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Moving On
Rhetoric at war with reality.


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Victor Davis Hanson

Recently George Bush met hostile crowds and a critical press during a 34-nation Summit of the Americas. Leftists and elite commentators criticized his recent proposals to liberalize American markets from Canada to Chile even though such an enlightened policy would be deeply resented by many American unions and small businesses here at home, but of inestimable value to South American exporters with their much cheaper costs of production.

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Perhaps this automatic anti-Americanism that clouds Latin American self-interest is a result of the present hysteria over Iraq or the foul fumes from American corporations of the 1950s.

Maybe countries like Argentina, in the manner of post-Soviet Russia, allowed corruption and cronyism to subvert overdue market-driven reforms and now need a convenient scapegoat for their own self-induced miseries.

Or is the furor due to the influence of Hugo Chavez’s billions of petrodollars? He has promiscuously spread money throughout Latin America and tends to prop up socialist policies that otherwise would probably fail.

Still, one wonders what would have been the reaction of the various anti-American protesters had the president agreed with much of their clamoring to be free of influence of the United States. Maybe George Bush could have offered something more palatable such as the following:

Unfortunately at a time of trade imbalances, budget deficits, and security concerns, the United States regrets that it must consider first the interests of its own small businesses and workers. So sadly it must maintain or increase its protection of the domestic American market, restrict the remittances of illegal aliens back to Latin America, and close our borders to the entry of all illegal aliens from the south.

Recently the Spanish High Court Judge Santiago Pedraz issued international arrest warrants for three American soldiers, charging them with murder in the accidental death of a Spanish cameraman at the Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel on April 8, 2003. The idea of Pedraz and many of his associates is that Spain is now the world’s custodian of universal justice and can indict those it feels commit crimes against humanity–or at least sort of.

In the world of the utopian European, Pinochet is logically indicted for killing thousands, but strangely not Castro for tens of thousands. American soldiers in the heat of battle are deemed criminals for accidents in the way that former Eastern European and Soviet intelligence officers truly responsible for thousands killed not to mention top al Qaeda officials. If the French police or military gets a little too heavy-handed against Muslim rioters, none will be indicted by Judge Pedraz.

More curiously, Judge Pedraz seems oblivious that there are thousands of American personnel not far away from his courtroom stationed on Spanish soil. So rather than charging Americans for supposed wartime crimes in distant Iraq, cannot the Spanish, to ensure a more sensitive military landscape, instead simply ask us to leave their country entirely–and allow the defense of Spain to become strictly a Spanish matter? Most Americans and Spanish alike would welcome the idea–perhaps the former far more than the latter.

It is now common knowledge that Iran is hell bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. It has three or four probable aims in doing so. Blackmail worked in the case of North Korea, giving an otherwise failed state cash, food, “peaceful” nuclear expertise, and, most importantly, global attention. Iran might win the same from the EU.

Or it could gain the type of deterrence that Pakistan has obtained with both the United States and India, allowing it even greater exemption to fund and host terrorists.

Or, as its so-called president suggested, it might wish to wipe out Israel–either on the frightening premise it could survive such an Armageddon and Israel would not, or on the lunatic assumption that it was willing to go to a collective paradise, martyring itself to end once and for all the Zionist plague.

Or, perhaps Iran wishes to supply stealthy nuclear devices to groups like Hezbollah that could terrorize the West while allowing Iran deniability of culpability and thus avoidance of massive retaliation.

In any case, it is clearly not in the interest of the United Nations nor the European Union nor the Arab League that Iran goes nuclear. It is even more evident that no one apparently can stop it–despite all the remonstrations of the three EU nations talking to Iran, a Peace Prize to Mr. El-Baradei, and grandstanding slurs against a supposedly trigger-happy United States from Germany and France.

