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The Arrogant Empire by Fareed Zakaria
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This Newsweek article is being widely linked-to around the net, hailed as an essential and comprehesive view of how America has screwed ourselves diplomatically, alienating all those people who used to be our friends, and leading us down the road to ruin.

Now first of all, the article is well-written, and I agree that it's worth a read. Lots of interesting stuff in there. Though ultimately I disagree with Zakaria's conclusions. But I'll get to that later. First a look at some of the more interesting bits.

FOR MORE THAN 25 years he has sought to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and has, in several documented cases, succeeded. He gassed 60,000 of his own people in 1986 in Halabja. He has launched two catastrophic wars, sacrificing nearly a million Iraqis and killing or wounding more than a million Iranians. He has flouted 16 United Nations resolutions over 12 years that have warned him to disarm or else, including one, four months ago, giving him a “final opportunity” to do so “fully and immediately” or face “serious consequences.” But in its campaign against Iraq, America is virtually alone.

This is basically a more eloquent version of the "Saddam's a bad guy, but..." preface used by so many anti-war types.

And we're going it "virtually alone"? Huh? I could have bought "without broad support from the international community" or "with less support than we'd like", but "virtually alone"? What's Britain, chopped liver? The U.S. government today released a list of 30 countries that plan to openly support the war effort against Saddam, including Japan, who have now signed on provisionally. A list that includes Spain, Portugal, Australia, Britain, and a majority of European nations is not, by any definition, "virtually alone".

It is also true that some of the governments opposing action in Iraq do so not for love of peace and international harmony but for more cynical reasons. France and Russia have a long history of trying to weaken the containment of Iraq to ensure that they can have good trading relations with it. France, after all, helped Saddam Hussein build a nuclear reactor that was obviously a launching pad for a weapons program. (Why would the world’s second largest oil producer need a nuclear power plant?) And France’s Gaullist tendencies are, of course, simply its own version of unilateralism.

At least Zakaria is balanced. He's right on this count, of course. Which makes Chirac's statement in his interview last Sunday that France was only helping Iraq build a "civilian reactor" that much more ludicrous.

But how to explain that the vast majority of the world, with little to gain from it, is in the Franco-Russian camp?

That's a damn good question. Zakaria says that some Americans oversimplify the reasoning by blaming it on envy. Though he admits this may be a small part of it, he mostly blames the ineptitude of the Bush Administration's handling of international diplomacy and foreign affairs. More on that later, though.

Some make the argument that Europeans are now pacifists, living in a “postmodern paradise,” shielded from threats and unable to imagine the need for military action. But then how to explain the sentiment in Turkey, a country that sits on the Iraqi border?

Well, from what I've read, they mostly despise the idea of Kurdish nationalism that may be a result of such a war. But Zakaria ignores this possibility.

In fact, while the United States has the backing of a dozen or so governments, it has the support of a majority of the people in only one country in the world, Israel. If that is not isolation, then the word has no meaning.

Well, now this is interesting. If the governments of democracies support us, but most of their people don't, what is that an indication of? Does that still mean we're "isolated"? And public opinion is often a fickle thing. I think the concept of leadership is an interesting one, especially when dealing with a democracy. Does being a leader mean slavishly following public opinion? If so, Clinton was a fine leader. He often swayed with public opinion. Or is a leader one who bucks public opinion when he or she has the firmness of their own convictions? I don't think the answer is a simple one. I think in terms of the leader of a democracy, they have an obligation to listen to the will of the people, but they also have an obligation to lead those very same people.

In any case, I would not, as Zakaria does, say that we're "isolated". Support is not broad, but it is not nonexistent.

In one respect, I believe that the Bush administration is right: this war will look better when it is over. The military campaign will probably be less difficult than many of Washington’s opponents think. Most important, it will reveal the nature of Saddam’s barbarous regime. Prisoners and political dissidents will tell stories of atrocities. Horrific documents will come to light. Weapons of mass destruction will be found. If done right, years from now people will remember above all that America helped rid Iraq of a totalitarian dictator.


But the administration is wrong if it believes that a successful war will make the world snap out of a deep and widening mistrust and resentment of American foreign policy. A war with Iraq, even if successful, might solve the Iraq problem. It doesn’t solve the America problem.

Perhaps not. But that's not a justification for not going to war. I'm not sure anybody in the Administration does think that victory in Iraq will be some sort of panacea that makes everybody around the world like us. I certainly don't think that.

The crucial measure of military might in the early 20th century was naval power, and Britain ruled the waves with a fleet as large as the next two navies put together. By contrast, the United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (yes, all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GDP, a low level by postwar standards.

American dominance is not simply military. The U.S. economy is as large as the next three—Japan, Germany and Britain—put together. With 5 percent of the world’s population, this one country accounts for 43 percent of the world’s economic production, 40 percent of its high-technology production and 50 percent of its research and development. If you look at the indicators of future growth, all are favorable for America. It is more dynamic economically, more youthful demographically and more flexible culturally than any other part of the world. It is conceivable that America’s lead, especially over an aging and sclerotic Europe, will actually increase over the next two decades.

Those numbers are staggering, really. I wasn't aware of them myself. And I agree with Zakaria that this mismatch alone doesn't breed all the resentment now aimed at America. But I think it's a larger factor than he gives it credit for.

But there lies a deep historical fallacy in the view that “they hate us because we are strong.” After all, U.S. supremacy is hardly a recent phenomenon. America has been the leading world power for almost a century now. By 1900 the United States was the richest country in the world. By 1919 it had decisively intervened to help win the largest war in history. By 1945 it had led the Allies to victory in World War II. For 10 years thereafter America accounted for 50 percent of world GDP, a much larger share than it holds today.

