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Transatlantic Approaches, Quagmires, and Iran

"Having recently returned home after nearly four years as a New York Times correspondent in Europe, I am struck by how deeply divided the United States is on almost every other issue," writes Richard Bernstein in the International Herald Tribune (via: Kosmoblog):
Here in Manhattan, the affairs of the world seem very close, and not just because the situation in Iraq is particularly nasty, or even because we seem so stuck there, with none of the three options currently under discussion - pulling out the troops, keeping the same number of troops, and pulling the troops out in pre-announced phases - seeming to promise a happy outcome.
Unlike Europe, which largely stays free of such quagmires, Americans are fated to get into one every now and then. It is the cost of being a superpower, especially a superpower that has always seen intervention in the affairs of the rest of the world as a natural vocation. (...)
The blue-state-red-state dichotomy is a real and enduring one, and it is reflected in fierce and angry polemics about matters like gay rights and abortion that, for the most part, were settled in Europe years ago. It is not wrong to see the United States as a place where, far more than in Europe, a lot of basic issues are up for grabs.
Bernstein, however, concludes that the United States is a country divided on issues, but united on principles.
Our reader Avi made a slightly similar comparison
between Americans and Europeans:
Europeans currently prefer temporary, evolving, process-oriented solutions, believing that because complete solutions are impossible, they should not be attempted. Americans hope to at least approach complete solutions and so attempt them, recognizing that nothing succeeds fully. That seems to Europeans to be missionary, imperialistic, unrealistic, what have you, and they seek for explanations why the Americans would embrace such foolishness. At the moment, post-Christian Europe has decided that religious people must be bringing some sort of messianic hope that is deluding the Americans.
Avi explained that he is not talking about all, but about 70% of Americans and 70% of Europeans. His full comment is here. Avi blogs at Assistant Village Idiot.

Personal opinion: I am not sure if there are such big differences between Americans and Europeans. Many Americans have been against the Iraq war and are against a military solution in the Iran dispute, just like Europeans. Presidents Bush senior and Clinton have pursued cautious foreign policies as well. Generalizations about nations are always problematic. If (!) Bernstein's and Avi's comparisons are correct, then I would explain them this way: A majority of Europeans is more cautious, hesitant or timid in foreign policy, because the European countries are much less powerful than the United States and because Europeans remember how many disasters they have caused in the past: Germany has started two world wars. Other European countries have learned from their colonialist past. The United States has a different history. Therefore many Americans might have more faith in "complete solutions," as Avi put it.
Failure to bring freedom, democracy and security to Iraq and Afghanistan is likely to decrease support in the United States for international interventions and might lead to some more support for isolationism or at least to a more cautious, hesitant approach like in Europe. See the Atlantic Review's posts about Isolationism on the rise and about Victor David Hanson, who sees success in the Middle East, but worries about US isolationism.

There are, however, still some active Neocons, who advocate bold military moves, albeit not anymore regime change and democratization: "We must bomb Iran", because "diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear threat," writes Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, in the Los Angeles Times (November 19, 2006):
What should be the timing of such an attack? If we did it next year, that would give time for U.N. diplomacy to further reveal its bankruptcy yet would come before Iran will have a bomb in hand (and also before our own presidential campaign). In time, if Tehran persisted, we might have to do it again.
He is wrong to blame communism for the rise of fascism and Nazism:
Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse. After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs -- the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin -- and rejected the idea. The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II. Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him.
"Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall -- and crazy:" is Fareed Zakaria quoted in the related Atlantic Review post About Terrorism and Security Policy Debates in Germany and the United States.
Though some people do not consider the past policies under Bush senior and Clinton to be "cautious," but dangerous and responsible for the rise of terrorism and WMD proliferation. They want to be cautious and deal with potential future threats before they get too big. The problem with pre-emption, however, is that it could make the threats bigger rather than smaller, like the Iraq war did.

The Foreign Policy Magazine blog  writes about the views of democratization expert Larry Diamond:
Diamond is under no illusions about what the Iranian regime is up to, describing their current activities as an "obvious, frenetic pursuit of nuclear weapons." But he is surprisingly optimistic about the prospects for reform in Iran; arguing that there’s a "good probability" that we might see a democratic Iran within the next ten years or so.
He believes that if "if we bomb [reform is] dead for a decade." But if we don’t, he sees real opportunities. He points out that, "Ahmadinejad is less effective and less politically potent internally than he may appear and the key to our strategy, in part, has to be to give him enough rope to hang himself."

Iran is still years away from building a nuclear bomb, so there is no need to bomb Iran now, which would just lead to another one of the quagmires Bernstein writes about, while not ending Iran's nuclear program, but strengthening the regime and reinforcing their determination to pursue nuclear weapons.