In response, perhaps the United States should declare something like the following:

Iran’s nuclear ambitions are both an internal and regional matter that properly fall under the auspices of the U.N., EU, and Arab League. Our own strategies–missile defense and massive nuclear response to any attack–are designed to protect the United States and its allies; but we certainly would not wish to prejudice alternative avenues of national or global approaches undertaken by others, and most definitely do not wish to interfere in the internal affairs of Iran.

All these examples–and far more could be adduced–reveal a radical disconnect between rhetoric and reality. South Americans want unfettered access into America’s markets, assume thousands will illegally cross into the United States, and welcome in return billions in cash remittances. Similarly, Spain assumes perpetual NATO protection. In reality that means that the U.S. nuclear deterrent and its vast conventional forces will keep the Mediterranean and Western Europe free from outside threats at little cost to Spain, with a relatively low American profile, and in consultation with Spanish officials. The bad cop United States is not unwelcome to anyone dealing with Iran, because all accept that the scary scenario–America is the only power with the capability and will to stop Iran’s nuclear roguery–is not as bad as the worse alternative of the theocracy becoming a major nuclear power.

Why then all the dissimilation? The most obvious answer is pride, envy, jealousy, and all the other primordial emotions that the weak and the vulnerable harbor against the strong and autonomous.

Second, for all our pride, we are not like the once-powerful–and scary–Soviet Union, so Latin Americans and Europeans know that there is rarely any price to be paid for attacking the United States. Slandering us is a win-win situation–cowardly and expedient to be sure, but hardly like indicting bin Laden or embargoing Iranian oil. No Argentinean is furious over Chinese unfair trade; no Spaniard protests Russian oilmen for spoiling the arctic. And worse still, we know why.

Third, so far anti-Americanism is tactically smart. The heated rhetoric of the extremists makes others seem moderate. So Latin American leaders can grudgingly “take political risks” to “permit” America to accept their cheap products into the United States. The leftwing Spanish government can pose as responsible in opposing its own court’s theatrics. The Europeans and U.N. can apologize to Iran that it is forced into such unpleasant dialogue by the alternative specter of American preemption and unilateralism.

Fourth, the world since the Cold War has become a much wealthier and safer place with the demise of nuclear and intercontinental Communism, and the onset of globalization. Latin Americans are furious not that they are starving in 1950s fashion, but that their glimpse of parity with the affluent United States is slipping away. Spaniards are safe and secure, but in typical human fashion of ever rising expectations, even more apprehensive that things are not as heaven on earth. And Europeans and internationalists are frustrated with Iran. It has oil and money and has been left alone, so why would it wish to ruin a good thing and call the bluff of their new enlightened order?

Are there any dangers to this game of rhetoric masking reality? Plenty. It is now old, tiring, and predictable. The American people are on to the fraud, and probably don’t much care for another free trade agreement with ingrates who slander what benefits them. They are tired of NATO and want it to nobly die on the vine and allow utopians to get a taste of the real world they so disdain. And wisely or not, they are not too fond of the Middle East and pretty much want those whom Iran immediately threatens to deal with it on their own and count us out. Our critics forget that American foreign policy is ultimately simply a representation of collective will. Nations are simply people, and thus subject to emotional urges that often trump reason.

So by castigating the U.S., critics forget that their long-term welfare is not the same as the short-term interests of America. Open markets, military alliances between liberal democracies, and sober joint actions now to prevent worse threats later on are to everyone’s advantage. But for right now, the United States might benefit by not welcoming any additional free and unfair trade with South America, or spending billions on European defense, or taking on any more burdens in the Middle East.

In contrast, an India, Japan, and Australia are proud and confident nations. They don’t indict our citizens and often appreciate an American global role, whether outsourcing jobs or patrolling regional waters. Unlike the U.N., the EU, and South America, they spare us the sanctimonious lectures and look forward rather than nurse wounds of the past.

The world is changing as we speak. The great untold story of our age is that others need to get a life and the United States needs to move on.

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His latest book is A War Like No Other. How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.



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