July 8, 2002

Myth America 2002



Here are a handful of myths that cause what's left of Europe's left to misperceive U.S. foreign policy:

Myth 1: America is temporarily dominated by self-serving isolationists who reject treaties designed by sensible Lilliputians to tie down the superpower Gulliver.

Reality: In the past decade, the U.S. saved Europe from becoming an economic vassal to Iraq, which was on its way to conquering Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. A few years later, as Europe temporized, we led NATO's defeat of Serbia's takeover of the Balkans. Recently, we drove Islamist terrorists, who threaten Europe as much as America, from their training bases in Afghanistan. Is it too much to ask to protect our 250,000 troops defending freedom abroad, along with aid workers and journalists, from a treaty enabling publicity-hungry prosecutors to harass them?

Myth 2: (flip side of first myth) We're interventionist bullies, with no regard for the sovereignty of countries whose threatening leaders are better dealt with diplomatically.

Reality: Saddam Hussein has been jerking around the United Nations for seven years, ignoring his surrender agreement and buying off French and Russian defenders while building a nuclear and germ-warfare capability for delivery by North Korean missiles or, more likely, through terrorist cutouts. Sanctions, dumb and smart, have dismally failed; the danger of nuclear blackmail grows to head-in-the-sand Parisians and Berliners as well as vulnerable New Yorkers. Brits and Turks may reluctantly help us, but European handwringers and Arab monarchs want a free ride.

Myth 3: The Bush administration, with its disdain for treaties, does not understand the nuances of dealing with nuclear-armed Russia, which must never be allowed to feel humiliated.

Reality: Lo and behold, when the U.S. withdrew as promised from the outdated ABM treaty, the clear skies did not fall. Contrary to all European fears and dire predictions, Vladimir Putin was induced to put the best face on the inevitability of a U.S. missile defense against rogue nations and terrorists. In return for this (and, mistakenly, for being allowed to get away with secret sales of nuclear know-how to Iran), Russia is allowing us to give it $10 billion or more to safely reduce its unneeded nuclear stockpile. No humiliation; only relief all around.

Myth 4: Europe holds the high moral ground in providing aid to the Palestinian "resistance," while Bush, in thrall to the Jewish lobby, refuses to force Israel to abandon its "occupation."

Reality: America has broken free of the decade-long romance with a terrorist and is now trying a radical new idea of encouraging Palestinians to set up the first democratic Arab state. Yasir Arafat may be elected its president to attend formal ceremonies with Israel's president whatsisname, but power would rest in a parliament with parties that would elect a prime minister. This chief executive, strengthened by an independent judiciary and free press, would extract the "painful compromises" that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said Israel is prepared to make after the terror war ends. This would demolish —

Myth 5: America is in the clutches of hard-line, hard-nosed, bellicose warrior-executives, while Europe is the continent of highminded peace-seekers.

Reality: America is the place seized with an intelligently moralistic, Wilsonian vision of peace with its necessary component of freedom. Because the old "realism" has failed in the Middle East, does it not make sense to impose some idealism on the players? With new leaders freely elected in the West Bank and Gaza, and with a federal government created after the deposal of the dictatorship in Iraq, the Arab world would have its chance to catch up with the rest of the world. The leap into the present might fail while daring greatly, but the treadmill of more despotism leads nowhere.

Myth 6: The political popularity of Colin Powell will enable State Department worldliness to triumph over the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney cowboy mentality, enabling Europe's multilateral impotence to harness American superpower.

Reality: Colin's a good soldier and political loyalist. If he were tempted to threaten, Haig-like, to quit, he knows that Bush has Condi Rice waiting in the wings. Powell will lose a few, win on occasion, but will stick around through the next election. Rectifying a decade-old strategic error and bringing Europe along to remake the world is too much fun.

© New York Times 2002


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