The United States is not just the world’s sole superpower, it is the world’s only responsible power.
Consider the recent action related to a peacekeeping force taking control of southern Lebanon from Hezbollah. France initially agreed with the United States on a United Nations resolution creating an international force that would operate with robust rules of engagement to confront the terrorist guerrilla group. When the Arabs balked, France insisted that the rules of engagement be made considerably vaguer. Since France was going to lead the force, the U.S. deferred to Paris, which has subsequently said that it will contribute only 200 combat engineers to the force because … the rules on engagement are so vague.
This is a spectacularly bald-faced diplomatic double-cross that makes one wonder if Secretary of State Condi Rice was wearing a “Kick Me” sign when she voted for the resolution in New York. It sinks any hope of a lasting settlement in southern Lebanon and further undermines the credibility of the United Nations. But the French don’t care. They were able to serve their political purposes in the Middle East by triangulating between the United States and the Arabs. Consequences be damned.
Say what you will about the efficacy or delicacy of U.S. foreign policy, this is cynicism, bad faith, and rank selfishness of which America is almost incapable as a world power. Indeed, in our willingness serially to believe the unreliable assurances of the French, we are an innocent abroad. First, they snookered us three years ago into believing that they wouldn’t kick up trouble for us at the U.N. in the event Saddam Hussein didn’t fully comply with his disarmament obligations. Now, we have been played the fool in Lebanon.
The root of our seeming naïveté is the earnest desire to deal with world problems. Saddam was a menace, but France and Germany were content to play diplomatic and political games at our expense. Southern Lebanon is, as we have seen in recent weeks, a deep source of instability in the region. The U.S. wanted to craft a long-term solution, but since we weren’t going to send troops ourselves, we needed a partner. Enter: France. Exit: any chance of a real settlement.
Civilization simply lacks backbone without the United States in the lead. Everyone agrees that a nuclear North Korea is a danger, but Russia and China play the role of enablers. Everyone thinks the same about Iran, but Europe is willing only to dither. Everyone thinks Iraq descending into chaos would be a disaster, but only the U.S. is pouring major resources into preventing it (granted, it’s our baby). Everyone supports the Afghan war, and NATO is actually pitching in there, but the Taliban is emboldened on the assumption that our European allies won’t have the same commitment to doing the job that we do.
This is not to say that the U.S. is flawless. Our mistakes, however, tend to be the products of an excess of zeal and idealism. We don’t do coldblooded calculation well. Some of this is the product of being a superpower — dishonest diplomatic ploys are beneath us. Some of it is the nature of our democracy, which values openness and honesty.
Paranoid critics charge that we are in Iraq to control its oil. The French could have pulled off such a self-serving maneuver clothed in idealism, but we are in Iraq for exactly the achingly innocent reasons we say. We are spending and bleeding there trying to plant a liberal democracy in the hardscrabble soil of Mesopotamia.
When President Bush is gone, conservative foreign policy will change. But it won’t be a change the foreign-policy establishment likes. It won’t be toward a let’s-talk-even-more-to-the-French multilateralism as represented by Nebraska’s tiresome Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. It will be something more selfish and hardheaded, something more French in its motivation — Bush without the soft touches. Then, the world will miss the earnest do-gooding United States of old.
— Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
© 2006 by King Features Syndicate