One day last month, 100,000 Irish people took to the streets of Dublin to demonstrate against war in the Gulf. Although it was a protest against war, all of the posters were aimed at George W. Bush, Tony Blair, and Israel. None were directed against Saddam Hussein, as though he had no part to play in preventing war.
This was a march of the well-intentioned but naïve, the duped, the ignorant, and those who simply hate America.
The demonstration in Ireland was, of course, typical of what took place all over Europe on that day, and in protests since. Such is the level of domestic opposition to the war — that the Irish government came under severe pressure to deny landing rights to U.S. military flights wishing to refuel in Ireland on their way to the Gulf. On Thursday a vote was held in our parliament which authorized the continuation of refueling rights despite the level of public opposition to them. But the fact that the vote had to take place at all gives an indication of the depth of ill-will towards America that exists in Ireland, and in most of Europe, at present.
Frankly, I cannot remember a time when I have felt so alienated from so many of my fellow citizens or my fellow Europeans. It is even worse than when Ronald Reagan was in power and protesters took to the streets in huge numbers to protest against the deployment of Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe. Was it this bad during the Vietnam War? I am too young to remember. It is hard to believe that it could have been.
Well, let me, for one, put it on the record: I like America. I value America as an ally. I believe that Ireland would have had no economic boom were it not for America. I believe America is a force for good in the world. No, more than that; I believe that if America did not exist the world would be far worse off than it is. We would be poorer and less free. Where would the huddled masses go to escape from economic misery and political oppression? We would have no one to rescue us from madmen and dictators of every kind.
I am glad America came to our aid in World War I. I am glad America helped to defeat Germany and Japan during World War II. I am grateful for the Marshall Aid plan which helped to rebuild Europe. I am grateful for the fact that the United States faced down the Soviet Union during the long and dangerous years of the Cold War. I am glad that America was willing to sacrifice its own to save Korea and I regret that South Korea is now becoming irrationally nationalistic and anti-American. I am even glad that America attempted to defeat the Communists in Vietnam. I only regret that it failed to do so. Had it succeeded, there can be no doubt that South Vietnam would by now be on the same road to economic prosperity as South Korea.
Of course, America’s critics say that America only intervened in Europe when it had to. They say that the Marshall Aid plan was needed because shattered Europe was no good as a trading partner. They say that America confronted the Soviet Union in order to keep the world safe for capitalism. They say that America is never altruistic, that it only ever acts in its own self-interest.
And up to a point, it’s true. America, like every other country in history acts in its own self-interest. But what a definition of self-interest! This is the kind of self-interest the world needs. It is self-interest that sees there is more to be gained by rebuilding your enemies than by crushing them underfoot. It is self-interest that knows freedom and democracy do not build true rivals in the old historical sense, but allies and trading partners. Has there ever been a great power like this?
No one claims that America does not make bad decisions, and can never be petty-minded or vain, or vulgar, or materialistic. But give me America any day over any of the available alternatives. I hate the fact that America and Iraq find themselves at war again, but I think America and Britain (and let’s not forget Australia) and the rest of the “Coalition of the willing” are right to strike at Saddam Hussein. Yes, it’s a risk, but to do nothing would be an even bigger risk. I am thankful that in America, and in Britain, we have at least two countries that appraise the world realistically and are not content to remain in a fantasyland in which we believe that all disagreements can be resolved simply by good intentions. And, of course, we know that if the world ever does turn into the sort of peaceful place we all long for, it will be because of America and its realism, and not because of its critics and their delusions.
I wish America and Britain a swift victory as they fight this war. It is a pity more countries are not with them. It’s a pity my own country is not there.
— David Quinn is a columnist with The Sunday Times (Ireland edition).