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May 12, 2004

Here's a thought for you commenters and emailers...

...who have been saying, "If we just stayed out of other people's affairs, these things wouldn't happen!"

We tried that, remember? Oh, probably not. Especially if you've been getting taught history lately.

In 1917 we found ourselves in France. And after the war we got so disgusted with the Versailles process (exacerbated by Wilson's damnable ego) that we withdrew from that process. That worked! Boy, did it!

How about it caused us to have to visit Europe again. This time visiting via the beaches of Morocco, and Sicily, and Anzio, and Normandy, to name a few - and not to mention the ones in the Pacific.

Do you really think that isolationism works?

It hasn't worked since 1898. And the world is a whole lot smaller now than it was then.

Think about it.

We effectively ignored them over the Marine Barracks. Khobar Towers. East African Embassies. USS Cole. Mogadishu. We see how much of a reduction in 'terrorism' the LE approach got us.

9/11.

Update: An observation from David Frum -

The Arab Middle East has spawned murderous ideologies that threaten the peace and security of the whole world. You can’t “withdraw” from the Middle East: not when millions of Middle Easterners live in the West, not when the Middle East produces one-third of the world’s oil, and not when you can get from Riyadh or Baghdad to Boise, Idaho, in less than 24 hours.

The kicker:

So our options resolve themselves to basically four:

1) Try to find some way to calm the extremists down. This was the policy the US followed in the 1990s – it was the ultimate justification for Clinton’s Palestinian diplomacy. By now it should be obvious that the people we are concerned about won’t be calmed. The appeasement option isn’t an option: It’s a wish.

2) The Bush approach – try to deal with the sources of extremism by promoting democratic change in the region. By curbing tyrannies that foment extremism to justify their hold on power – like Iraq’s, like Saudi Arabia’s – the US and its allies can promote what the president calls “the peaceful pursuit of a better life.”

3) But let’s suppose that the Bush policy fails too. Let’s suppose policy-makers decide that the Middle East cannot be changed any more than it can be calmed. What then? Then I’m afraid we are going to see the emergence of a harsh new pseudo-realism that will in effect try to seal the Middle East off from the rest of the world. Hire new dictators to police the region, lock the people in, and “let them kill each other” as they say in the line at my supermarket.

4) But any policy so self-consciously dismissive will be anathema to the soft spirit of American liberalism. And so the likeliest consequence of a Bush defeat and a turn away from his policies will be: nothing at all. We’ll end up averting our eyes, telling ourselves that we can protect ourselves by chasing down al Qaeda fugitives, and basically forgetting about the whole problem – until of course it strikes again.