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No, You Get Real


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Mark Steyn

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the October 11, 2004, issue of National Review.

As this unworthy election campaign heads toward its finale, there’s a growing consensus among sections of the Right that John Kerry missed a trick. George Will puts it most forcefully: The Democratic nominee should have mounted “a root-and-branch critique of the stunningly anticonservative idea animating the administration’s policy. The idea, a tenet of neoconservatism, is that all nations are more or less ready for democracy.”

In other words, the Iraq project is founded on the kind of sappy cotton-candy delusion that hitherto only the most foolish multiculti liberals have fallen for.

First things first: There are several just-about-viable positions Senator Kerry could take on Iraq, and at one time or another he’s taken most of them, sometimes on the same weekend. But running as Henry Kissinger isn’t one of them. Hard-nosed foreign-policy realism necessarily involves taking a dimmer view of the natives than Democratic-party pieties will permit. That’s why blaming it all on Halliburton works better as the default option.

As to whether “nation-building” is stunningly anticonservative, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a “neocon.” I’m a foreigner and I have only a hazy grasp of what a neocon is. I’m a subject of Her Britannic Majesty and in my country, Canada, insofar as any of our institutions work, they do so because they derive from Britain. That’s true of a lot of the world–St. Lucia, Australia, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Tuvalu . . . It’s worth considering, for example, what the Indian subcontinent would be like if it weren’t the world’s biggest Westminster-style democracy. Without the long British experience, it might look something like the Middle East–a patchwork of princely states presided over by sultans and maharajahs, Hindu and Muslim, punctuated by thug dictatorships following Baath-type local variations on fascism and Marxism. It would be a profoundly unstable region with a swollen uneducated citizenry of little use for call centers or tech support.

Can the Arabs be turned into Indians? I don’t know. But I do know that a half-century of American “realpolitik” in the Middle East–the absurd inflation of the Saudi “royal” family, the lavish subsidies to the Mubaraks–brought us 9/11. The foreign-policy realists turned out to be totally unreal. So we need to do something else. P. J. O’Rourke takes the Will line a stage further: The U.S. military, he says, is good for blowing stuff up but not for any of this post-detonation “reconstruction” nonsense. So, if we have any problems with some two-bit dictator, we should go in, whack the bad guy, leave, and let the locals squabble over who gets to be the next bad guy. If he causes trouble, we whack him, and withdraw again. Repeat as necessary. From the U.S. taxpayer’s point of view, this would be relatively inexpensive.

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