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Yank on :

So, a NYT [buzz] journalist [buzz] who has lived in Europe [buzz] for four years writes: "The blue-state-red-state dichotomy is a real and enduring one, and it is reflected in fierce and angry polemics about matters like gay rights and abortion that, for the most part, were settled in Europe years ago. It is not wrong to see the United States as a place where, far more than in Europe, a lot of basic issues are up for grabs." But I thought we were supposed to be a bunch of cattle mindlessly herded whatever direction they want by our stale media and those evil Republicans. I'm sorry, both myths about us can't be true at once. Now what must this wanna-be Euro mean? He has one o' them magical things - a passport, right? That's one o' them PC codewords, right? In Eurospeak that makes him not a stupid, stuck-in-his-own-little-provincial-world hick, right? That makes him more like a Euro. Yep, we Americans, or at least us red-state Americans, are kinda slow, right? We are so stupid we debate such "basic" issues, issues you advanced and sophisticated Euros (yawn)settled decades ago. But, I'm just a stupid yank, so I don't understand why groupthink is something for Europeans to pride themselves in. In fact, ifn' I scratch my head and pnder it a bit, it seems to me that the minority have the courage of their convictions. So they're more likely to be in the right than those in the majority on an issue - many of whom have weathervanes for minds. How were these issues "settled" there Europe? When did Euros have this debate? Never. They were never debated in Europe, because in Europe nobody says or does a thing without looking around first to see what everybody else does. I mean that literally. Little pieces of Europe have colonized America. On the coast of New England and the coast of California. As in too-densely populated Europe, in these too-densely populated places here, political correctness rules under the tyranny of the majority. Hence, you get 93% of New Yorkers belonging to the same political party. Kinda like cattle. You will always find about the same percentage of them all always facing the same direction, too. Which is why a few cowboys (like Chirac) can herd them so easily. Us hicks here in the flyover states have, and give, each other room. So here you don't get sneered at or viewed as an inferior being for your opinions and beliefs. You will surely get argued with, though. But we are free to have minds of our own. So, trying to herd us is like trying to herd cats. Which is a big part of the reason why we've never bestowed a Hitler or a Stalin on the world. For example, getting 60% of a vote is considered a "landslide." There are very few issues where you find up to 80% of us in agreement, and that happens only near the beginning and/or near the end of the national debate. And so I thank Bernstein for his unintended praise of us. It's priceless.

Zyme on :

@ Yank Maybe we stopped discussing every basic issue here for a reason: More often than not, leaving such issues up to experts is considered to be more efficient.

Pinkerton on :

"Maybe we stopped discussing every basic issue here for a reason: More often than not, leaving such issues up to experts is considered to be more efficient." Which experts would those be, Zyme? Who was the expert in France that let Germany march through Paris? Who was the expert in Germany who convinced the population that it was a good idea to exterminate all the Jews? It is the American public who keep our so-called experts in line. A majority of Americans just voted in our election to change direction in government. They saw what the "experts" were doing in Iraq and with our foreign and domestic policies, so they appointed new "experts"....who, if they don't tow the line, will be in the same unemployment lines as the old experts. Richard Bernstein seems to have forgotten something while he was pretending to be European, America is all out division and free thought. That is what our country was founded on and we don't need to be "European" in order to be united. Our ideas may vary from state to state or political party, but that is what our Constitution was based on, freedom for all to speak and be heard. So, he can talk about blue state/ red state division...however, he might want to open his eyes and see that those colors change with times and events. They aren't set in stone and neither are the ideas of Americans.

Don S on :

I just want to express my pleasant amazement about what a difference a single tiny election can make to some people's attitude. I've not seen a better paen to american democracy is quite some time. Good. I'm not going to be a dog in the manger just because 'my' side lost this time. Nor am I going to predict that it will be 'two and out' because I don't believe that. I think the new House will last between 4-6 years minimum with a decent possibility of going 12 - if they can come together on a positive (and popular) agenda. Even if they don't I think present signs are that the House GOP will take at least 4 years to get their act together - thus my prediction. The senate is a different thing and swings more on national issues I think - so I just don't know. So, Pinkerton - welcome to the club! God Bless America, bro!

Yank on :

"Maybe we stopped discussing every basic issue here for a reason: More often than not, leaving such issues up to experts is considered to be more efficient." Less strain on the brain, right? But, hey, if you don't use it, won't you lose it? So, you prefer the "efficiency" of letting others do your thinking for you. Like I said, I'm just a stupid Yank, so I don't quite get why you would view that as something to be proud of. Because it seems to me that if you let others make up your mind, you're granting them ownership rights to it. Pardon us stupid Yanks for thinking it's better to have a mind of your own. For, it seems to us that if it's prostitution to let others do that with your body, why would it be anything else if you let them do it with your mind? But then, we hicks just don't get "nuance" like you guys do.

clarence on :

Zyme, I think Yank is an expert. ;-)

Zyme on :

Yeah clarence, this is also my impression. Yank and Pinkerton, you both do qualify for being experts in individuality! Just in case the need arises to learn something about this foreign concept, will I be allowed to consult you? :) Good night everyone!

