Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 1, 2003
WAR: Kerry v. Dean, Part 2
You may recall that Howard Dean recently kicked up controversy with the following remarks (as reported by TIME magazine):
[T]wo weeks ago, while campaigning at a Stonyfield yogurt factory in New Hampshire, the would-be Commander-in-Chief suggested that America should be planning for a time when it is not the world's greatest superpower : "We have to take a different approach [to diplomacy]. We won't always have the strongest military."
Much of the resulting controversy has focused on the idea that Dean could even contemplate allowing our military power to be overtaken. Now, I agree that we need a president whose gut reaction to this concept would be "over my dead body," but on the whole, there's nothing wrong with a candidate who can think strategically 50 or 100 years down the road.
I was immediately reminded, by Dean's comments, that Bill Clinton had said something very much like this a long time ago (well, actually six weeks ago, but it seems like a long time). Mickey Kaus remembers too. Here's what Clinton said:
The U.S. should be strengthening the UN and other "mechanisms of cooperation," Clinton said. "We need to be creating a world that we would like to live in when we're not the biggest power on the block."
The bigger problem I have is not with Dean and Clinton thinking the unthinkable, but with their proposed solution.
Their idea is, we should plan for a rainy day by making sure that everyone lives under the UN and international law, so that we can be assured that we won't get attacked, and can get cooperation in our international endeavors, when we are no longer the biggest dog in the fight. We should be nice to people now, so they'll remember us well seven or eight decades down the road.
This is crazy. If China, Russia or India some day rises to supersede our military might, what power will the UN have to restrain them? Only their own restraint, just as is true of the U.S. today. And what of the gratitude of, say, the French and the Germans in standing by us then? Well, I haven't noticed a lot of gratitude-driven foreign policy lately in those parts. Nations mostly have policies based on national interest, not sentimental nostalgia.
I worry too about a world where Fortune's Wheel has turned against us. But the simple fact is, our best long-term interest lies in seeing to it that as many nations as possible live then in freedom and democracy. In the end, this was the British solution. They didn't turn the world into a big multinational bureaucracy; instead, they succeeded in training a successor who cares as much (or more) about the same things they do. The Anglo-American alliance is affected not a whit by British arrogance at the height of the Victorian empire - and oh, what arrogance it was.
The nature of our allies will matter more than the strength of our alliances. That is the path to long-term protection of our interests if we ourselves falter.