TCS Daily

The Ankle Biters

By Ken Adelman - July 10, 2002 12:00 AM

Empathy for our travails on 9/11 has fallen. Resentment over American arrogance and unilateralism is rising. What can we say to Arab and European leaders now attacking us for evils ranging from opting out of the Kyoto accord and the International Criminal Court to opting in to "regime change" in Iraq?

Start with the merits. How would international regulation and these restrictions on national economies or peacekeepers help? Kyoto would cripple our economy; the threat of international prosecution would cripple our peacekeeping activities from Bosnia and Kosovo to the Sinai.

But their carping is mostly not about the merits of each case. It's about our being #1. It's about their resenting that.

Before criticizing us, Arabs should read the U.N.'s "Arab Human Development Report," released last week and written by Arab intellectuals, and realize they have no grounds to criticize successful societies.

The UN report paints not a pretty picture but the one the scholar Bernard Lewis has been portraying of Arabia as a once-great civilization in a steady four century decline.

With a collective population roughly that of the United States, the 22 Arab states have:

  • a total GDP less than Spain's, with exports (without oil) less than Norway's, and per capita income less than one-sixth that of Western democracies;
  • fewer Internet connections per person than even Sub-Saharan Africa, and fewer books translated into Arabic over the past 100 years than Spain translates in an average year;
  • no visible presence in the main arenas of human excellence today - Nobel-prize winners, World Cup finalists, Olympic medal-winners, breakthrough scientists, leading historians, international business tycoons;
  • no civil or political rights of a democracy or decent society.

These are the hallmarks of a declining civilization. It is a civilization devoid of one legitimate, democratic government (indeed, the Arab League constitutes the only such illegitimate international gathering since the Warsaw Pact met). Arab leaders lack standing to criticize America as #1.

Well, how about the Europeans? To answer their charge of American arrogance and unilateralism, much can be said. First, they've chosen to marginalize themselves, both militarily and intellectually.

Being stingy on defense, the once-potent Europeans can contribute little to collective efforts. In the Gulf War nearly a dozen years ago, European allies were helpful but not terribly important. By the Bosnian engagements a few years hence, they were less helpful militarily. For any new war against the Iraqi regime, they'd be more trouble militarily that they're worth. Political issues aside, it would be easier for us to win fast and decisively by ourselves.

Just as glaringly, the Europeans have chosen to marginalize themselves intellectually. Their "proposals" on the Middle East and Iraqi quandaries are often stale and intellectually bankrupt. Do serious observers in Europe truly believe that an "international conference" would lead to peace between Arafat and the Israelis? Are European diplomats serious when advocating that Saddam Hussein be handled with diplomatic and economic "pressure"? Do they mean delivering a U.N. speech to make him stop developing weapons of mass destruction? Or that lowering economic sanctions -- as they have long advocated - would that do the trick? What realistic alternative have they offered? Can they offer?

Second and related is European arrogance in criticizing us for arrogance. Most Europeans - indeed, many Americans - assume Europeans have a better grip on the art of international affairs than we have. Due to our physical isolation and historic isolationism, Europeans have gobs more experience in the field.

True, but with what results? Why should they (or we) assume they're so adept at foreign policy, so superior to the simplistic, moralistic Americans than we are?

Granted, the Europeans were engaged in Middle East affairs eons before we were, but they left it in a huge mess. And, sure, they have far more experience dealing with real national security threats, but they often handled those threats poorly.

I'd stack our record of threat-assessment above theirs:

  • in the 1930s, our president -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- was far better judging the Nazi threat than any of their prime ministers;
  • from the 1940's to 1990s, our presidents -- from Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan -- were far better at judging the Soviet threat than their prime ministers;
  • today, our president is far better judging the terrorist threat than their prime ministers.

Without excellence in any endeavors today, the Arabs should avoid criticizing others for much of anything. And without being able to offer much militarily or intellectually, European criticism of our policies becomes bitter carping, and little more.



TCS Daily Archives