unreal

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    THE UNREALISM OF REALISTS

    As this unworthy election campaign heads toward its finale, thereÕs a growing consensus among sections of the right that John Kerry missed a trick. The eminent George Will puts it most forcefully: the Democratic nominee should have mounted "a root-and-branch critique of the stunningly anticonservative idea animating the administrationÕs policy. The idea, a tenet of neoconservatism, is that all nations are more or less ready for democracy."

    In other words, the Iraq project is founded on the kind of sappy cotton-candy delusion that hitherto only the most foolish multiculti liberals have fallen for.

    First things first: There are several just about viable positions Senator Kerry could take on Iraq, and at one time or another heÕs taken most of them, sometimes on the same weekend, sometimes during the same 90-minute debate. But running as Henry Kissinger isnÕt one of them. Hard-nosed foreign-policy realism necessarily involves taking a dimmer view of the natives than Democratic Party pieties will permit. ThatÕs why blaming it all on Halliburton works better as the default option.

    As to whether "nation-building" is stunningly anticonservative, I can only speak for myself. IÕm not a "neocon", though IÕm often described as such. I am, to use the technical term, a "foreigner", and I only have a hazy grasp of what a neocon is. IÕm a subject of Her Britannic Majesty and in my country, Canada, insofar as any of our institutions work, they do so because they derive from Britain. ThatÕs true of a lot of the world Ð St Lucia, Australia, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, TuvaluÉ Even Ireland, in throwing off the British, did not make the mistake of throwing off the British inheritance.

    ItÕs worth considering, for example, what the Indian sub-continent would be like if it wasnÕt the worldÕs biggest Westminster-style democracy. Without the long British experience, it might look something like the Middle East Ð a patchwork of princely states presided over by Sultans and Maharajahs, Hindu and Muslim, punctuated by thug dictatorships following Baath-type local variations on Fascism and Marxism. It would be a profoundly unstable region with a swollen uneducated citizenry of little use for call centers or tech support. Those Americans whoÕve made the mistake of buying Hewlett Packard or Compaq computers and found themselves at three in the morning talking to Suresh or Rajiv in customer service will appreciate the benefits of an Indian education. They can thank Lord Macaulay and his famous government memo on the subject for that.

    Can the Arabs be turned into Indians? I donÕt know. But I do know that half-a-century of American "realpolitik" in the Middle East Ð the absurd inflation of the Saudi "royal" family, the lavish subsidies to the Mubaraks Ð brought us 9/11. The foreign-policy realists turned out to be totally unreal. So we need to do something else. P J OÕRourke takes the George Will line a stage further: The US military, he says, is good for blowing stuff up but not for any of this post-detonation "reconstruction" nonsense. So, if we have any problems with some two-bit dictator, we should go in, whack the bad guy, leave and let the locals squabble over who gets to be the next bad guy. If he causes trouble, we whack him, and withdraw again. Repeat as necessary. From the US taxpayerÕs point of view, this would be relatively inexpensive.

    The problem with it is that itÕs been tried before Ð in Mexico, a century ago. And the long-term result of that reductive strategy is that two-thirds of MexicoÕs population is now living in California and Texas. Failed states destabilize their neighbors. Americans donÕt have to pore over maps of West Africa to figure that out: look to the southern border. Indeed, insofar as four of the 9/11 killers obtained the picture ID with which they boarded their flights that morning through the support network for "undocumented" workers, itÕs not unreasonable to argue that, if youÕre looking for really deep "root causes" for what happened that day, you could easily start with AmericaÕs failure to nation-build in Mexico.

    Just over a week ago, George W Bush told Fox News that the solution to illegal immigration is "for Mexico to grow a middle class". "WeÕll all be dead," said Bill OÕReilly. Not if weÕd started a century ago, we wouldnÕt.

    ItÕs not impossible. The British built a nation south of the Yucatan in Belize. In the Eighties, it was just about the only country below the Rio Grande that wasnÕt a foreign policy headache for Washington. So this isnÕt some white Eurocentric thing. The Europeans have only latterly embraced the institutions of a free society and in many cases not very plausibly. If you were a 90-year old Bahamian or Mauritian, you would have lived in freedom and stability far longer than a 90-year old German or Spaniard.

    My bottom line is this: the Middle East has to become something other. If it becomes New Hampshire, great. If it becomes Malaysia or Slovenia or Botswana or Chile or Western Samoa, thatÕll do. ItÕs the particular nature of its dysfunction that threatens western interests. I donÕt like to talk about "democratizing" the region: too many countries (Liberia even) have become skilled at holding periodic elections good enough to pass muster with international observers and the IMF. In this case, itÕs about civilizing Ð about introducing the rule of law and other conditions that eventually enable true democracy.

    Education is an important part. If you speak with prominent "educated" men in many parts of the Arab world, at some point Ð usually not beyond 40 minutes into the conversation Ð they say something that is just plain nuts. Take Essa bin Mohammed al-Zedjali, editor-in-chief of The Times of Oman, marking the third anniversary of 9/11: "Every thing was well organized," he says of the attack. "The worldÕs only superpower was stunned into silence because before Sept. 11 it was all geared up for an enemy from the outer space, not from planet Earth."

    Mr al-Zedjali and his readers are on planet Earth, if only just. Given the tremendous demographic advantage the Islamic world will have in the decades ahead, America needs to use its cultural advantage while it can. ThatÕs not an unconservative position, but a realist one.

    Mark Steyn
    National Review, October 11th 2004

 
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