Sometimes Pain Teaches Lessons Gratitude Doesn’t

Sometimes Pain Teaches Lessons Gratitude Doesn’t: I generally like Matt Welch’s writing and agree with many things he says although he’s to the left of center ideologically. However, when he says we’re being too hard on France, I have to disagree with him. Here’s the meat of a recent editorial he wrote on the subject…

“…For all its pretensions, obstructionism and internal problems, France remains one of the leading democracies in the world. The notion that such a country should be “punished” over an honest disagreement in foreign policy is paternalistic, petty and likely to encourage the very behaviour it aims to rebuke.

Much of the world’s distrust of the United States can be likened to schoolyard hatred of the Big Man on Campus, who is not only richer and more powerful, but is fond of bragging how much smarter than everybody he is. Even if he’s right, people will resent the hell out of him. By taking dissenting countries out to the woodshed and angrily shaking off as many multilateral restraints as possible, Washington is in effect declaring that only agreeable, obedient kids get to sit at the lunch table.

There is no happy ending to this approach. The more the United States exercises and grabs power, bashes the United Nations, reprimands France and limits the Crawford Crowd to the Coalition of the Willing, the more the rest of the globe will view geopolitics as a referendum on American power. Governments will be incentivized to support Washington’s initiatives, no matter how daft. Most non-Americans will feel like they have less power, and will therefore likely behave less responsibly, drawing still more U.S. rebukes. It’s hard to see how to break the cycle.

In addition, this single-issue, with us/against us approach, is ushering in a brand new era of realpolitik, where countries will be judged not by their record of liberal democracy, human rights and championing of freedom, but rather by how high they leaped when Washington said “jump!””

See to me, this is a pre-9/11 view of foreign policy that has been proven by events that have happened since then to be non-functional. In the past, many Americans believed that we were actually building up a store of good will with the world that could be redeemed if we ever needed help. Yet, when that day came, we found out that WW1, WW2, the Marshall Plan, The Cold War, The Gulf War, Serbia, etc, etc, meant almost nothing. Europe may have cooperated with us in the past, but in retrospect, it was only when we did most of the heavy lifting and Europe was the primary beneficiary of our actions. Now that the Europeans believe that the primary attacks are aimed at us, not them, and the Soviet Union is no longer a threat, they’re cooperating with us grudgingly & sparingly if at all (Britain being the exception).

So unfortunately, we have entered a “new era of realpolitik” whether we like it or not. We’ve been moving that way since the Soviet Union fell. 9/11 and the events that occurred after it only sped things along. Since we have now learned from hard post-9/11 experience that other nations are willing to aid or hinder our country based on little more than narrow commercial interests, we have to adjust to that fact. That means that we can’t always be, “magnanimous in victory,” particularly with a nation like France that is acting as if it views itself as a rival to our country. We don’t necessarily have to take every country that wasn’t with us, “out to the woodshed.” But, by giving France a savage economic and diplomatic beating, we’d be making sure everyone understands that we’re not necessarily going to let bygones be bygones if you cross us, particularly when our national security is concerned.

The UN, NATO, and the “transatlantic alliance” have been broken for more than a decade and 9/11 just revealed the cracks. Sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that hasn’t happened would just postpone the time of our rude awakening. Europe & America are not enemies YET and perhaps we will not be in the future. However, we’d better understand and react to the fact that there are a lot of people in Europe, Jacques Chirac included, who do not wish us well and who view a united Europe as a rival to the United States. We have long since proven that there is no better nation to have as a friend than the United States, but some nations need to be reminded that there can be a price to be paid for getting on our bad side as well, even if you’re from Western Europe…

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