Just Above Sunset
June 20, 2004 - Who needs respect? As long as they fear us we're safe?













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These days one finds comments like this: "… a vote for Bush is to validate his failed policies and convince the rest of the world that we truly are nation of dangerous fools.  This will not increase our safety, I'm afraid.  In fact, nothing could help the terrorists more than to put this rogue administration back in office."

Yeah, yeah.  Heard it before.  Surely there is more to say than this. 

Careful readers of Just Above Sunset - if there actually are any of those – have noticed references to one Stephen Holmes.  You see, small and smug Denison University, smack in the middle of Ohio, produced more than one considerable person – more than Michael Eisner, Richard Lugar and Hal Holbrook.  It gave us Stephen Holmes too.  He was one of a group of us that hung out together at Denison in the late sixties.  Holmes was one of a peculiar crowd, the “Pit Crew” - a group that gathered daily in the basement coffee shop of Slater Hall and bitched about the world and laughed a lot.  I guess we were the token sixties counter-culture folks in sea of frat boys and future Stepford wives. 

And Holmes was the one who actually became a big-time intellectual, after all.  Holmes is now research director and professor at the Center for Law and Security at New York University School of Law.  I guess the rest of us turned out to be poseurs, or had other things to do. 

The very first issue of Just Above Sunset (Volume 1 Number 1) covered Holmes’ incisive review (his penetrating disassembly, actually) of Robert Kagan’s Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order (Knopf, 112 pages, $18.00).  See 26 May 2003 Reviews for that.  In late July of 2003 Just Above Sunset covered his comments on why it was (is?) going to be so hard to defeat George Bush in this next election, as the liberals are all so morally confused about everything.  See Can anyone challenge Bush in the next election? for that. 

And now Holmes is all over the place again.  He has a new item in SALON.COM that’s all the rage.  In it, among other things, Holmes dissects Machiavelli wonderfully. 

The main issue addressed, however, is why everyone hates us when we only want everyone to fear us, and they’re not even fearing us any longer. 

I was led to Holmes this time by a pointer at Hullabaloo - Angst and Anti-Americanism -

 

Even if you have to sit through ad, I urge you to read this fascinating article in Salon called "America's blankness," which was originally a prepared speech by professor Stephen Holmes. 

He explores the roots and reasons for the growth in anti-Americanism and asks if it matters.  (It does.)  He examines how it happened and what actions the US took that precipitated this surge of ill feeling toward us.  And he suggests various ways in which we might turn some of this around in a new administration. 

The way he sees it, the Europeans are freaked out by Bush, but will put it behind them if we kick him out and behave in a more civilized fashion.  If Kerry wins, Holmes suggests that he may robustly renew the Atlantic alliance on the basis of the shared threats faced by both Americans and Europeans: nuclear proliferation and terrorist attacks on major cities.  After Madrid, we should be able to enlist the Europeans, whose security agencies have much more experience with infiltration and intelligence gathering of terrorists than we do.  It would be very helpful if we could all sincerely work together on this.  It's a terrible failure of foreign policy and national security that Bush has poisoned this necessary relationship. 

Anti-Americanism in the mid-east, on the other hand, has morphed into hatred.  And the probable consequences of that are even worse than I thought.  The most obvious result is that we are creating terrorists in exponentially greater numbers than we are killing them.  That is not a winning strategy. 

But, we have also succeeded in doing the precise opposite of what we intended with Bush's long term democratization strategy by strengthening autocratic regimes as they borrow our rhetoric on the WOT and crack down on their own people.  The region is becoming less democratic rather than more and even those that are democratic hate our guts too.  This Iraq project is a huge failure on all levels.  Holmes's scenario of what is likely to happen in Iraq is both depressing and scary.  It was a mistake from the beginning, but the cock-up of the occupation and the lack of planning is simply unforgivable. 

 

Now there’s a recommendation. 

You’ll find the Holmes article here:

America's blankness
A professor explains why so many people around the world hate us and what a post-Bush foreign policy might look like. 
Editor's note: This article is adapted from a speech given in Tysons Corner, Va., on May 27 to several hundred U.S. intelligence analysts from various agencies at their request. 
Stephen Holmes, June 17, 2004

So what does he say? 

Purpose:

 

Anti-Americanism has a long and complex history.  But most observers agree that the Bush administration's bellicose and unilateralist foreign policy has greatly enflamed smoldering animosities and even managed to turn the United States into a universal hate object. 

My aim here is to think coolly about this development, and to ask, above all, if it matters.  I want to examine, in particular, what growing hostility to the U.S.  will mean for democracy promotion in the Middle East, an important plank, until recently, of Bush's foreign policy, and one that resonates strongly with a tradition of U.S. messianism abroad. 

 

Fair enough. 

He spends some time saying anti-Americanism will NOT necessarily affect our national interests - only if it “galvanizes individuals and groups with the capacity to harm us, either positively, by inflicting grave injuries, or negatively, by withholding the cooperation on which we depend to solve our most urgent problems.”

