It's no secret that as of late, a rather big gap has opened between the United States and its Western allies.
It's not just with a supposedly resentful France, as demonstrated by the recent German federal elections.
It's not just with a supposedly decadent continental Europe, as demonstrated by the distinct possility that if Tony Blair does take the United Kingdom into Iraq alongside the United States, he'll be abruptly jettisoned by Labour just as Thatcher was discarded by the Tories a decade before.
It's not just with a supposedly inherently anti-American European Union, as evidenced by the reluctance in Canada and Australia to go to war alongside the US.
It's not just Iraq: There's the International Criminal Court (I'm generally unconvinced by American arguments), there's the Kyoto Protocols (a flawed but necessary first step IMHO), there's the unilateralism decried by the world.
In a real sense, it's a case of the US versus Everyone Else.
I was visiting slayage.com--a daily-updated links page for Buffy the Vampire Slayer
-related articles--when I came across the remarkable article Buffy, the U.N. slayer"
. It was written by National Review Online
editor Jonah Goldberg, who stated that:[I]n one episode Buffy desperately needs the Council of Watchers' help to fight an especially powerful enemy (an ancient pagan god or some such). The council attempts to use this opportunity to regain its influence over Buffy, forcing her to agree to all sorts of new Slayer regulations. And then, at the end of the program, it occurs to the Buffmeister that she doesn't have to put up with any of it. "I have the power," she explains to the stuffy, and typically British, Watchers.
Without Buffy, the council is nothing more than a debating society, an irrelevant club. At the end of the day, it's Buffy, and not the Watchers, who has to do all of the fighting. So, she says to the Watchers, if you help me now, I will let you in on the action. Don't help me and my job will be harder, but your job will be irrelevant.
Now, the last part should sound familiar to anyone who knows about President Bush's speech to the United Nations earlier this month. President Bush informed the U.N. that if it doesn't help America slay the threat posed by Baghdad, the United States will do it without the U.N. As a result, the United States' job will be harder, but the U.N. will become an irrelevant League of Nations.
America the Chosen One?
There is quite a lot of anti-American criticism out there that is fatuous, and ridiculous. The United States, I'd wager, is acting no more autocratically than, oh, mid-19th century Britain, and is no more dangerous to world peace and progress than that same hegemonic Britain. I'd state confidently that it is certainly far more benign than comparable Soviet hegemony would be, or even a modern Chinese, Indian, or Russian hegemony. (The European Union would be different, but it's not yet a confederative state with a single more-or-less coherent foreign and security policy. When it does establish itself as such, interesting things ahead.)
Still, I find quite a few actions of the Dubya administration rather galling. I'm particularly concerned by the impending US imperial adventure in Iraq. Saddam's an evil man, certainly. The impending elimination of Saddam Hussein, though, seems like it will take place at least as much for the need to go after any state following the inconclusive engagements with al-Qaeda and the reality of Iraq's modernization. (There's also Dubya's family feud and concerns for cheap oil, but those factors are secondary.) The US can pull this off, of course, in the narrow sense of eliminating the Iraqi regime. I'm concerned, though, at the apparent lack of any viable plan for Iraq after Saddam: The figures touted by the US as Iraq's future leaders
, as Charlie Stross
observes, aren't very encouraging: Meet General Nizar Al-Khazraji -- former Iraqi chief of staff, highest level defector to the west, accused of using chemical weapons against Halabja in 1988 and kicking a baby to death in front of witnesses (among other crimes). Or Brigadier-General Najib Al-Salihi, who suppressed the post-1991 rebellion in Iraq (in which numerous civilians were murdered, in some cases by being hanged from the gun barrels of tanks, and 1.5 million Iraqis fled their homes). And meet Ahmad Al-Chalabi, who isn't a war criminal and who runs the Iraqi National Congress (a CIA-funded opposition group) and is under threat of a 32-year prison sentence in Jordan for embezzlement on an heroic scale.
Let's not mention the possibilities of an Israeli retaliation if Saddam actually launches some weapon of mass destruction at Israel and it gets through the imperfect ABM defenses. And the possibility that if the US does conquer Iraq and does get embroiled in nation-building (for which the precedents are not good, see Somalia and South Vietnam), the bloody messy aftermath will wreck the United States' credit with the wider world. (Not my argument, actually; Immannuel Wallerstein's in the past summer's Foreign Policy
I'm not an American. I've no desire to be an American. But from my experience in the United States, though (hi Tom, Jonathan, Naomi, Derrick!), I can say that I quite like Americans, and I like the United States. The US is a different country, to be sure--at least based on my experience in Virginia and New York City--but it's nicely different. I really don't want the US to get badly hurt in coming months and years, or hurt at all. I can't help but feel, though, that if Dubya continues to ignore the United States' allies for the past half-century, let's the gap expand even as he gets the US involved chin-deep in a long messy occupation of Iraq, he's going to hurt his country. That's the consequences of American exceptionalism.
In the next post in this thread: Why I think the US is so different.