We use the sobriquet "isolationist"
for those reluctant to involve their country in foreign wars, and
the media usually conflates the term with ignorance and bigotry.
But what is the mot juste for those
influential journalist, indispensable sub-cabinet officer, foundation
official who have little knowledge of the history or culture
of other nations, but uses his influence to spur the United States
to wage war against as many of them as possible, with or without
Thirty years ago, Randy Newman penned the song "Political
Science" putting a satirical gloss on the American unilaterialist.
"Boom goes London, and Boom Paree/ More room for you and more
room for me/ They all hate us anyhow/ So let's drop the Big One
now" (Lyrics recalled from memory; accuracy not guaranteed.)
Newman, one supposed, was sending up (but not without
some affection) a familiar type: guy with a pick-up truck decorated
in "Love it or Leave It" decals (or perhaps the rebel
battle flag), gun rack in back, high school diploma maybe. Called
to serve in Vietnam, he did his duty.
But today's unilateralists are a different breed.
Educated at top Ivy League schools, they write speeches for the
President, or have secured millions from media moguls to publish
magazines read by key Congressional staffers. None of them, of course,
went anywhere near Vietnam themselves, unless it was years after
the fact, to write a book about how noble a cause it was.
Fiercely effective at Beltway faction fighting,
they have apparently persuaded George W. Bush to adopt their concepts.
America must wage war against an "axis of hate" (a phrase
subsequently altered to read "axis of evil"). It must
strike out at Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. (The list is a pared
down version from the initial post 9/11 neoconservative target roster;
that included Lebanon, Syria, and "parts of Egypt" as
Countries which know the United States well, with
traditions of democracy and freedom as vital as America's (indeed
countries whose pamphleteers and philosophers helped shape the world
view of our Founding Fathers) are pausing for a deep and fearful
Last week the Financial Times, a middle of
the road, establishment oriented, pro-business paper, takes a moment
to editorialize about the new circumstance. On the eve of Ariel
Sharon's visit the White House (the fourth meeting between Bush
and Sharon, as European papers seldom fail to point out high in
their stories) the FT ran a column discussing the "unease"
springing up between Europe and the United States. Germany has led
the protests, Brian Groom notes, but the discomfort is more widespread.
Tony Blair has put enormous stake in his relationship with Washington.
British diplomats scurried over the world after 9/11 making an eloquent
public case for the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But now,
these same officials stress there is not "an iota" of
evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Islamic terrorism. About Iraq,
they favor weapons inspections and sanctions, not war. The author
concludes that Blair should acknowledge he has no real influence
on Bush. After the State of the Union address, British officials
"are playing down what the country can achieve as a transatlantic
Nor does Germany have any influence. Nor France,
where prime minister Jospin recently went public over what the French
view as dangerously simplistic policies. Nor any country in Europe.
To whom does Bush listen? Apparently Ariel Sharon
has his ear. The Washington Post reported before his arrival
that he would stress that Iran posed the main strategic threat to
Israel, more menacing even than Iraq. Bush's speechwriters seem
to have gotten the word before the Israeli prime minister's visit.
Bush's adoption of the Sharonist world view has
been surprisingly complete. The Financial Times noticed it,
again using cautious and understated language: "Ariel Sharon.
. . has seized upon the post September 11 mood in Washington. .
. to convince the Bush administration of the merits of his policies.
The US now sees Yassir Arafat...as the key obstacle to peace. The
tendency is to view Palestinian attacks as terrorism and be more
tolerant of Israel's military tactics, including the assassination
of militants. The shift in US thinking was underlined in...Bush's
speech last week, which identified the Jewish state's enemies as
a large part of the threat to America."
The editorial concludes with plea for the Bush administration
to take a "deeper look" at the situation. The chances
of Bush doing that are not great.
"Unilaterialist" is the term Europeans
now use to depict an America that goes its own way without consulting
its allies. Right now, that means preparing a war against much of
the Muslim world, even though the Muslim world has never done very
much harm to America. (The obvious and important exception is Al
Qaeda, which it clearly must be an American priority to destroy.)
It's not clear the term, so academic and bloodless,
has the texture to bear the moral opprobrium that will one day be
attached to it, when our children read about the men who
ignoring the counsel of every American ally of long standing
launched this country into a series of wars against Muslim countries.
Future generations may read of how the unilateralist's largest target,
Iran, was in the midst of an fascinating political battle between
fundamentalist clerics (on the retreat) and democratizing forces
(making astonishing progress). But the war threats would bring the
democratization process to a screeching halt. In a war waged without
allies and with little sympathy around the world, the United States
will lack the intelligence and police cooperation essential to a
campaign against terrorism.
Because in any war, the United States will kill
far more of "the enemy" than it absorbs casualties itself,
it will leave in its wake thousands of fatherless children and younger
siblings, some of whom will naturally dream of vengeance. Bush's
war policy promises to turn much of the Muslim world into defeated
and occupied territory, our very own Gaza Strip writ large, seething
with resentment and aching to even the score.
Can anyone doubt why the Europeans see this course
as more than a little bit mad, and are now talking to America in
the cautious and soothing tones one uses in the presence of deranged
man carrying a loaded weapon?
only printable version of this article
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