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2003-03-18 3:37 PM
The Arrogant Empire by Fareed Zakaria
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This Newsweek article is being widely linked-to around the net, hailed as an essential and comprehesive view of how America has screwed ourselves diplomatically, alienating all those people who used to be our friends, and leading us down the road to ruin.
Now first of all, the article is well-written, and I agree that it's worth a read. Lots of interesting stuff in there. Though ultimately I disagree with Zakaria's conclusions. But I'll get to that later. First a look at some of the more interesting bits.
This is basically a more eloquent version of the "Saddam's a bad guy, but..." preface used by so many anti-war types.
And we're going it "virtually alone"? Huh? I could have bought "without broad support from the international community" or "with less support than we'd like", but "virtually alone"? What's Britain, chopped liver? The U.S. government today released a list of 30 countries that plan to openly support the war effort against Saddam, including Japan, who have now signed on provisionally. A list that includes Spain, Portugal, Australia, Britain, and a majority of European nations is not, by any definition, "virtually alone".
At least Zakaria is balanced. He's right on this count, of course. Which makes Chirac's statement in his interview last Sunday that France was only helping Iraq build a "civilian reactor" that much more ludicrous.
That's a damn good question. Zakaria says that some Americans oversimplify the reasoning by blaming it on envy. Though he admits this may be a small part of it, he mostly blames the ineptitude of the Bush Administration's handling of international diplomacy and foreign affairs. More on that later, though.
Well, from what I've read, they mostly despise the idea of Kurdish nationalism that may be a result of such a war. But Zakaria ignores this possibility.
Well, now this is interesting. If the governments of democracies support us, but most of their people don't, what is that an indication of? Does that still mean we're "isolated"? And public opinion is often a fickle thing. I think the concept of leadership is an interesting one, especially when dealing with a democracy. Does being a leader mean slavishly following public opinion? If so, Clinton was a fine leader. He often swayed with public opinion. Or is a leader one who bucks public opinion when he or she has the firmness of their own convictions? I don't think the answer is a simple one. I think in terms of the leader of a democracy, they have an obligation to listen to the will of the people, but they also have an obligation to lead those very same people.
In any case, I would not, as Zakaria does, say that we're "isolated". Support is not broad, but it is not nonexistent.
Perhaps not. But that's not a justification for not going to war. I'm not sure anybody in the Administration does think that victory in Iraq will be some sort of panacea that makes everybody around the world like us. I certainly don't think that.
Those numbers are staggering, really. I wasn't aware of them myself. And I agree with Zakaria that this mismatch alone doesn't breed all the resentment now aimed at America. But I think it's a larger factor than he gives it credit for.
But we live in a different world now, and Zakaria knows it. Or perhaps he doesn't. There's increasing economic interdependency, massive technological advances in communication and computing, and a shrinking of the global village. There may have been an economic mismatch between America and other countries in 1950, but these days many more people in other countries are more acutely aware of it.
Then Zakaria turns his argument to the real root cause, diplomacy. FDR was apparently good at it. Bush and his team apparently suck, though.
In the section, "Where Bush Went Wrong" he notes:
And was this so out of touch with what many Americans want? I continually hear fellow Americans talk about reducing bases overseas, becoming less entangled in problems abroad, and becoming more isolationist overall. Was Bush being out of step by coming into office with these policies?
I don't happen to agree with them. I don't think it's possible for us to disengage from the world, or lessen our role in it. But I think many Americans do think that way, and I think Bush's early foreign policy reflected that.
Some real examples of this offensive language would have been appropriate (as opposed to parenthetical references to Teddy Roosevelt's portrait).
And what are the five international treaties we withdrew from? I know only of the ABM treaty, and I strongly agree that this was a horrible decision. The Missile Defense Shield is patently idiotic, as well as being perceived as overtly defiant and aggressive. But what are the other four? We never signed on to Kyoto, did we? So we couldn't have pulled out of a treaty we never entered.
I'm not sure this is a fair criticism. Zakaria makes this criticism after noting that 9/11 was the first attack on the mainland U.S. in 150 years. How many Presidents in the last 40 years had to deal with an attack on Washington? There are real security concerns that stem from the terrorist attacks fairly early in his Presidency. I'm not saying this is a sole excuse of lack of travel, but it is a factor.
And then Zakaria says things like this:
Huh? What the hell is he talking about? NATO surveillance planes flew over U.S. airspace in the days and weeks following 9/11, and their presence garnered a great deal of press coverage. The administration didn't "ignore" NATO after 9/11. They wholeheartedly welcomed their help.
According to Zakaria, yeah, the Bush Administration has done some good stuff:
But apparently this is overshadowed by our 'tude.
It's called applying pressure, dude. There's no telling how Bush might have responded if Hussein had produced his stocks of biological and chemical weapons, made a full disclosure, and begged for the mercy of the international community. But he didn't. So in the meantime we kept piling on pressure, and yes, preparing for the possiblity of war. This doesn't mean war was a foregone conclusion.
I think there would have been zero support for conflict if Iraq had actually complied with all of the resolutions. But he didn't, so we'll never know.
But Zakaria's thesis really boils down to this sentence:
He then goes on to praise Clinton's slickness. Perhaps he's right, but would you rather have a leader with style or substance? Both would be nice, but if you had to pick?
What's disgusting about this entire process surrounding Iraq, and what's really repugnant about Zakaria's apparent argument, is that if we'd only been a little slicker, we could have gotten more allies for the war.
Never mind the actual principles at stake. Never mind whether or not it's the right thing to do. Many of our supposed allies are either signing onto this war or opposing it based on the level of handouts, or because of prospective contracts. Makes me sick.
Very few nations seem to be making the decision based on principle. And despite the "No Blood for Oil" posters, I do believe that Bush believes what he's doing is the right course of action. This isn't to say he doesn't have ulterior motives, or that his religiosity isn't in fact guiding a large part of his mindset. But I honestly think that he thinks this is the right thing to do, for America and for the world. Maybe that makes me a dupe.
But I think this is even truer for Tony Blair. He is a political creature, but obviously not a purely political creature. From the comments and speeches of Tony Blair, I believe he's acting out of conviction that this is the best course of action. The same simply cannot be said of Jacques Chirac.
In any case, I agree with Zakaria on the point that the anti-Americanism so prevalent today does not have simple root causes. But I think he overstates the effect of the Bush administration's diplomacy, and downplays the economic and military divide. I agree that it's a combination of both, but differ with Zakaria about the relative weights to which they contribute.
As to how to alleviate it, I'm not sure there's much we can do in the short term. I think we're taking the right course of action in Iraq. I would like for us to rejoin the ABM treaty and sign on to Kyoto, but we won't.
But for all those who think Bush is the main problem, there is an election next year.
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