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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Arrogant empire.

A lot of people are talking about Fareed Zakaria's Newsweek cover story — and for good reason. Zakaria wonders why more people seem afraid of George W. Bush than of Saddam Hussein. He shows just how badly the Bush administration has handled "diplomacy." Some key excerpts:

But there lies a deep historical fallacy in the view that "they hate us because we are strong." After all, U.S. supremacy is hardly a recent phenomenon. America has been the leading world power for almost a century now. By 1900 the United States was the richest country in the world. By 1919 it had decisively intervened to help win the largest war in history. By 1945 it had led the Allies to victory in World War II. For 10 years thereafter America accounted for 50 percent of world GDP, a much larger share than it holds today.

Yet for five decades after World War II, there was no general rush to gang up against the United States. Instead countries joined with Washington to confront the Soviet Union, a much poorer country (at best comprising 12 percent of world GDP, or a quarter the size of the American economy). What explains this? How — until now — did America buck the biggest trend in international history?

To answer this question, go back to 1945. When America had the world at its feet, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman chose not to create an American imperium, but to build a world of alliances and multilateral institutions. They formed the United Nations, the Bretton Woods system of economic cooperation and dozens of other international organizations. America helped get the rest of the world back on its feet by pumping out vast amounts of aid and private investment. The centerpiece of this effort, the Marshall Plan, amounted to $120 billion in today's dollars.

Not least of these efforts was the special attention given to diplomacy. Consider what it must have meant for Franklin Roosevelt — at the pinnacle of power — to go halfway across the world to Tehran and Yalta to meet with Churchill and Stalin in 1943 and 1945. Roosevelt was a sick man, paralyzed from the waist down, hauling 10 pounds of steel braces on his legs. Traveling for 40 hours by sea and air took the life out of him. He did not have to go. He had plenty of deputies — Marshall, Eisenhower — who could have done the job. And he certainly could have summoned the others closer to him. But FDR understood that American power had to be coupled with a generosity of spirit. . . .

The standard set by Roosevelt and his generation endured. When George Marshall devised the Marshall Plan, he insisted that America should not dictate how its money be spent, but rather that the initiatives and control should lie with Europeans. For decades thereafter, the United States has provided aid, technical know-how and assistance across the world. It has built dams, funded magazines and sent scholars and students abroad so that people got to know America and Americans. It has paid great deference to its allies who were in no sense equals. It has conducted joint military exercises, even when they added little to U.S. readiness. For half a century, American presidents and secretaries of State have circled the globe and hosted their counterparts in a never-ending cycle of diplomacy.

Of course, all these exertions served our interests, too. They produced a pro-American world that was rich and secure. They laid the foundations for a booming global economy in which America thrives. But it was an enlightened self-interest that took into account the interests of others. Above all, it reassured countries — through word and deed, style and substance — that America's mammoth power need not be feared.

Bush has done nothing like this. Instead, Zakaria observes:

President Bush's favorite verb is "expect." He announces peremptorily that he "expects" the Palestinians to dump Yasir Arafat, "expects" countries to be with him or against him, "expects" Turkey to cooperate. It is all part of the administration's basic approach toward foreign policy, which is best described by the phrase used for its war plan — "shock and awe." The notion is that the United States needs to intimidate countries with its power and assertiveness, always threatening, always denouncing, never showing weakness. Donald Rumsfeld often quotes a line from Al Capone: "You will get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."

But should the guiding philosophy of the world's leading democracy really be the tough talk of a Chicago mobster? In terms of effectiveness, this strategy has been a disaster. It has alienated friends and delighted enemies. Having traveled around the world and met with senior government officials in dozens of countries over the past year, I can report that with the exception of Britain and Israel, every country the administration has dealt with feels humiliated by it.

These are only a few highlights in a must-read analysis.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 18 March 2003 at 5:34 PM

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