The events of the last six months in crafting an alliance — mostly for political rather than military advantage — to remove a murderous Saddam Hussein are prompting contradictory emotions in many Americans. Our hearts wish to disengage somewhat from “allies” like the French, Germans, Turks, South Koreans, Pakistanis, Saudis, and a host of others. These guys are costly, either to our pocketbook or psyche — without offering in exchange much military or political support for any operation outside their immediate borders. If such allies are neutral rather than hostile we are satisfied.
We all evoke the unilateralism of High Noon, but such an illusion also involves, in the end, tossing away the badge, leaving such parsimonious and fickle folks to themselves, and taking the buckboard out of their town. After Iraq and North Korea, I think, the worry will be not endless American interventions, but a consensus that we have done enough to mete out justice to outlaws.
We wonder why we give billions of dollars to Egypt when 100,000 fanatics in Cairo scream hatred for the United States — or base ships in Chania, Crete when tens of thousands of Greeks demonstrate on spec against almost anything America does? When even Canadian politicians call our president a “moron” and us Americans “bastards,” isn’t it time politely to let all these people be and let them do as they please without us?
In contrast, our heads tell us: Hold on! The world is not so simple. An authoritarian Musharraf helps us round up terrorists; the duplicitous Saudis at times cut off al Qaeda funding; and bribe money to Jordan, Egypt, and Palestine supposedly curbs aggression toward Israel, while European obstructionists still jail fundamentalist terrorists. The South Koreans aggravate us — but not to the extent that we can so easily pull out of the DMZ and allow the battle of Armageddon with the North in which millions of innocents would perish.
Yet the American people are growing tired of this notion of “it makes sense in the long run.” And perhaps they are right since this entire old way of doing business — treaties, alliances, bases, deployments, arms credit, special aid packages — and indeed our very mentality of coalition building are all part of a world gone by, one predicated on the old bipolar rivalry with the Soviet Union and finally blown to bits by 9/11.
Building coalitions, crafting containment, surrounding enemies — all that Dullesque globe-trotting presupposes the need to corral a monstrous nuclear Soviet Union when our present foes are in fact more diverse, weaker, and insidious, our allies no longer allies by any classical definition, and our friends opportunistic rather than benevolent. The only drama left in the looming Iraqi war is whether France & Co. will smile or at least remain mute on news of American losses.
Over 80,000 American troops in Germany make no sense when Eastern Europe is a democratic buffer between Russia, which itself is no longer a Communist empire. Maintaining the myth that France is really an ally and a NATO member is silly when its nuclear forces are not needed to provide wild-card deterrence against the Soviet Union and Frenchmen are nakedly trying to create a European axis against the United States, willing in the process to break with America over the safety of a psychopath.
With the world awash in airbuses it makes no sense for any European military to rely on American air-lift capacity. Mediterranean bases in Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey may have been necessary to monitor the Soviet fleet, but in the present world, ports and runways in two rather than all four could provide us enough forward deployment. 100,000 troops, planes, ships, and bases in South Korea and Japan once posed a strong deterrent to the Soviet Union and are useful in reminding China to think twice about storming Taiwan. But ultimately powerful countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan after 60 years of an American presence will have to provide for their own defense, with or without us.
What the United States should seek is a sort of military autonomy, a muscular disengagement that lessens dependence on other mercurial and conniving countries and yet allows us strategic flexibility — and, yes, the freedom to move in the interest of freedom-loving peoples abroad who wish to act in concert with us. We should prefer a series of bilateral arrangements and a new tactical doctrine that does privilege “exit strategy” but simply states that the purpose of all (rare) U.S. interventions is military victory and the political will to define and then ensure such an outcome. Removal of a fascist like Saddam Hussein from Kuwait or stripping him of weapons of mass destruction both have exit strategies, but will never solve the problem of Iraqi state support for terrorism — him! — until the regime is defeated, humiliated, and removed.
We need to find a new approach that seeks alternate basing in Eastern Europe, greater reliance on lightly manned military depots and caches, a multifaceted sea- and land-based antiballistic-missile system, renewed commitment to carrier forces, and novel technologies that might provide floating, mobile airfields, rapid ship transport, and increased air-lift capacity.
If we believe that North Korea means to blackmail the United States by holding Los Angeles hostage, the way out of that dilemma is not to bully an appeasing Seoul, or rally a confused Tokyo, but rather be prepared stealthily to encircle the peninsula with submarine ABM systems that can hit Pyongyang’s nukes in their nascent trajectory, sit still, and then let the concerned powers ask us for advice and support rather than vice versa.
The key is to avoid the deplorable spectacle of begging and buying off a democratic Turkey, offering either threats or concessions for a corrupt Mexico’s U.N. vote, or thanking the Germans for protecting our bases from their own demonstrators. If it were not for a few courageous British, Spanish, and Italian statesmen public opinion in all those countries would make their governments as anti-American as those in France and Germany. American power, and the willingness to use it successfully for moral aims and our national interest, alone will win far more allies than sitting through yet another sanctimonious U.N. debate and an open-air auction for support.
It is time quietly to accept that the U.N. and the EU are inimical mechanisms that seek to oppose, isolate, and weaken the United States for both natural and less than honorable reasons. The obstructionism of Germany and France and the fickleness of Turkey are no longer mere irritants, but may well result in strengthening the resistance of our enemy Saddam Hussein and thus lead to unnecessary American deaths.
We are well beyond the nuances of debate and chic sophistry; the drama now hinges on to what degree a NATO ally’s behavior will increase the number of Americans killed in action. France, remember, did not reluctantly vote against the United States, but actively sent its diplomats throughout Africa and Asia to lobby countries to oppose America, a visceral hostility not matched by either Russia or China — or even any of the Arab League. NATO, in other words, as we knew it, is already dead and buried.
Bases in this baffling new world are a polite mechanism for blackmail and concessions — and are increasingly as much trouble as they are worth. Whether we think we protect them or they think they are exploited by us, it matters little: We are held hostage by our very professed desire to want something they have. Every time we beg for votes in the General Assembly, try to buy a Turkish vote, bully a pacifistic South Korea, or beseech the Saudi kleptocrats for help, we only weaken America. And we end up looking hypocritical in the bargain — as recently as when we thanked the dictator Musharraf while castigating a republican Turkey.
Nothing is worse for a great power than to ask others far less moral for permission to use its power; and nothing weakens a great power more than intervening and intruding frequently but rarely decisively. Had we simply ignored the U.N. — as Mr. Clinton did in Kosovo — and moved unilaterally last fall (like Russia and France do all the time), Saddam Hussein would be gone, and we now would have more impressed friends than we do disdainful enemies. Instead, we await China’s moral condemnation of our unilateral action — this from a regime that in the last 50 years butchered more of its own citizens than any government in the history of civilization, annexed Tibet, invaded Korea and Vietnam, and threatened to annihilate Taiwan. France hysterically alleges that we will harm the city of Baghdad in its liberation, but is silent about the Russian destruction of Grozny in its subjugation. And so on.
The American people are not naifs who yearn for isolationism, but they are starting to ask some hard questions about the way we have been doing business for 50 years, and it may well be time to grant the French, Canadians, Germans, Turks, South Koreans, and a host of others their wishes for independence from us: polite friendship — but no alliances, no bases, no money, no trade concessions, and no more begging for the privilege of protecting them.