Odious and Peculiar
Philology and esoterica: scribblings, ravings and mutterings.
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Friday, September 17, 2004
I don't usually post on politics, viewing that swamp as one best left to fester on its own. But I came to a realization today, which, despite the fact that it has most likely been stated earlier and more coherently, I feel compelled to record.
America has two enemies. In point of fact, she has rather more than that, but the two of which I am thinking are Islamic terrorists and "old Europe". The difficulty with these two enemies is not only that they support each other (France's perfidy in Iraq slowly coming to light), but also that the methods of dealing with one will only encourage and strengthen the other.
The danger from old Europe is primarily diplomatic and economic. They can and do tie us in various knots through international treaties and the efforts of the United Nations. Because some percentage of our population insists on regarding anything "international" as slightly less, and often rather more, important than a mandate from Heaven itself, we generally make the appropriate noises and follow such rules as do not seriously inconvenience us. Moreover, we do this because old Europe, despite its insistence on semi-socialism, is a powerful economic force, and one which could make life extremely unpleasant for us. We had, since the beginning of the Cold War up until, oh, say, 9/10, gone to great lengths to prove ourselves a team player, in order to give old Europe no excuse to gang up on us, like Lilliputians binding Gulliver.
Let us not underestimate this threat. Europe possesses a greater population, and by some measures a larger economy than we do. Great European nations have traditionally fallen to alliances of convenience, formed only to destroy those who grew too large (I ignore Rome). History makes no allowances for virtue; the merciful and the ruthless have alike been destroyed. While I doubt that they would attempt a military solution to their problem at the moment, having disarmed themselves in order to enjoy a thirty-five hour work week, when are troops are withdrawn from Germany the story may change. Germany, unused to a lack of protection, begins to increase the size of its army, leading to unrest amongst the populace; France, recognizing this scenario from early in the 20th century, does the same. Both countries are more closely allied to each other than to us, and find in us --even today-- a convenient common enemy. When they need someone at whom to point their guns, we become an excellent target--once they have enough. This sequence of events is hypothetical and even a hypothesis for the distant future. But it is, I think, plausible.
Even though we would win such a conflict, it is best avoided. For this reason we made concessions to Europe, paying our Dane-geld in words and diplomatic concessions. President Clinton was a master of this diplomacy. Despite the fact that he would never have ratified the Kyoto treaty (and our straight-forward declaration that we would not cripple our economy has been cited innumerable times as an example of American arrogance), he allowed us to pretend that there was a possibility of our doing so. So long as we were playing their game, the Europeans were happy. Indeed, we were "allowed" to engage in various military expeditions, so long as we threw a bone to the ungrateful dog of International Opinion. All this changed on September 11th.
We had concentrated on one enemy at the cost of ignoring others. Suddenly it was brought home to us that we could be attacked and hurt on our own soil; that there were indeed enemies less subtle and perhaps more dangerous than sly fonctionnaires. We could no longer pretend that, when it truly mattered, we would first seek the advice and permission of our European "allies". We needed to strike this new enemy, Islamic terrorists, with overwhelming force. Which we promptly did.
There is still a great deal to be done to meet this threat. But we have almost completely destroyed Al Qaeda's power in Afghanistan. We have removed from power a mad dictator who was constantly attempting to gain weapons of mass destruction. We have isolated Iran, home to one of the most inimical regimes in the Middle East. The War on Terror is far from over--but we are hitting back now, and hitting very, very hard.
It was a strange thing to many of us when we discovered that the terrorists had not expected us to fight back. They had been fooled by our weak response to various other acts of terrorism into believing that we had lost the will to fight. They saw us as a paper tiger, bound by a paper chain of treaties and agreements. They were not expecting us to burst that chain and defend ourselves.
The dividends of a strong military strategy have not simply been the conquest of countries. Al Qaeda, once extremely popular among Muslims of a certain age and sex, now meets with at least verbal disapproval. We have shown ourselves to be, in the often quoted words of Osama bin Laden, the "strong horse".
And Europe is extremely displeased about it. We find ourselves in the middle of a storm of anti-Americanism. At the moment this feeling hurts them more than it hurts us; we can do without French tourists rather more easily than France can do without ours. But we cannot forever ignore that opinion of old Europe, as I hope I have shown above.
The difficulty is that the very strategy which discourages terrorists (despite all sophistries about asking ourselves "why they hate us") is the one which encourages old Europe to view us as an enemy. And the strategy which pacifies old Europe encourages terrorists to greater acts of violence, in the assurance that we have lost the will to fight. We cannot both ignore and insist on International Agreements being honored, as France or Russia might. We are too prominent, and moreover, other countries are too predisposed to view us as arrogant, or indeed as a threatening power. They are, of course, right to do so--we could easily destroy any "old European" military. What holds us in check is our sense of ethics, in addition to a general apathy towards world conquest. This is not a restraint which old Europe trusts. And now that we have shown that they cannot restrain us, they worry that we will come for them next. And so they must devise new restraints for us. The danger is that these restraints will be such as to threaten the peace of the world--and threaten to distract from an enemy which is, if only it might be admitted, common to all civilized peoples.
I ignore Russia, China, and North Korea, as enemies beyond the scope of this post. The interlocking and conflicting strategies for dealing with them are quite beyond me.
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