John M. Owen, IV
University of Virginia
That Magic Moment
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA'S critique of Charles Krauthammer's doctrine of a unipolar America ("The Neoconserv-ative Moment", Summer 2004), properly scolds Krauthammer for ignoring clearly unfortunate "facts on the ground." For Krauthammer does not just skip over inconvenient facts, he mistakes his judgement for fact-most importantly, the judgement that our transatlantic allies no longer count for much. But does the current "coalition of the willing" (wherein American forces take nearly all the burden) really equal a coherent NATO force willing to take action against radical Islamism? Might it not have been better to take Lord Robertson and nato up on their pledge after 9/11 to stand with the U.S. against terrorism? It was the imprudence of the current foreign policy, consonant with the democratic realism put forward by Krauthammer, that has placed America in the current position of temporal alliances having no common (or lasting) values, when a different diplomatic and ideological approach could have strengthened America's efforts.
The neoconservative argument that I knew during the Cold War was a moral one that reaffirmed the inherent rightness of upholding freedom against totalitarianism. Clearly, the neoconservative argument has gone way off course in trading sound policies of containment using democratic alliances for a doctrine of pre-emption that insisted on war in Iraq. But let this cold warrior state the case plainly: Pre-emption leads nations to unnecessary and therefore immoral wars and the harmful consequences such wars bring, including ruptured alliances and the consequent reduced influence of the United States in world affairs.
That there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, that there are now a thousand American fatalities (and untold numbers of Iraqis), that traditional alliances with nations possessing real military strength have been broken, that there is a breakdown in civil order in Iraq-nothing can dissuade the purveyors of pre-emption that Iraq was a wrong course to take. Thus, Krauthammer's attempts to put limits on democratic idealism begs the question: Where does such reasoning end when it begins with an unnecessary war?
There is no doubt America is the sole superpower. But there is also no doubt that America will not be able to prosecute the War on Terror alone or with ad hoc alliances. Even our current "coalition of the willing" is a bow to this reality that the superpower cannot be the sole policeman. But if America's new foreign policy has alienated such sturdy democratic allies as France and Germany (because, as Fukuyama points out, we have simply lost the capacity to listen), one cannot hope that the perpetuation of that foreign policy will create sturdy (and equally powerful) new ones. Instead, America's allies will have the color of dictatorships like Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan, and our antagonists that of a greater number of NATO members and democracies. This is neither prudent nor moral foreign policymaking.
Nobody's Fault But Mine
NEIL MCINNES'S remarkable account of the rise and fall of "Australian genocide" ("Requiem for a Genocide", Summer 2004) is a case study in one of the more striking Western pathologies of recent times: that of the volunteer scapegoat. The common, in some ways rational, response when individuals or nations are reproached is to argue, "It's not my fault." In many cases, of course, this response is self-serving. The strange thing in these political cases is that the response of "it is our fault" often turns out to be no less irrational. Similarly, the rational response to being kidnapped or hijacked is resentment and an attempt to frustrate the crime. But the so-called "Stockholm syndrome" is a pathology in which the victims identify with their abductors. Some light is shed on these moral attitudes if we remember Orwell's view that many people (and especially intellectuals) find power hard to resist. They feel they must try to understand why Stalin, Hitler, Bin Laden and the like have the power and the passions they do. In the Australian case, most of the voluntary scapegoats belonged to the academic classes, and they went further. They not only embraced but virtually fabricated the case for national self-accusation. Many of them came to think that Australia must collectively and institutionally say "sorry" in order to sustain its place in the comity of morally acceptable states.
One can only speculate about the thoughts that went into this curious collective enthusiasm. These must include a Christian belief about repentance warranting forgiveness-the illusion that moral immaculacy is possible. Another line of thought was clearly an ill-informed induction from realism. Similar bad things have happened in other encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples: Who are we in Australia to think that we are better than others? We may also guess that the vanity of liberal elites disposes them easily to think of themselves as honest, frank and sensitive, by contrast with the self-serving civic partialities of what politicians these days call "ordinary people." No doubt many other impulses are at work, but among the lessons we may derive from these strange attitudes is that rationally benevolent dispositions can sometimes lead to a ruthless indulgence in untruth.
THE ARTICLE "The New Geopolitics of Oil" (Special Energy Supplement, Winter 2003/04) by Joe Barnes, Amy Jaffe and Edward L. Morse, unfortunately contains a good deal of old, in-the-box thinking, as well as a strange fascination with what they call "neoconservative" policy.
They use the old chestnut that Saudi Arabia has a quarter of global petroleum reserves. This would be a reasonable estimate for "conventional" oil. But conventional oil is an outdated category from the time that unconventional oil, principally Canadian tar sands and Venezuelan heavy oil, could not be produced at competitive costs. Including "unconventional" oil, the Western Hemisphere has more reserves than the Persian Gulf region. While Persian Gulf oil mostly costs much less than $15 per barrel to produce, there is not enough very low cost oil on the market to keep the price below the current cost of unconventional oil.
They stress that the key element of Saudi oil power is the ability to expand production by 1.9 million barrels per day (BPD). But they ignore the fact that the OECD countries also have the possibility of putting an additional 1.9 million BPD into the market from their strategic stockpiles. This can dramatically affect the great fear that the Persian Gulf oil producers might someday shut their spigots and leave the West without the oil on which we have become dependent. OECD storage is enough to enable the world to do without Persian Gulf oil for about half a year. Can the Persian Gulf countries do without the dollars they get from selling oil for six months?
A real "New Geopolitics of Oil" would recognize that dependency in the relationship between buyers and sellers of oil runs in both directions and is much more complex than the old notion of consumers being at the mercy of the Persian Gulf producers.
Also, it is a little hard to understand why Barnes et al. think it is only "neoconservative ideology" that leads to the conclusion that the billions of dollars of Saudi oil money being spent annually to promote the Wahhabi brand of Islamism is playing a "pernicious" role in the world. Do liberals think the madrassas are helping the world?
Although they make a number of sound recommendations and provide some useful information, they seem to need windmills to tilt at, such as the idea that the Bush Administration decision to remove Saddam Hussein was partly motivated by the idea that a grateful Iraq would force oil prices to low levels. Producing a somewhat more pluralistic and free government in Iraq, in order to start the process of making the Middle East less of a source of danger to the world, would amply justify the U.S. removal of Saddam, and there is not and never was any reason to think that a free Iraq would want to pursue very low oil prices.