Victor Davis Hanson Saturday continues here on Fraters Libertas.
Over the past month or so, Front Page Magazine has hosted a series of virtual symposiums on various foreign policy issues of the day. The format is a discussion (which I presume is held electronically) between four noted observers on any given subject, moderated by a Front Page staffer, who is also typically an expert on the subject at hand.
The most recent symposium was published on Friday and regarded the topic "Appeasement Then and Now" and contributing to the discussion, among others, were Pat Buchanan, Michael Ledeen, and Victor Davis Hanson. I encourage you to read the whole thing, as it's fascinating, with well articulated opinions all around. I especially liked this exchange between Buchanan and Hanson. Mr. Buchanan's arguments regarding the correlation between burdeonsome overseas commitments (which he refers to as "empire") and terrorism always seemed plausible to me. But watch how Hanson crushes him with his superior knowledge of history and its application to current events:
Buchanan: ..... terrorism is the price of empire. The Irgun used terror to drive the Brits out of Palestine, the Algerians used it to drive the French out of Algeria, Hezbollah used terror to drive Israelis out of Lebanon. Chechens are using terror to drive out the Russians out of Chechnya. When imperialists go home where they belong, they find that the terrorism diminishes in almost every case, and in many it disappears.
Now that the United States has been isolated from Iran, by Iran's choice, for almost a quarter of a century, one finds that the people of Iran are less anti-American than the people of many of the Islamic nations we defend.
We see anti-American riots today in South Korea and yesterday in Okinawa. If we withdraw from both, as we wisely did from Subic Bay we will find that the anti-Americanism dissipates. Several years back, in A Republic Not an Empire, I predicted an act of cataclysmic terror would take place on American soil. If we do not deep six this drive for some new empire, down the road an American city may pay the price. What is there over there worth mass slaughter in my home town of Washington, D.C.?
Hanson: In reference to Mr. Buchanan, let me say this: supporting autocracies like present-day Saudi Arabia or Egypt is wrong but not necessarily must be synonymous with positive activism per se abroad. What we did in Afghanistan and Serbia made better not worse countries, as was true of Panama and Grenada. Kurdistan is a more humane place for the no-fly zones; take away our "imperial" jets and you would have thousands gassed in minutes.
The problem in Iran was initial support for a dictator without pressing him for reform-followed by sudden abandonment of him by Carter and coddling of religious murderers. Terror may seem the cost of so-called "empire" due to the vastly increased exposure of Americans abroad. But three points are salient to avoid simplistic generalizations. First, it is easy to tally the price of an American presence overseas when terrorists strike, but far harder to calibrate the value to the world when China chooses not to invade Taiwan or intimidate Japan due to the 7th fleet; the lives we save and the ruin we prevent are always unappreciated vis-à- vis the more visible hazards we incur.
Second, we do not exercise an empire like the British or Romans: we colonize no one; pay for bases rather than demand them; take no territory; and steal no one's national treasure. South Korea, Greece, or Japan can ask us to leave anytime they wish -- as did the Philippines -- and we will be departing promptly. Instead Filipinos seemed to have been saying "Leave and take all of us with you" -- if their immigration patterns are any indication.
Indeed, Mr. Buchanan is angry at our presence abroad precisely because its value to us is not explainable in terms of national advantage and results in none of the profits of his examples of traditional empires. Quite literally, we bear the costs -- unduly as I can attest as a smaller farmer who has seen my entire family wiped out by cheap imported food -- of a world gradually evolving toward democracy and market capitalism that sorely bothers tribal and traditional peoples.
The better question rather is a South America or Asia better or worse for our promotion of consensual government and opposition to thuggery abroad? We can retreat homeward, but without US influence abroad -- impossible without military power -- we will soon be dealing with a nuclear Brazil, a threatening North Korea, and a Middle East blackmailed by theocracies and dictators who will buy multi-staged rockets and nuclear material from Europe, China, and Russia. Isolationism did not prevent nor win the World Wars, nor stop Russian divisions from overrunning Europe, and it will not appease or thwart the present criminal regimes. They despise us--at home, abroad, whatever--for what we are, not what we do.
Third, with all due respect to Mr. Buchanan, there is not necessarily any direct connection between terror and empire: The Maryland sniper was a thug not a terrorist with a political agenda; the British, Dutch, Greeks, Italians, and French are being terrorized by Islamists despite staying home in Europe for a half century. Why do the Kenyans get killed when they have no profile; did their neutrality earn them a reprieve? Did Australians colonize Bali? Are Paraguay and Uruguay frequented by al Qaeda because of their imperial pasts? By such logic the Catholic Church should call in all its missionaries abroad to stop the daily threats to the Vatican from Islamists who have "legitimate" grievances due to priests in the Holy Land. If Mr. Buchanan were right, the Tibetans would be bombing their Chinese occupiers who really are brutal imperialists. Indeed, his array of false exegesis almost lends legitimacy to the fundamentalists, who are mostly pampered and educated; they are not national liberationists, but opportunistic criminals who envy and crave what they cannot create themselves and take out their sense of inferiority by talking grandly of the Crusades and Moorish Spain as bromides for their own failed tribalism, fundamentalism, and gender apartheid.