Americans Should Consider Where They're Headed
Even here in Taiwan, one of the world's most pro-U.S. nations, the majority of people seem to be disgusted by the current Iraq war. I came across a protest today, people waving the usual signs reading "No Blood for Oil"; "Who is the Rogue State Now?" and so on. The protesters had chosen a McDonald's for their rally.
I walked by the protesters, but felt no desire to join them. This is because I think the war to oust Saddam is justified. I only wish it were being conducted under the auspices of the UN and not just by my country and Britain.
To face an angry anti-American rally in the country where I live as an overseas American bothered me somewhat, but finally not all that much. What disgruntles me more is what I read in my email in-box: letters and forwards from pro-Republican Americans who themselves almost never leave the States; letters that show a skewed perception of world realities.
Much of the tone of American chat recently seems to forget that the U.S. is but one of the world's nations, and that good relations with the world's other nations are crucial for America's future. And this isn't only a matter of the current Iraq war.
Almost every day recently I get a handful of these supposedly patriotic forwards. I say "supposedly" patriotic because I credit Americans with being particularly thoughtful and reasonable people: people of balanced judgment. The majority of these recent forwards, however, show something quite different. The arguments put forward are 9/10ths rhetoric and 1/10th thought. The logic is often hopelessly flawed, the tone shrill and hysterical. This is not encouraging. It is evident that much of the U.S. has begun to suffer from delusions of grandeur. Americans underestimate how damaging their government's unilateralist polices are going to be.
I'm not only concerned here about the current war, mind you, but about nearly everything the Bush Administration has done in terms of foreign policy and U.S. backing out of treaties: the Kyoto Protocol, the ABM treaty, the establishment of an International Criminal Court, etc., etc. (Studying the last of these cases should make patriotic Americans feel a bit ashamed.) I believe that in the world's eyes the current war is mainly another addition to a growing list of broken treaties and scuttled agreements. And this, rather than any naivet about Saddam's government, accounts for much of the fury.
I'm convinced removing Saddam is the correct move, but I also think this war is ultimately a mistake given the UN's refusal to pass a second resolution. In other words, the gains are not worth the huge price our country will pay in terms of international animosity. Before we were often resented for our power. Now it is happening that we are starting to be loathed. And this from countries that formerly respected us.
The respect for international treaties and international norms is not something to be sneezed at. But much I'm hearing recently shows just this tendency in America: to sneeze at everything that doesn't agree with George and his policy team.
The logic seems to be this: if you are critical of George Bush, you are anti-American. Many people forget that the contrary might be equally true: namely, that if you are not critical of this administration, you are anti-American. In fact many very patriotic Americans have come out against Bush's policies. They refuse to embrace these policies because they feel such policies will ultimately prove counterproductive.
The people who send me these forwards seem to think they are subtly convincing me of the virtue and moral uprightness of the current American actions. Probably they wouldn't guess they are convincing me of something quite different. The America I see in these texts is an America beyond reason and debate. The style of the arguments (emotional, illogical), the inflated rhetoric, the appeals to the sacredness of whatever "our leader" deems right to do, the assertion that anything is justified in the name of national security--all of this is more characteristic of fascism than a democracy with a healthy sense of realism.
George Bush, Sr. was a moderate compared to his son. Patriotic Americans should hope this war is not followed by another unilateralist action.
9/10ths rhetoric and 1/10th thought is not a good place to be for the world's most influential nation. I agree that in wartime it is important to show solidarity with our troops who are risking their lives. The problem, however, is that I suspect this new American rhetoric will not stop with the end of the conflict in Iraq. I suspect it will continue as constitutive of a new unilateralism, a new American arrogance that does little to win us friends and much to make our former friends into new enemies.
April 6, 2003
This page is at http://www.necessaryprose.com/