Yet for five decades after World War II, there was no general rush to gang up against the United States.

But we live in a different world now, and Zakaria knows it. Or perhaps he doesn't. There's increasing economic interdependency, massive technological advances in communication and computing, and a shrinking of the global village. There may have been an economic mismatch between America and other countries in 1950, but these days many more people in other countries are more acutely aware of it.

Then Zakaria turns his argument to the real root cause, diplomacy. FDR was apparently good at it. Bush and his team apparently suck, though.

In the section, "Where Bush Went Wrong" he notes:

Many conservatives thought the Clinton administration was over-involved in the world, especially in nation-building, and hectoring in its diplomacy. So Bush argued that America should be “a humble nation,” scale back its commitments abroad and not involve itself in rebuilding other countries.

And was this so out of touch with what many Americans want? I continually hear fellow Americans talk about reducing bases overseas, becoming less entangled in problems abroad, and becoming more isolationist overall. Was Bush being out of step by coming into office with these policies?

I don't happen to agree with them. I don't think it's possible for us to disengage from the world, or lessen our role in it. But I think many Americans do think that way, and I think Bush's early foreign policy reflected that.

In its first year the administration withdrew from five international treaties—and did so as brusquely as it could. It reneged on virtually every diplomatic effort that the Clinton administration had engaged in, from North Korea to the Middle East, often overturning public statements from Colin Powell supporting these efforts. It developed a language and diplomatic style that seemed calculated to offend the world. (President Bush has placed a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt in the White House. TR’s most famous words of advice are worth recalling: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”)

Some real examples of this offensive language would have been appropriate (as opposed to parenthetical references to Teddy Roosevelt's portrait).

And what are the five international treaties we withdrew from? I know only of the ABM treaty, and I strongly agree that this was a horrible decision. The Missile Defense Shield is patently idiotic, as well as being perceived as overtly defiant and aggressive. But what are the other four? We never signed on to Kyoto, did we? So we couldn't have pulled out of a treaty we never entered.

On an annual basis, George W. Bush has visited fewer foreign countries than any president in 40 years. Still, he does better than Dick Cheney, who has been abroad only once since becoming vice president.

I'm not sure this is a fair criticism. Zakaria makes this criticism after noting that 9/11 was the first attack on the mainland U.S. in 150 years. How many Presidents in the last 40 years had to deal with an attack on Washington? There are real security concerns that stem from the terrorist attacks fairly early in his Presidency. I'm not saying this is a sole excuse of lack of travel, but it is a factor.

And then Zakaria says things like this:

When NATO, for the first time in its history, invoked the self-defense clause and offered America carte-blanche assistance, the administration essentially ignored it.

Huh? What the hell is he talking about? NATO surveillance planes flew over U.S. airspace in the days and weeks following 9/11, and their presence garnered a great deal of press coverage. The administration didn't "ignore" NATO after 9/11. They wholeheartedly welcomed their help.

According to Zakaria, yeah, the Bush Administration has done some good stuff:

The Bush administration could reasonably point out that it doesn’t get enough credit for reaching out to the rest of the world. President Bush has, after all, worked with the United Nations on Iraq, increased foreign aid by 50 percent, announced a $15 billion AIDS program and formally endorsed a Palestinian state.

But apparently this is overshadowed by our 'tude.

Diplomatically, it had promised a good-faith effort to watch how the inspections were going; militarily, it was gearing up for war with troops that could not stay ready in the desert forever.

It's called applying pressure, dude. There's no telling how Bush might have responded if Hussein had produced his stocks of biological and chemical weapons, made a full disclosure, and begged for the mercy of the international community. But he didn't. So in the meantime we kept piling on pressure, and yes, preparing for the possiblity of war. This doesn't mean war was a foregone conclusion.

I think there would have been zero support for conflict if Iraq had actually complied with all of the resolutions. But he didn't, so we'll never know.

But Zakaria's thesis really boils down to this sentence:

In diplomacy, style is often substance.

He then goes on to praise Clinton's slickness. Perhaps he's right, but would you rather have a leader with style or substance? Both would be nice, but if you had to pick?

What's disgusting about this entire process surrounding Iraq, and what's really repugnant about Zakaria's apparent argument, is that if we'd only been a little slicker, we could have gotten more allies for the war.

Never mind the actual principles at stake. Never mind whether or not it's the right thing to do. Many of our supposed allies are either signing onto this war or opposing it based on the level of handouts, or because of prospective contracts. Makes me sick.

Very few nations seem to be making the decision based on principle. And despite the "No Blood for Oil" posters, I do believe that Bush believes what he's doing is the right course of action. This isn't to say he doesn't have ulterior motives, or that his religiosity isn't in fact guiding a large part of his mindset. But I honestly think that he thinks this is the right thing to do, for America and for the world. Maybe that makes me a dupe.

But I think this is even truer for Tony Blair. He is a political creature, but obviously not a purely political creature. From the comments and speeches of Tony Blair, I believe he's acting out of conviction that this is the best course of action. The same simply cannot be said of Jacques Chirac.

In any case, I agree with Zakaria on the point that the anti-Americanism so prevalent today does not have simple root causes. But I think he overstates the effect of the Bush administration's diplomacy, and downplays the economic and military divide. I agree that it's a combination of both, but differ with Zakaria about the relative weights to which they contribute.

As to how to alleviate it, I'm not sure there's much we can do in the short term. I think we're taking the right course of action in Iraq. I would like for us to rejoin the ABM treaty and sign on to Kyoto, but we won't.

But for all those who think Bush is the main problem, there is an election next year.

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