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January 18, 2004: In Defense of Humiliating Others

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I have often questioned our foreign policy decisions, in many items here.  What troubled me was what I saw as a tendency to rely on humiliating the opposing parties as a way to get the results we desired.


I used the old definitions. 



1 : the art and practice of conducting negotiations between nations
2 : skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility


We don't use those defininitions any longer.


For the last two years the product we were being sold, and have bought happily, is that, as Americans, we don't take crap from anyone, and we'll do what we want.  And if you don't like that?  Too bad. 


I don't like it, but I'm willing to listen to the other side.


This week one of the key conservative scholars, in William Buckley's flagship magazine, laid out the logical defense of our current policies and diplomatic methods.  He argues we can learn much from William Tecumseh Sherman. 


Perhaps so.

See Our Primordial World
Pride and Envy are what make this war go 'round.
Victor Davis Hanson. The National Review, January 16, 2004

Key Points

The situation:


Where Americans see skill and subtlety in taking out Saddam Hussein and a costly effort to liberate a people, many Iraqis, even as they taste freedom, drive new cars, and see things improve, talk instead of humiliation, hurt pride, or anger at their own impotence - whether whining over the morticians' make-up work on Qusay, or ashamed about Saddam's pathetic televised dental examination.  Iraqis scream on camera that we should not stay another minute, but even more often whisper that we better not leave yet.  Too often they seem to be mostly angry that we, not they, took out Saddam Hussein.  While the tyrant's departure was a "good" thing, it would have been even better had he killed a few thousand Americans in the process - if only to restore the sort of braggadocio lost by the Baathist flight and antics of a mendacious Baghdad Bob.

Israel suffers from the same dilemma of dealing with others' hurt pride as we do. It created a relatively humane society throughout the West Bank from 1967-1993 - and raised the standard of living, and promoted individual freedom for Palestinians in way impossible elsewhere in the Arab world.  But all that won no gratitude; instead, it stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt.  In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors.  How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word "Israel" (hence the need for "Zionist entity"), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card.


I'm not sure I agree with this analysis.  There is, no doubt, some humiliation involved in having your life disrupted, and perhaps your children killed - even if by accident with appropriate apologies - by an occupying military force.  Here Hanson may be confusing hurt pride caused by envy - as he asserts - with hurt pride being caused by powerlessness and death.  They might be different things.

But this is his premise.  The Iraqis feel humiliated that they are not as powerful and effective as us, and the Palestinians feel humiliated because Israel is so economically successful and all that. 


It's not that anyone has actually been wronged, only that they wish they were as wonderful as the Israelis or as us.

The same goes for the Europeans.


We are puzzled, too, at the fury of the "old" Europeans. We think, somehow, that such sophisticated Westerners have surely transcended Middle Eastern tribal chauvinism, and must have other legitimate grounds for their strange new religion of anti-Americanism.  But is their venom any surprise, really?  Has a Germany or France really left its past behind?  The Cold War was merely a tranquilizer that suppressed all the old human urges and appetites, a sort of forced unity brought on by the shared fear of nuclear annihilation - one that disappeared the minute Soviet divisions creaked on home.

The old truth that resurfaced was that the United States destroyed the Spanish empire in 1898, and was pivotal in derailing the Prussian imperial dream in 1918 and in annihilating the Third Reich.  It inherited by default much of the role of the British dominion, did nothing in Suez, Algeria, or Southeast Asia to rescue the tottering French Empire, and almost alone bankrupted and dismantled the Soviet imperium.  In other words, past notions of European grandeur are no more - and somewhere in that equation of ruin were the mongrel, tasteless Americans, who are now at it again, ending rather easily the fascistic cabals of Milosevic, Mullah Omar, and Saddam Hussein.

Reasonable people might suggest that Europeans and Russians would welcome these events, as no sane person could be fond of today's megalomaniacs, or even the legacy of monsters like Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin.  But then Dominique de Villepin wrote a hagiography of the little emperor, and Russians talk grandly of the old days when Soviets were feared and respected, not denizens of a motley conglomeration of squabbling, corrupt republics from Chechnya to Georgia.

So even our dealings with a more sophisticated Europe are not exempt from such awakened reptilian instincts.


Everyone envies us, thus feels humiliated.

So what follows if you accept this premise?

What are we to do?  In fact, very little can be done.  Perhaps all we can hope for is to understand rather than ameliorate these pathologies, and whenever possible combine tough love with magnanimity.  We need to draw as many troops out of Europe as fast as we can within parameters of military sobriety.  Only that way will so-called allies ever shoulder their own defense burdens and thereby regain a sense of national accomplishment.  Until then we must respond twofold to every verbal assault on us, even as we praise every European minesweeper, canteen, or police contingent that is now in Afghanistan and Iraq - all the while expecting not much more than a grunt or two of appreciation that we are leading the way.

In short, we do what must be done because the rest of the world is consumed with pathological envy of us, and Israel, and will do nothing of any consequence in this world.

And in the mean time it is important that we humiliate all others:


As Mr. Bush has grasped, every time we have humiliated our enemies we have gained respect and won security.  By the same token, on each occasion we have shown deference to a Mr. Karzai, the Iraqi interim government, and our Eastern European friends, we have helped to create security and stability.  Apart from the model of our forefathers who crushed and then lifted up the Germans and Japanese, we could find no better guide in this war than William Tecumseh Sherman and Abraham Lincoln - in that order.  The former would remind us that our enemies traffic in pride and thus first must be disabused of it through defeat and humiliation.  The latter (who turned Sherman and Grant lose) would maintain that we are a forgiving sort, who prefer restored rather than beaten people as our friends.


So that's it.

Like William Tecumseh Sherman marching to the sea and burning Atlanta, we must humiliate all others and remind them of their powerlessness. 


Then, and only then, we should forgive them their foolishness and ask them to be our friends - just like Lincoln would have done had he not been assassinated.


We should restore these beaten people as our friends, using our post Civil War reconstruction as a model?  That went well?

Will that work?

The argument is that people envy us so the logical thing to do is humiliate them, then offer friendship once they know their place.