — and more moral? — states. No longer. Through the efforts of post-Marxists, radical Islamists, anti-Semites, and an array of old-fashioned authoritarians in the General Assembly and the Security Council, the U.N. now unfortunately reflects the aggregate amorality of so many of it members.

We built the arena, the players came — and, for many Americans, it now seems almost time to leave: Syria on the Security Council; Iran and Iraq overseeing the spread of dangerous weapons; Libya a caretaker of human rights. How about a simple law to preserve a once hallowed institution: To join the U.N.’s democratic assembly, a country must first be democratic? Why should a U.N. diplomat be allowed to demand from foreigners the very privileges that his government denies to its own people?

The more pictures television brings us of world citizenship at the U.N., the more frightening becomes the entire idea of being subject in any way to approval from anyone like the Husseins, Assads, Qaddafis, Mugabes, mullahs, Chinese Communists, and a whole array of other not very nice people, who either by chance, protocol, or vote have suddenly found themselves very prominent on an assemblage of U.N. boards and committees.

When I was growing up in rural California, the only people who viscerally distrusted the U.N. were right-wing extremists who also liked to spin conspiracy tales about their drinking water and precious bodily fluids. Yet now — thanks to the macabre nature of so many in the U.N. — their view has proved disturbingly prescient, and threatens to become mainstream among the American people. That took a lot of doing on the part of the General Assembly and Security Council.

The same irony arises with the awarding of the Nobel Peace prize. If the committee thought in the past that their judges were ethnocentric, blinkered, and had given too many awards either to Europeans and Americans or to traditional diplomats — still, at least one could make the argument that the prior winners were not killers, scoundrels, or naïfs. But Le Doc Tho (who refused the honor) and Yasser Arafat really were really deplorable figures. It is hard to see how Kim Dae-jung (“Chairman Kim, to my surprise, had a very positive response…”) brought peace to the Korean peninsula — perhaps easier to see how his use of bribery did.

Mr. Carter should ask himself why 20 years of exemplary and distinguished charity work did not impress the panel, but suddenly and quite publicly attacking his own president in a time of war — in the words of the committee itself (Mr. Berge: “[the award] should be interpreted as a criticism of the line that the current administration has taken”) — most surely did. I pass on Mr. Mandela and his recent racist outbursts. So the Nobel committee got its wish of being nontraditional — to the point that many now believe the award reflects either political opportunism at best or conveys discredit at worst.

European bureaucrats have lectured about the EU’s utopian accomplishments, which supposedly have alone saved a war-torn continent and given it 50 years of peace. But thanks to their proclamations and their recent loud behavior, we have had a long, second, and very good look at Brussels. And what we have learned is depressing — from its foreign policy to the elevation of an unelected bureaucracy over local popular councils.

And we don’t buy their Trotsky-like airbrushing away of Americans in their new history; instead, we are more likely to believe that peace in Europe since 1945 was preserved only by a United States military that kept allies on the same team and Russians out — and not by French and German managers. Never was the moral contrast more evident than at the recent NATO meeting in Germany, when Senators McCain and Lieberman and Secretary Rumsfeld talked of history, resoluteness, and a determination to stop evil, while the French and Germans countered with thinly veiled self-interest and overt fear.

When the Cold War ended, the EU flunked its first test — 200,000 pour souls were butchered on its own doorstep. In contrast, the U.S. Constitution, a strong American military, and a sense of national character and confidence — not some borderless “North American Union” — have ensured both peace and our own autonomy on our own continent. Without the visions of supranational apparatchiks, we have managed not to go to war with Canada since 1812 and with Mexico since 1846. But if we were to open all our borders, adopt a socialist style of government, disarm, and turn our freedom over to 80,000 transcontinental Canadian, Mexican, and American bureaucrats, then I imagine things would heat up very quickly. Thank you, EU, for providing a model of international diplomacy and interstate relationships that we most definitely donot wish to emulate.

Most Americans didn’t pay too much attention to where our troops were stationed. But thanks to the German Way and the Sunshine Policy, millions now are beginning to take notice — and what they are learning might not be what our foreign hosts intended. A pragmatic, no-nonsense American would perhaps ask Mr. Schroeder please to follow through with his promises of a “German Way,” and thus to click his heels and kick out troops eastward into Poland or Czechoslovakia.

