Friday, July 16, 2004

Benign isolationism?

This article from The New Republic approaches from another angle a subject that my co-worker Eddie and I were speaking about on Wednesday.  Kaplan argues that my nation's public seems weary after the past 3 1/2 years, in which, far from History having "ended," it arose from its grave and grabbed us by the throat--and (my little addition follows here), just like in Night of the Living Dead, our response was to set it on fire.  Though Kaplan doesn't say this, it could also be that even embedded in Bush's recent mantra that "America is safer" is the suggestion that we can relax a bit now . . . though, as some writers have noted recently, he and Cheney have offered few second-term proposals beyond "Stay tuned."  But no matter how much we may want to collectively chill, Kaplan goes on to say, the world has a history of not letting us do so, and it's not likely to do so now.
My friend Eddie and I were talking about all this on Wednesday.  Eddie, I must say, is one of those friends who is a bit frustrating to have as a friend: he's pretty well read, especially in terms of politics and social history, but he absolutely LOVES to talk, most often without establishing beforehand that his targeted audience has either time or inclination to BE his audience.  He literally does not greet me when he and I first  see each other in the mornings; he begins to talk as though a few minutes had interrupted us instead of (in the case of my schedule) a full day and a half.
Anyway.  We both agree that it's incredibly naive on the part of some people who say we have to pull out of Iraq as soon as possible as a way to atone for our ill-advised adventure there in the first place.  I argue here that we now have no choice but to stay and make as certain as we can that Iraq becomes a bona-fide self-governing entity, and we have no choice because our very actions have made it thus.  With Eddie, I furthered that argument (and here we link up with Kaplan): that to my mind, what the Bush administration has committed us to--the eventual democratization of the Middle East-- is not some short-term adventure . . . assuming, of course, we think that's something worth pursuing. 
For the record: I think it is, but as Iraq shows me, though people can certainly agree as to the ends, the means by which we achieve them are another matter.  We have to do this.  We must show everyone--not just Arabs, but our allies and ourselves--that these ideals we claim to have entered into Iraq for mean something, that "democratization" is not a mere political goal but a policy that that transcends a president's term or a political party's platform.  And we must do this in order to repair the damage we've caused to our image in the world as a result of Iraq.  Otherwise, we'll continue to see our prestige in the world slip away; even our allies will cease to trust us, much less support our actions; and would our enemies need any more provocation?  To be sure: we ARE weary of all this history, but a goodly portion of it we have brought on ourselves.  To claim weariness and then withdraw now would be to quit, to retreat--but it would also signal to the world that we don't see our own democratic principles as worth even working for, much less fighting for.


Alex said...

I couldn’t resist adding my 2 cents to the discussion. I think that your country has been promoted to parent of the world whether you like it or not. I’m not very good at history but didn’t previous parenting go like this: Spain in the 1500’s, Britain from about 1600 - 1950 (up to the political dissolution of the Commonwealth)? In fact I seem to recall that your nation was very naughty somewhere in the 1700’s with your fight for independence somewhat along what the Iraqui’s are doing today. You probably used the same methods commensurate with the available technology of the 1700’s. I suspect that the British soldier in 1700 wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about going over to America to fight uncivilized natives in awful surroundings when compared to cultured Britain and its’ obvious benefits. In other words I don’t think that people have changed much over the millania. You also cannot abandon your children even if you are sick and tired of them. To continue the analogy doesn’t the child think that his parents are the worst abomination on earth and hopelessly out of touch with reality??? Like it or not, President Bush is stuck in the role of the "parent" and since there is no parenting manual its’ learn on the run. The Kerry / Edwards ticket plays the role of the "parental expert" which has lots of advice ( Let America be America Again) or by inference (Let the children find their own way again) without having any real world hands on experience beyond academia (Congress / Senate).

John B. said...

About a month ago on NPR there was an interview with two writers who had just published books that echo your contention that the U.S., by default, is the new/preeminent (and a bit reluctant) imperial power in the world; I've tried looking at NPR's website to find a link to send to you, but no luck. I think Kaplan's article approaches that same idea, but from a different direction. Like it or not, my country is in this position--THAT's not the issue. What IS at stake is how my nation will behave now that it's king of the hill. I think--that is, I hope--that Iraq has taught us that, while it's relatively easy for us to fight conventional wars and achieve traditional military objectives, for the much trickier business of winning the peace, we still need the help of other nations and the UN . . . and that maybe, if we had waited for a critical mass of world opinion to form on the question of Iraq, there might not have been a war at all AND we might have gotten our wish of either forcing Saddam Hussein to leave or, at the very least, isolating him still further.