Good Points, Badly Made...
Once again I find myself frustrated by a fairly sloppy accumulation of rhetoric, even though I find little to disagree with regarding the sentiment behind it. VDH can do much better than this. Given the political nature of the article I would normally forbear to comment (Hah! Right!), but given that so much of it focuses on the sins, real and imagined, of the political Left in the international arena, it seems to me to be worthy of a breakdown.
Taste the rising tide of bile...
VDH makes reasonable points on matters such as Kyoto, the tendency of the left to coddle unpleasant people as long as they are "anti-imperialist", the deafening silence of swathes of the Left when it comes to the matter of events such as the murder of Theo van Gogh and ludicrous naivete regarding the UN. But the methods by which he makes his argument are frankly beneath him in my view:
Quit idolizing Europe.
It was a far larger arms merchant to Saddam than was the United States
This is a fact that deserves to be recognised more. The notion that the USA and Britain were Saddam's key armourers is too often the received wisdom, when in reality the leading suppliers of arms to Iraq were (in order) Russia, France and China with (in order) Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom trailing as distant runners up. That said, it would add transparency to VDH's argument is he acknowledged that a lot of the heavy metal purchased from Russia, France and China was bought with American money.
The American military, at great risk and cost, alone in the world saved Kosovars, Afghans, and Iraqis from tyranny.
Balls. Don't get me wrong, the US armed forces played the lead role in each of these operations and kudos to it. But speaking as a pro-American European I find the broad brush of this, even if it is admittedly a piece of rhetoric, offensive. In Bosnia the US took the lead diplomatically and enormous kudos goes to the various people in Washington - perhaps most notably Bob Dole - who licked the opposition into touch. In Kosovo the lead interventionist was not in Washington but in 10 Downing Street. The man in 10 Downing Street (for whom I have never voted and will not vote) was also an advocate of the deployment of ground forces - and was prepared to back up his rhetoric with the committment of combat units of the British Army - but was told to shut up by the White House because it was judged that the American public, rhetoric by some commentators regarding a willingness to selflessly sacrifice all for altruistic purposes aside, would not stand for losses in a war with no obvious strategic purpose in the cause of people about whom they knew little. The campaign was conducted largely by airpower and on this basis (and that of logistics - areas in which the Europeans were and are shamefuly deficient) the American armed forces took the lead and carried out the directions passed to them by their civilian leaders with enormous professionalism. But let's not get dewey eyed over this - the planning for the entire campaign was constructed on the foundation that even one American body bag would be a body bag too far. Hardly an example of the notion that the USA will "pay any price" in pursuit of misty eyed altruism disconnected from the national interest. As a result of this policy NATO was almost humiliated by a third rate tinpot dictatorship and a policy of ethnic cleansing was able to continue under the noses of those who were supposedly hell bent on stopping it. In Bosnia the USA has again taken the lead in terms of airpower and logistics (along with the priceless diplomatic clout outlined above) but the ground presence has almost always been predominantly European. While American commentators on the Right relish in poring over the (admittedly appalling) grotesque abdication of largely European UN forces of their committment to protect Bosnian Muslims seeking refuge in the so-called "safe zones", the vital work done by the Anglo-French Rapid Reaction Force (which engaged in aggressive and successful peace enforcement operations and went toe to to with Serb artillery emplacements - and which was, sad to relate, the brainchild of a certain Jacques Chirac) is frequently ignored completely (as is the fact that the USA was at this stage refusing to provide ground troops to police the safe zones themselves).
I think Afghanistan and Iraq represent recent enough history for me not to need to dwell on them at any great length - except to note in passing that a third of the front line ground troops in the Iraq War were British and to make the point that if Bush administration supporters are going to persist in wheeling out the rainbow coalition of nations who have supported and are supporting operations in Iraq they might at least have the decency to give them some f***ing credit rather than wheeling them out when it suits them and then pretending they don't exist when it doesn't.
Stop seeing socialists and anti-Americans as Democrats.
Coming from a country that produced Clem Attlee, Hugh Gaitskell and Ernie Bevin I fail to share VDH's assumption that socialism is either a definite evil (though I personally don't like it) or by definition anti-American and therefore don't suffer from the taste of rising bile when contemplating the notion of socialists in the Democratic Party (Oli, if you're reading this, I told you I didn't have a closed mind!!!). Broadly though, the point is well made that the Left is increasingly coddling the Far Left and that it should stop. However...
Firebrands like Al Sharpton and Michael Moore are the current leftist equivalents of 1950s right-wing extremists like the John Birchers.
Personally, I find it whimsical that VDH thinks he needs to go back to the 1950s to find a right wing equivalent of Al Sharpton and Michael Moore. I'd have thought that Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson fill that slot (ooh-er!) fairly nicely and they are altogether more recent... I can understand why VDH might not like to bring that up though.
Everyone's a bastard!
As I stated previously, it's not that I disagree with most of VDH's criticisms of sections of the Left. I just find the way he's gone about making the argument insufferable. The notion that the USA is not merely an altruistic entity but a uniquely altruistic entity is complete guff. Coalition troops are not in Iraq and Afghanistan today because the American public stood tall and in one clear voice demanded that the US should go on an epic international charity drive! None of this makes what America is doing perfidious (or at least not uniquely perfidious...) but let's get real folks! Some of the arguments that have been emerging recently are so self-referential it's getting to be the political equivalent of spending the afternoon checking out your own arse in the mirror.
Nice and Spicy
None of this means that I am in any way averse to the idea of doing nice things in the international sphere. I supported the Iraq War because as far as I was concerned it represented a happy convergence of self-interest and the possibility of actually doing something that might have good humanitarian consequences in the medium to long term (I may have been horribly wrong on both counts). But it would be a matter of epic intellectual dishonesty and personal delusion for me to sit here and claim that it's all about altruism. Show me somebody who claims he is prepared to spend a trillion dollars of tax payers' money and the lives of thousands of American servicemen in pursuit of an end goal that has a purely moral backdrop and exists in a strategic vacuum and I'll show you a liar. Now, you can argue that a successful grand strategy can be served by spreading democracy (or at least liberalism) and respect for human rights (or, if the notion of "human rights" makes you gag on your Lucky Charms, the rights of freeborn Englishmen), by various means including, from time to time, military force - and I might even agree with you. But that's strategy. Not altruism.
This post will be followed by another piece dealing specifically with the UN issue as raised by VDH and the role and nature of multilateralism.