2020 on :

Before the background of the Iraq war it should not be forgotten that, at least officially the majority of European nations has contributed to that war. Only France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg have rejected any engagement - or at least they pretended to. Image the question of war had been on top of the agenda in US elections like in Germany fall 2002. The result would have been a referendum on war. An illegal war of aggression, by the way, but legal or illegal: The majority in Germany in fact was against that war, Germans don't rush the battle fields anymore like in the past. In fact and most obviously Schröder's 'No to the Iraq War' was an excellent decision. In the light of reality the direct engagement in Operation Iraqi Freedom could have likely been the last time Germans go to war for another 60 years, not even for more justified wars. Anyway, Germany said no, not only officially but also (de facto) by referendum. As a matter of fact, more than 20 European nations supported OIF per ordre de mufti, not by domestic consent. Unfortunately we will never know how Americans would have voted, but we do know how this illegal war of aggression was started politically. So any comparison of Europe and America in this war should also make a difference between political guidance and the people, between partisans and cheer leaders and the silent majorities as well. And said so, what would we learn from America if we knew exactly the percentage of a population approving illegal wars of aggression? Just image we would be talking about Germany not the U.S.A. ---- =D

Yank on :

Not illegal. The ones who violated International Law are Chirac and Schroeder. We do know how the American people would have voted. All polls showed overwhelming support. Also, our legislators find out what the people want before voting, and they voted overwhelmingly to authorize the invasion. You see, here our elected officials answer directly to their constituency, not to a party list as in Europe. Here, we call and write our representatives over important issues - they get a ton of our feedback every day. They religiously keep track of constituent-contact "for" and "against." And they poll on their own, as well. They survive in office by knowing what we think and voting accordingly. That's the way it works here. We really do control our government. You guys should try it, you might like it. "Just image we would be talking about Germany not the U.S.A. ---- =D" Yes, I bet you'd like that too. Just why are Europeans so fixated on America? It's a very strange obsession. You put us under a microscope finding no end of fault. Very unwholesome pastime. It tempts one to advise Europeans to "get a life."

2020 on :

Yank, the only nation which had the authority to officially declare the end of cease fire (but never did) according to relevant resolutions 687, etc, etc, including 1441, was Kuwait - not the USA. Unlike centuries past, a cease fire today means the restauration of the state of peace. Was Kuwait under attack? No! Were the USA under attack? No! OIF was a preemptive war based on lies, a war of aggression. On the other hand, which international law did Chirac and Schröder violate? You control your government? Fine. Let's see what you will do with a government that has manipulated you with lies to start a war, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars for nothing more than the personal revenge of the Bush family on Saddam Hussein. Let's see what you will do with a government that allowed America's arch enemy Iran to take the windfall profits of OIF so easily. As a result, America's influence in the Middle East tends to zero. Iranian hardliners are rather amused than irritated by the formidable US-Army at their borders as they expand nuclear programs and strengthen ties to Lebanon and Syria. Time is Iran's side. Iran is one of the hot candidates to join the Russian-Chinese security alliance SCO, which as a whole rejects any presence of NATO forces in Central Asia (Afghanistan). Sooner or later NATO will have to leave Afghanistan and sooner or later the US-Army will leave Iraq - but probably not with glory, march and song. Rather with a big spasibo from Russia. If still in doubt: Ask the Israelis what they think about the U.S.A. as a security factor in the Middle East today. The Bush-Administration has run out of options, finally, all the damage done. In Germany we say: Lies have short legs. Obviously, you control a stupid president. No other imaginable US-President could have done worse than Mr Bush. So what reasons could you have to believe you could control the world? Now that's funny, right?

Assistant Village Idiot on :

2020 - I am getting tired of the incessantly repeated "lies" and "stupid" accusations. We know the same information that you do, it does not rise to the level of lying or stupidity. If you wish to disagree with policies and point out how losses might exceed gains of any particular action of this president - or indeed of any leader of anything, down to a U10 football team - then please do so. An insistence on black-white thinking, and throwing around phrases like "illegal war," "personal revenge," etc has become a hallmark of the far left recently. You have to wonder who the the Cowboys actually are in these discussions, dividing the world into white hats and black hats. Yes, I know that is supposed to be the criticism of the right, and I have my stereotypes backwards, but I can only respond on the basis of what people write, and leftists display a stark duality which does not foster thought. I will note two other related items: other than JW occasionally, I do not see that commenters from the left here ever challenge these manichean rantings from numerous commenters. I thus conclude that they are not objectionable or are even agreeable to the consensus here. If that is so, it will be hard to take most responses seriously, and I might easily overlook honest criticism amidst the rants. Secondly, as to experts: yes, it is likely that neither yank nor I qualify as experts on much of foreign affairs - just reasonably intelligent people trying to figure things out as best we can. But we do have one enormous advantage: whatever benefits European intellectuals provided in the arts and sciences in the 20th C, their consensus (on both sides of both wars) political opinions in every decade turned out to be dangerously wrong, from early Marxists, through the 93 German Intellectuals defending WWI, and on through the fall of the Soviet Union. Just heading in the opposite direction of those "experts" would have been a pretty safe bet. I will happily take my chances observing events myself.

Zyme on :

Assistant Village Idiot And who exactly do you believe to be a "leftist" here?

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