Saturday, 1 February 2003

Willis on America's role in the world

I heartily recommend reading Oliver Willis's latest on the coming conflict with Iraq; while I disagree about the motivations behind our Iraq policy (it would certainly be easier for us to co-opt Hussein than topple him, if expansionism was our goal), and perhaps even on the degree of politicization of 9-11 (though admittedly a game both major parties have engaged in; such is life in the current era), his conclusion is right on the money:

In the 21st century, we must end the cycle of supporting the lesser of two evils because it is expedient. Our culture grows in depth and understanding every nanosecond, yet our handling of the world and our place in it seems more regressive each passing day. America leads in ideas, and the willingness to implement them. We must not allow simple answers and blind aggression to retard the moral and spiritual growth of a nation. If our leaders always took the easy way out, the brute and the oaf’s path, we would not be the America we are today or the one we can look forward to tomorrow. To demand better of the world, the United States must take its role as leader and create an order that doesn’t oppress and subjugate (either directly or by proxy), but uplifts and educates from the poorest of the poor all the way up to the gilded gates of the elite.

These ideals, these concepts, these beliefs – are what this country stands for. Terror and fear will win when we allow the foundations of freedom to crumble.

To borrow the argument of OxBlog's David Adesnik, the business of American foreign policy should be to promote our core values of liberal democracy and the rule of law in the world; not so much to remake the world in our image as it is to ensure that free people everywhere can remake their societies in theirs. In other words, continuing the foreign policy that created modern Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan — while simultaneously rejecting the expediency of propping up the Mubaraks, Mussharafs, and Sauds of the world.

The more I think about Oliver's piece, though, the more I wonder about his “expansionism” theory for the conflict. Unlike in Afghanistan, there's no existing, credible government or military force (other than the Ba'ath Party itself, which has largely become Saddam's personality cult) that can enforce a post-Saddam order, so there has to be some “occupation force,” for a lack of a better term, to disarm the Ba'athist regime, train a new civilian police force and restructure the armed forces, and there has to be a management structure over the country's oil industry (presumably leading to eventual privatization). Obviously at some point both tasks can be handed off to the U.N. and other military forces, but for a year or so it's hard to imagine a stable Iraq without an occupation of some form.