Glenn Reynolds writes

ARNOLD KLING ON fear of confrontation: “Unfortunately, large segments of American society no longer have the ability to confront real evil. People lack the confidence and moral clarity to stand up to intimidation. . . . One can view Islamic militants as armed versions of unruly teenagers. We should not feel guilty toward them. We should demand reasonable and decent behavior from them, rather than excuse their tantrums or their crimes.”

That would require thinking of ourselves as adults, which is unacceptable to many.

I want to think of “us” as the adults. In fact, in the run-up to the Iraq war, which I supported despite the clear disingenuity of the war’s justification, I took a similar, explicitly paternalistic view of the world. The Europeans in particular were behaving like petulant teenagers, protesting “the system” while enjoying a vast subsidy, in financial terms and as “moral comfort”, by letting America do the dirty work ensuring their security. And I viewed much of the Middle East as locked in a kind of post-Marxist, post-colonial, Che-T-shirt-style adolescent radicalism, which mixed with Islamism and pan-Arab nationalism, and unfortunately real explosives. My view at that time was that the United States was an arbiter of reason and civilation, imperfect but sufficient to enforce certain standards and keep the peace.

But, owing partly to the incompetence which with Iraq’s reconstruction has been managed, but primarly to the fact the United States has allowed the soundness of its own economy to become badly undermined, I no longer believe we are credible adults. My estimation of the Europeans and the Islamic world have not changed. I’ve little flattering to say about either. But now the United States reminds me of an alcoholic parent trying to keep its delinquent kids in check. Tipsy, blustering America might be well-intentioned, it might in fact know better what’s right and what’s wrong, but its constant bumbling, its ability to throw tantrums but incapacity to lead or to guide, and its self-destructive partying on cheap capital render it an ineffective role model. The US is in for a bad financial hangover from its subsidized home-equity binging. While I have complete faith in America’s ability to take a cold shower and figure out how to right itself economically, that will take several years, and those will be years in which the US will be weakened, and manifestly in crisis. America’s security burdens will weigh heavily in an era of financial pain at home and escalating US dollar prices for anything and everything in foreign lands. I’m afraid we may not have the wherewithal to carry the load.

And then I am haunted by Osama Bin Laden’s tale of the weak horse and the strong horse. In a world where America is weakened and Europe is senescent, let’s hope that it is India, or the Pacific Rim, or even Red China itself that rides tall for a while, and not some destructive amalgam of religion, nationalism, and fascism.


2 Responses to “Adults?”

  1. Anthony writes:

    I can not understand why you claim that “…Europeans in particular were behaving like petulant teenagers, protesting “the system” while enjoying a vast subsidy, in financial terms and as “moral comfort”.

    Let me remind you that NATO (the alliance that mostly consists of European countries) decided to invoke 5 article of Washington Treaty ( that stipulates that” an armed attack against one or more of the Allies in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”) on September 12, 2001…It was the FIRST time when this article had been invoked ( NATO was more than 50 years old). Why these “coward” Europeans decided to invoke it?!

    Well, because the threat was real and dangerous. It was not just the product of imagination.

    The war in Iraq was waged on false premises (on the assertions that Iraq’s regime possessed WMD). Europeans did not believe it in 2002(claiming that there was insufficient evidence that Iraq had WMD and did regard this country as an immediate threat), the only difference today is that Americans do not believe it either. No wonder as three years have passed, yet no evidence that Saddam had WMD so far has been presented.

  2. Anthony, first, though you come at me tough, thanks for the comment! It’s lonely here sometimes.

    It’s not the particulars of European criticism of the Iraq War that I refer to in the “petulant teenager” crack. Although I was a supporter of the Iraq War, I knew then, as I know now, that the case the Bush Administration was presenting was not the real case for war. While I did believe — as did the Bush administration, as did every European government — that Iraq was hiding “WMDs”, that was not the only or even the primary motivator for war. The Bush Administration did exaggerate the evidence for WMDs, indefensibly, and criticism of the quality of that evidence at the time was on the mark. Still, there was a reasonable case for war with Iraq, having to do with the possibility if hidden WMDs, sure, but also with the fact that the sanctions regime was morally indefensible and crumbling, while Saddam Hussein’s regime could not be handled the strategic victory their dismantling would have represented; with America’s perceived need, post-9/11, to demostrate its ability to project power even into the heart of Arabia; and yes, with the hope (badly bungled, we now know, and perhaps naive even at the time, but not a possibility that could be dismissed out of hand) that “regime change” could make way for a demonstration project for positive change in Middle East governance. Iraq has gone badly awry, and there’s blame to go ’round for that, but there was a real case for war three years ago.

    European governments had every right to criticize, and many of their criticisms have been borne out by events. But even though they disagreed with the US decision to go to war, they did not behave like allies. Allies would have registered their disagreement, forcefully, but after a decision had been taken, do everything possible to help the enterprise succeed. Instead, they sat self-righteously on the sidelines, refusing involvement and waiting for an opportunity to say I told you so. Both in behavior and rhetoric, many Europeans treated the US not as though it had taken an arguable course of action with which they disagreed strongly, but as though the US had become some expansionist fascist empire, which it is not and has never resembled. In this way, Europeans behaved as petulant teenagers, exaggerating the sins of “the establishment” or “the system”, “the Man” or “the Power (hyperpower?)”, when in fact the system, while badly flawed, is better than nearly all imaginable real-world alternatives, and they themselves draw succor and the luxury of criticism from that system. Again, I’m not arguing with European criticism, much of which was on the mark, and certainly deserved more consideration than it was given. I’m arguing with the tone of that criticism, and with European behavior once their most important ally had taken a decision that they disagreed with. I do maintain that much of Europe behaved childishly, as though we live in a world where wars, since they are always unjust, must never be necessary, and where it is heroic to wash ones hands rhetorically of morally questionable arrangements while continuing to enjoy material benefits therefrom.

    Europe did behave well on September 12, 2001. I was in Europe, on September 12, 2001, and appreciated that very much. European support of the war in Afghanistant was also appreciated, although even with respect to that war, for which the case was clear, European popular opinion was anything but enthusiastic. The (strong) undercurrent in European political debate that “the hyperpower meddles, so whatever it gets it has coming” is, in my opinion, hypocritical idiocy. Nevertheless, European governments behaved reasonably with respect to Afghanistan, and credit is indeed due there.

    I’m sure I won’t have convinced you, but I hope you at least see where I’m coming from. And thank you again for dropping by to read, and comment!