Friday, August 15, 2003

Victor Davis Hanson and the Bird's Eye View

Thanks to a link from the Naked Villainy blog, I went and read Victor Davis Hanson's recent piece titled "The Awakening." Hanson's article is sweeping in scope and says much the same thing that many people, especially conservatives, have been saying since before the war.

I didn't end up agreeing with everything Hanson wrote, and I'd like to go through the article, not to fisk (I rarely do that), but simply to comment.

Hanson's "awakening" refers to an American reassessment of what the US is, where it stands, and who stands with it. He offers four major terms that require fundamental reassessment:

(1) [Military] Base, which Hanson redefines as "either a nexus for local anti-American resentment or a means of exacting political or financial concessions."

(2) Ally, which Hanson spins as "a state benefiting from American friendship that in turn expresses its thanks by gratuitous expressions of hostility in times of crisis."

(3) The United Nations, to be seen anew as "an international organization where Western liberal states seek to ingratiate themselves with tyrannies, theocracies, and tribes-- appeasement winning accolades of justice, while principles earn slanders of racism, colonialism, and imperialism."

(4) Military alliance, for which Hanson offers no succinct redefinition, but says, in effect, "What we're not seeing in South Korea."

Hanson's points are well taken. I ended up agreeing, during the war, that the UN had become a tool to serve the interests of states like France, which still hasn't truly owned up to its own oil-related interests in Iraq. I agree that our bases' locations need to be changed to match geopolitical changes (and further agree with Hanson that they should be smaller).

Hanson writes:

Bases must be far smaller and built at the invitation of the host, and we must have in advance a clear understanding of under which exact conditions they can be used. Our German deployment should be cut up and resituated among many Eastern European countries, with advance guidelines as to how soldiers can be sent out should trouble arise in the Middle East.

I agree with almost everything, but question the assumption underlying the phrase "at the invitation of the host," which seems to imply that, if the host country has invited us, that country's people will accept our military presence. I think the situation is more complex than that. Perhaps a qualification, then: "at the invitation of the host, as long as s/he speaks on behalf of his/her people."

Since our defense tech is reaching a point where force projection will happen almost independently of base location, I see this as an issue whose relevance will dwindle as time goes on.

I agree completely with Hanson when he says the following:

We should also accept the notion that neutrals are not allies, and thus should not pillory them for their triangulation. We are angry at France only because it is a duplicitous ally; once we cease seeing it as a close friend, we will be no more angry with it than we are with Sweden or New Zealand-- which both have at times expressed their anti-Americanism, and expect nothing from us should they find themselves in crises. Germany's behavior now grates on us, but only because we expect it to be a Britain-- rather than a Belgium, to which it is far more closely attuned.

When I lived in Switzerland with a host family back in '89-'90, I used to hear my Swiss "mother" complain about the uselessness of the United Nations. Switzerland recently joined the UN, but they were probably right to hold out as long as they did.

To see France as not-ally, not-enemy might be a good idea. The French have always been special, and since I love their food and their wacky joie de vivre (as well as their women), I can't find it in my heart to hate them as deeply as some Americans do. The French do indeed have much to offer the world, but for us to appreciate them, we need to re-understand them. I think Hanson's solution-- i.e., remain calm and reappraise-- is a good one. Certainly better than heaping on the rhetoric.

I disagree with Hanson, however when he says:

We should never be angry with Canada, simply because we should never expect anything from it-- inasmuch as it has long ago decided to emulate the European Union model. Let us respect its status as a neutral and pacifistic state that neither wishes nor deserves cooperation with the United States in defense matters.

Canada and Mexico share enormous, largely porous borders with us. It is absolutely crucial to remain in dialogue with them and promote intra-North American cooperation, especially on the defensive front. The ability to sneak material into the US via either route (remember the old articles about Middle Eastern terrorists sneaking into the US through Mexico, relying on a similar racial "look" to get by?)-- and to do so easily-- is cause for concern. Canada can't be ignored. If anything, we need to be leaning hard against it, positively demanding "cooperaton with the United States in defense matters."

Hanson writes:

By the same token, we must cease treating belligerents as friends and friends as neutrals (or worse). It makes absolutely no sense, for example, that Egypt has hundreds of Abrams tanks (that can only be used against Israel) while Australia has none. Indeed, the latter proved resolute and supportive in our current crisis; the former, constantly critical. More importantly, Australia is a rich, democratic, continent-sized nation, with common traditions and values like our own-- and has been at our side through every major war.

Again, I agree completely. It was months and months ago that I read the term "Anglosphere" on Andrew Sullivan's blog, and that concept stuck with me. The Anglosphere, comprised of the US, the UK, Australia, and Eastern European states who take democracy seriously (and are wary of Western Europe's love affair with socialist economic models), is still in the process of coalescing, but I see it as a potentially formidable bloc as the world continues its realignment (and yes, we could eventually include India).

I applaud this paragraph:

Because Europe uses the United Nations to restrain American initiatives, it is precisely there we also must quietly turn, with principled reforms rather than bluster and invective. As part of a broader initiative with democratic India, we need to insist on the latter's membership in the Security Council, along with Japan. France should share its veto with the entire European Union. And any nation that wishes to enjoy a vote in the General Assembly must first prove that its own citizens enjoy the same privilege at home.

While a lot of anti-UN sentiment is rooted in vague emotionalism, this is one of the major legitimate points highlighted by the American internal debate over the UN's role and significance. The UN runs according to parliamentary procedures and democratic principles. Its member states, however, do not all do this. While I don't absolve the US/Anglosphere from its own hypocrisies, I agree with those who believe that states like Libya and North Korea (and a host of others that disrespect human rights) don't belong in the UN at all. An open, democratic style of government should be a basic membership requirement. At present, it's not, which explains how Libya can chair the UN Human Rights Commission. The practical problem is: how do you chuck out a huge country like China?

Hanson writes, re: the Korea situation:

Given the far greater economy and population of South Korea in comparison with the North, there is little reason to deploy American troops on the DMZ at all. A gradual withdrawal-- with promises that in a time of conflict our planes and missiles will be right behind South Korean youngsters as they slog toward the front-- makes far more sense.

I've been arguing for this, as have others. While I don't think we need to send our troops all the way home, they do need to leave Korea. This becomes more obvious to me the longer I live here. I hope that that is, in fact, what Rumsfeld is effecting: a slow, subtle redeployment that ends with our complete departure from the peninsula, hopefully within a decade.

But I think Hanson trips up in his conclusion:

...we should worry less and less about Old Europe and the tired Arab street, whose collective bark is far worse than their bite. The sad fact is that, for billions of people in an emerging Asia and the Americas, Europe and our enemies in the Middle East are mostly irrelevant, and will become even more so in the months ahead.

First, I'd argue that Old Europe is still a huge controlling force in the EU, and can't be ignored. Second, I'd argue that it's far too soon after the Three Weeks' War to say whether we can turn our backs on the so-called "Arab street." Bush, for all his faults, calls for patience and vigilance; he's right to do so, and we should be thinking in terms of decades, not months. I agree with Hanson's belief that reassessments and redeployments are necessary for American viability, but not because we can turn away from current problems, now resolved. To the contrary, these changes are necessary because the current problems still need to be resolved.

[UPDATE, Aug 18: Kevin at Incestuous Amplification has a different take on VDH, worth reading.]

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