We promised increased billions in foreign aid to our allies, much of which is borrowed from foreign bondholders, along the lines of, “Dear China, could you lend us another $2 billion at 3 percent to help Pakistan, and then please act as if the ensuing grant is really our money?” Apparently, we really must believe that America is exceptional to try to get away with that.
America is terribly worried about the volatility of the oil-exporting Middle East, and that is why we put large regions of the United States and its coasts off limits for new oil, gas, and tar-sands exploration. Apparently other countries can extract and export oil in far more environmentally sound fashion than can America, and, in any case, we have plenty of cash reserves to import at high prices.
What diagnosis might we make on the basis of such symptomology?
The United States is doing its best to reassure the world it is not following George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism policies by often following George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism policies. The earlier Afghan war was not a mistake, and that is why Afghanistan is still violent and our troops are still being deployed there; while the later Iraq war was a mistake, and that is why Iraq is now quiet and our troops are leaving.
Countries that are pro-Western are somewhat suspect and do not warrant the same level of trust as those which in the past were overtly anti-American — apparently either because prior positive views of the Bush administration render them now suspect, or because resistance to an anti-American regime makes grass-roots dissidents somehow less than genuine or authentic. Past alliances during world wars, and shared support for capitalism, free markets, and constitutional government, are relevant only in the sense that such kindred countries have, like us, a lot of apologizing to do.
Left-wing governments that brutalize their people and deny them freedom — like Cuba’s or Venezuela’s — offer interesting opportunities for new relations. The president’s mixed heritage, his patrimonial tie to Islam, his exotic nomenclature, his progressive Chicago past — all that allows him to meet and conduct business with Third World leaders in a way impossible under a white southern conservative like President Bush. That is a rare advantage that we should not squander by mindlessly supporting the removal of such dictators by their own angry people.
The degree to which America deems itself not exceptional is in direct proportion to the fact that it does consider itself quite exceptional in its entitlement to borrow trillions of dollars on the world stage and consume world oil that it will not itself produce.
There is also another possible diagnosis for all these symptoms: We simply have no clue what the United States is or should be doing, and we more or less make things up as we go — day by day.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.