Well, sure.  But we’re there.  And this “withholding the cooperation on which we depend” bothers him, this negligence, as he calls it.  Other nations just shrug and let us blither along, bumbling and doing real damage, but not enough damage to hurt their national interests. 

Holmes also goes into how this negligence is not just the product of choosing this war now and then doing it so very badly.  Holmes cites “the many petty humiliations associated with our newly tightened and irrationally vexing visa regime” and much else. 

 

Yep, we have been a tad high-handed.  We just don’t much like treaties and the concept of cooperation, do we? 

But the problem is, mainly, after all, the war.  And the final thing that blew everything apart was those pictures from the Abu Ghraib prison.  Folks may like Americans in general, but those pictures tore it -

 

… What we face here is not merely skepticism but also burning rage, a passionate antipathy that, although far from uniform, does seem ubiquitous.  Even now, however, America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy. 

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that.  If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased -- with what violent consequences no one can predict. 

 

Yes.  Now that Steve says that, it seems obvious. 

So what do we do? 

We turn to Machiavelli.  Of course.  How obvious! 

 

… I want to pause briefly to say a word about a famous phrase of Machiavelli's, frequently cited by neoconservatives in the run-up to the Iraq war, that "it is better to be feared than loved."  This quotation is interesting mostly for what it omits.  For Machiavelli quickly went on to add: "It is worst of all to be hated."  People who fear us, for the most part, will dare not harm us.  But fear, according to Machiavelli, works too slowly on the human spirit to obstruct the effects of the searing hatred that drives men immediately and impulsively to furious action.  The administration is wrong, therefore, to believe that it can easily scare people into abandoning their plots to injure Americans.  U.S. shows of force invariably provoke rage; and this rage, in turn, often overrides the trepidation that our military superiority instills. 

Machiavelli might well have added that "worst of all is to be hated without being feared" -- the unenviable position into which the U.S. has recklessly cast itself, with what consequences, I believe, no one can tell.  Reduced fear of the U.S., in fact, may be one of the most paradoxical outcomes of the war in Iraq.  By exposing, in such an eye-catching fashion, the limits of U.S. military power, the administration has unintentionally reduced anxiety in Syria and Iran.  What countries will now fear an American invasion?  Who will henceforth believe our bluffs?

 

It seems the Mayberry Machiavellians weren’t Machiavellian enough.  They should have read their Machiavelli more carefully. 

And the consequences of this are bad?  Yep. 

 

In Europe, needless to say, America's military adventurism will not discredit the idea of democracy itself, though it has already damaged the reputation of America's democratic institutions, especially our system of checks and balances.  The institutions designed to facilitate political self-correction seem to have completely broken down.  This includes, first of all, our ordinary constitutional procedures for legislative and judicial oversight of executive action.  But it also includes the poor performance of the celebrated American media.  Even the New York Times has now confessed to having uncritically passed on disinformation provided by Iraqi exiles with strong reasons for exaggerating the real threat. 

Those worried by the unraveling of the Atlantic alliance have been especially shocked by the clashing coverage of the Iraq war in the U.S.  and European media.  American and European television viewers have seen two different wars, making rational transatlantic discussion of the subject almost impossible.  Unlike Americans, moreover, Europeans are acutely aware of the discrepancy in news coverage.  They attribute it to what they see as America's post-9/11 autism, a screening out of information that clashes with a set of fixed ideas. 

 

Did he say autism there.  Yeah.  And that’s a good one-word explanation of the behavior of the American press. 

Holmes contends, that given the 9/11 attacks, Americans really should have learned the importance, for our own security, of accurate, deep and up-to-date knowledge of political instability around the world.  But we didn’t like to hear that.  He points out that political violence, in any possible country, is never farther than a plane ride away from any of our urban centers.  Yep.  What bothers Holmes is this:

 

… instead of creating a national appetite for knowledge about the world, 9/11 had the opposite effect.  It seems to have traumatized Americans, making them even less interested than before in non-American goings-on and points of view.  Our capacity to see ourselves through the eyes of others was never great.  But after 9/11, Americans seem to have withdrawn even further into themselves. 

 

But we’re told all we need to know about these bad guys is that the hate us.  It’s quite simple.  This is what Bush and his supporters call moral clarity. 

Is that so bad? 

Well it is a strange distortion of language. 

 

One symptom of America's growing disconnect from the world, and especially from its former Cold War allies, is the administration's reliance on language that is unintelligible to Europeans.  An example is the claim, often advanced by President Bush, that we are currently engaged in a world war between "democracy and terrorism." This is a confusing way to speak because the same terrorist network that attacked the U.S.  has also attacked Saudi Arabia, a tribal monarchy that bears no resemblance to a democracy. 

But the unintelligibility of Bush's formulation runs much deeper.  Roughly speaking, "democracy" is a system that allows those who are directly affected by decisions to exert some influence on the decision makers, ideally by periodically reelecting them or ousting them from office.  This simple definition makes clear why Europeans and others greet Bush's endless claims to be "spreading democracy" with such disbelief.  Throughout the world, people who were never consulted, even casually, are profoundly affected every day by decisions made in Washington.  America's blankness about the downstream effects on other countries of its actions is without question one of the principal sources of anti-Americanism in Europe and elsewhere.

