Wednesday, July 17, 2002

This, by the way, is another Den Beste talking point that I'd like to address: the idea that Europeans and the rest of the world are somehow "talking down to the United States" whenever they criticize it.

I'll respond with a few points:

1) "The Great Game" is another term for how states relate to each other- it's based on the old competition between great powers in the era between the Treaty of Westphalia and the onset of WWI. It's rooted in ideas that I mentioned earlier.. that states relate to each other as sovereigns in an anarchic environment, and that the leaders of those states are assumed to be the representatives of those states. The fact that the United States doesn't recognize the sovereignty of other governments and that peoples should be allowed to choose their own leaders is more a commentary on the United States than Europe.

2) There is great hay being made with this "Europe talks down to the United States, and we should therefore ignore them" meme that conservatives are merrily passing around. Besides the fact that it provides an obvious deflective tool for real criticism, conservatives seem to have forgotten than Americans really are notoriously unable to look beyond their own borders- foreign policy is mostly influenced by domestic politics, the education level about non-American peoples, countries, and nations is well known even by many Americans, and the sort of myopia in political philosophy that Musil demonstrated when he went on about his "self-evident truths" is glaring to anybody who doesn't share that particular political philosophy. In other words, the Europeans just might have a point, especially considering that the United States has traditionally heeded practically no outside criticism and commentary on its foreign policy and domestic affairs, and is a relatively idealistic country. (Which is, of course, one of its strengths, but every strength can also be its weakness).

3) This argument is usually used to support unilateralism, although lately Den Beste hasn't even bothered to say why he's cheerleading unilateralism... he simply is. It's odd how he seems to want to have it both ways, though... he wants a United States that is active and willing to influence governments, states, and peoples as he wishes in the defense of its own interests, yet has little desire to see anybody else influence the United States, and at the same time shrinks from anybody who would level the accusation of empire on the United States (despite the fact that that is clearly what he is advocating). Perhaps this is becaues empire has historically been a rather bad deal even when the empire starts off with only the best intentions.

4) If you think it's just Europeans who consider Bush an uncivilized cowboy, Steven, you obviously haven't been paying attention. The right wanted the "down-home country boy" image for its pet president... now that that image is coming home to roost, why exactly should those who are criticizing it lay off? The president is the symbol of the people, and Bush is, for better or worse, the symbol of the United States. If he's a bad symbol, well... I know I didn't vote for him.

5) Steven complains that people insist that people play by the rules, saying that this is "too damned important to play by silly rules as if it were a soccer match where the outcome wasn't important." Does he even know where these rules came from, how they evolved, and why people started following them in the first place? Does he think that nobody should be bound by "silly rules" or is he just talking about the United States? If the former, then by all means, let's hear him advocate the end of the international system and defend the chaotic results of a "might makes right" international community- it worked so well before, after all. If the latter...

actually, that's pretty damned consistent. Which, of course, means there are no rules anyway, because nobody is going to accept the United States as a free rider and play the suckers. It looks like we're going back to the Hobbesian war of all against all. Oh goody.

Edit: another example of what I'm talking about.

He quoted the Russian Defense Minister as saying: "Russia will oppose any unilateral military action undertaken against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council" and one Archbishop Williams as saying "It is our considered view that an attack on Iraq would be both immoral and illegal and that eradicating the dangers posed by malevolent dictators and terrorists can be achieved only by tackling the root causes of the disputes."

His response?

Whether they are correct about this specific issue, they are wrong about a more fundamental one. They, and everyone else whose nose has been getting pushed in by the Bush administration's unilateralism, have somehow gotten it into their heads that we Americans are not permitted to ever do anything without asking our parents for permission. (It's never really been obvious where that idea came from. Perhaps it's just habit, or maybe it's arrogance.)

As regular readers would know, I've mentioned exactly "where this idea came from"... it has nothing to do with ignorance, and everything to do with the international system, international treaties, and the United Nations, a body that (as is perfectly obvious) Den Beste wants the United States to listen to only when it's convenient. What's odd, though, is that you can't get to point "a" from point "b"... they aren't saying that the United States can't do these things, but that they oppose it, and in the former case that their government will oppose it. What, exactly, does this have to do with "telling the United States what to do?" They're strongly disagreeing, but there is nothing there saying that they intend to stop the United States, just that they don't support it.

In the end, it's pretty obvious that Den Beste is making a simple, schoolyard argument: I wanna do what I wanna do, and if you don't like it, go screw. That this demonstrates a pretty clear ignorance of what exactly International Relations is is rather shocking- I had expected better of him. He says that "The reason I'm cheering for unilateralism is that it's time for the world to start asking us what we want to do, instead of peremptorily telling us what they want us to do." Unfortunately, however, there is little reason to believe that the Bush administration and people like Steven Den Beste would care either way. To them, the only world that matters ends outside of the United States' borders.

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