And if we really are obstacles to tranquility in Korea, after a half-century millions of Americans would be only too happy to get out of the way there as well. We can give peace a chance quite easily from afar in Japan, or on carriers — or perhaps from home. If the United States is disturbing the peace in Korea, then perhaps China could do better with a nuclear Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea who, if threatened by its lunatic client state, will eventually turn out frightening weapons of deterrence as easily as Toyotas.

For years, critics of John Foster Dulles Realpolitik decried our support for unsavory tinhorn dictators. Idealists instead called for “human rights” in our foreign policy, an engagement that would resonate with those persecuted and oppressed by authoritarian regimes.

Well, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is no longer any fear that today’s soft-spoken socialists will become tomorrow’s hardcore Stalinists. Right-wing fascists like Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam are either gone or going thanks to the United States — not France or Cuba or China. Consensual governments, not generals with chests of pot-iron medals, more often followed their demise. Remember, leftists of the past called not for isolationism, but for active support for national liberationists.

Good — we are finally convinced. Now their moment of solidarity has at last arrived. We have plenty of freedom fighters and democrats in Kurdistan and throughout Iraq who seek their support for grassroots, anti-fascistic movements. And?

After Vietnam, Americans were chastised into conceding that preemption and unilateralism were things of the past. Then we learned of slaughter in Bosnia and Kosovo — committed by Europeans and tolerated by Europeans. Mr. Clinton did not make the argument that Mr. Milosevic threatened the U.S. — imagine the outraged reaction, had Madeleine Albright with slides and intercepts proved that Serbia was seeking gas and germs that could threaten Americans.

Instead, we adopted preemption — unilaterally, without Congressional approval, and quite apart from U.N. decrees — and bombed Serbian fascists into submission. In fact, Mr. Clinton and Ms. Albright ordered bombs to be dropped almost everywhere — Kosovo, Belgrade, the Sudan, and, yes (remember General Zinni’s 1998 Operation Desert Fox) — Iraq. I suppose the moral lesson caught on, and so now we are doing the same once more to Saddam Hussein. Thanks in part to Mr. Clinton, unilateralism and preemption to try to protect us in advance, while saving innocents from monsters — in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, and Haiti — are now good, while the wobbliness and moral equivocation of multilateralism and U.N. approval are deemed bad. Or at least I think they are.

What accounts for these transparent contradictions? The fact that the U.N. building in New York was not reduced to rubble? Or that — so far — the Louvre has escaped a hijacked suicide Airbus? But these paradoxes become explicable if you remove the element of deductive anti-Americanism or, at home, the anti-Bush subtext. Keep that and there are no contradictions at all — only deep and age-old motives like envy, jealousy, rivalry, pride, fear, and insecurity.

The U.N. beats up on the United States because it accepts that — unlike China or Syria — we are predictable, honorable, and committed to acting morally. Thus it finds psychic reassurance and a sense of puffed-up self-importance — on the cheap — by remonstrating with an America that wishes to stop a criminal regime from spreading havoc, rather than worrying about the demise of million of Tibetans, Syria’s brutal creation of the puppet state of Lebanon, or Africans who complain that France has, without consultation, determined their fate. It is always better for a debating society to lecture those who listen than those who do not.

So too a petulant, though wealthy, Germany and South Korea resent their dependence as American protectorates, reflecting their own sense of impotence through face-saving unease with the same benefactors who kept psychopaths like Milosevic and Kim Jong II out of their comfortable and opulent havens. Gnash your teeth at an American who saved Germany, never a Russian who tried to flatten it — the ex-KGB Putin is now more welcome in Berlin than is the ex-NATO official Mr. Rumsfeld. And so it goes. A lip-biting Clinton’s bombing of a mass murderer is one thing; a Texas-drawling, Bible-reading Bush is another.

Still, besides the revelation of hypocrisy, the effect of all this has also been quite remarkable in creating a growing sense of American solidarity — precisely in terms of being so unlike those who criticize us. Has anti-anti-Americanism fueled a growing new sense of Americanism? We owe the U.N., the EU, the radical Islamic world, Mr. Mandela, the French, the Germans, and a host of others, I think, some thanks in this hour of crisis. By reminding us so often that they are not like us and often don’t like us, we of all political persuasions and backgrounds finally are remembering that they were perhaps right all along — we really are a very different people.


©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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