 

Now THAT is cool.  When we say democracy?  Is this “democracy thing” something we shove down your throats, whether you agree to it or not.  And in the name of democracy we support and defend the Saudi tribal monarchy.  No wonder folks find us a bit confusing, and some of them get a little angry.  They have no idea what we’re talking about. 

I wonder if we ourselves understand what democracy is?  How do I mean we?  That’s “we” insofar as the Bush administration is America, both de jure and de facto. 

But wait!  There’s more! 

 

Arguably, terrorism itself is, in part, a sick, perverted and distorted echo of the desire of powerless groups to get the attention of the sole remaining superpower.  That is yet another reason why Bush's stylized "war between democracy and terrorism" seems so misleading to most non-Americans.  Bush likes the democracy vs. terrorism contrast, of course, because it brings "moral clarity," that is to say, it paints one side as purely good and the other side as purely evil.  The rest of the world cannot decide if this way of speaking is crude propaganda or crude propaganda mixed with self-delusion. 

 

Looking at it dispassionately?  It’s one hundred percent self-delusion. 

The Europeans just hope it will go away when Bush is voted out in November.  And that may be a different kind of self-delusion from the other side, perhaps. 

After many paragraphs on that – the Europeans and their view of Kerry – Holmes, saying things will get better one way or the other, turns to the real problem:

 

Anti-Americanism in the Middle East, of course, goes deeper and is less likely to die down than anti-Americanism in Europe.  The minority of Arabs and Muslims who implacably loathe the U.S. is growing more influential by the day.  Those who have traditionally felt friendly or neutral to the U.S. are siding more and more against us.  Their hostility, moreover, is becoming less a matter of policy and more a matter of identity.  Increasingly, it is impossible to make any claim to an Arab consciousness without railing against the U.S.  This is a very dangerous development, since it means that anti-American attitudes are putting more Middle Easterners beyond the reach of diplomacy.  Unknown numbers of young men, in particular, are becoming irreconcilable even by dramatic reversals of policy. 

It is a mistake to belittle such fury by reciting the tag line, "Yankee go home and take me with you," a reflection of the ambiguity of Middle Eastern attitudes toward the U.S. Economic opportunity will always draw people away from their homes, but it will not necessarily render harmless the seething political anger of their children. 

 

And that’s a bad as it gets. 

And we’ll make it worse by doing the following:

 

First, in the wake of the Iraq debacle, Washington is likely to succumb, at least temporarily, to democracy-promotion fatigue.  The sting of failure will presumably dampen for a time serious interest in supporting democratic reforms in the region.  Grandiose talk will continue, of course.  But less money will be spent, and less experienced personnel will be assigned to a project that now appears much less realistic than before. 

Second, America's aggressive counterterrorism efforts have already interfered significantly with its attempts at democracy promotion.  To battle terrorism, the U.S. has been lending support to the secretive and coercive apparatuses of states that are, at best, incompletely democratic.  This trend will continue and, under these conditions, democratization efforts will no doubt be funded quite feebly and will be cosmetic at best. 

Third, it seems to be dawning on the administration that democratization elsewhere in the world might not have the same happily pro-American consequences as democratization had in Eastern Europe.  Polish democracy is pro-American because the majority of Poles have strong historical reasons for identifying with America.  The same cannot be said for a majority of Iraqis.  As a result, Iraqi democracy, even if we had been able to create it, probably would have been virulently anti-American and most certainly anti-Israeli. 

 

I wish Holmes were wrong here. 

He isn’t. 

Here is the best we can hope for -

… With extraordinary luck, Iraq could become, in a few years, something like Bosnia without the high representative of the European Union.  It would have a weak central government because, given the fragmentation of the society, no all-Iraqi government can be simultaneously representative and coherent.  Periodic elections would serve only to reinforce the independence of the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, and the government would constantly be in delicate negotiations with local and tribal leaders.  Such a pseudo-state would be considered successful if it could protect its cabinet members from assassination, if most foreign fighters were evicted (breaking the lethal marriage of convenience between transnational terrorists and nationalist insurgents) and if neighboring powers were not driven to dispatch military forces into the country.  But it would be at best a corrupt, criminalized and disorganized polity, festering, unsafe and characterized by violent weakness.

And that’s what victory in Iraq looks like – best case. 

Anyway, this only skims all Holmes has to say here.  Click on the link.  Read it. 

 

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Footnote:

 

Bob Patterson adds:
 
Machiavelli Quote TAKE 2.  A dog that loves you will run through fire to help you.  A dog that hates you will bite you on the ass and run away at the first available opportunity.  Are any countries running to help with post June 30 efforts in Iraq?

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SPECIAL NOTE:

Another perspective on this item - a direct response to what Holmes says - was published on June 21 in the web log As Seen from Just Above Sunset.  See On the other hand...
































 
 
 
 

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
 
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