|We'll Run This Planet As We Please|
And if you don't like it, go back where we came from.
BY P.J. O'ROURKE
Saturday, August 25, 2001 12:01 a.m.
Are Americans pursuing a misguided course of unilateralism? Are we failing to cooperate and coordinate with other countries in matters such as the Kyoto climate treaty, missile defense, and peace processes in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere? Are we telling foreigners to go pound sand?
But we are foreigners. Every person in America came from, or is descended from someone who came from, somewhere else, even if it was 30,000 years ago on a land bridge across the Bering Strait. Of course we're unilateral. If we Americans had wanted to be ordered around by English wig-tops, French functionaries, bossy Germans, disorganized Italians, tin-pot Latin American dictators, and Ice Age Siberian bureaucrats, we would have stayed where we were. And in the case of us Americans who were shipped here, due to slavery or exile, we could have gone back. Both the history of Liberia and the type of American who lives in Paris indicate this is a bad idea.
Being foreigners ourselves, we know what you other foreigners are up to with your Faustian bargaining sessions, your venomous covenants, lying alliances, greedy agreements, back-stabbing ententes cordiales, and trick-or-treat treaty ploys. Count us out.
And, while we're counting, let's count all the nations on the face of the earth that really count. The number seems to be one. Russia used to be a superpower but resigned "to spend more time with the family." China is supposed to be mighty. But the Chinese leadership sweats and trembles when a couple hundred Falun Gong members show up in Tianamen Square for a mass tai chi workout.
The United States, with 4.5% of the world's population and 6% of its land area, produces one-fifth of everything in the world. And we consume even more than that. No nation compares to America in wealth. Certainly not Japan. Japan turned out to be a macroeconomic Pokémon craze. Impoverished citizens of the developing world do not wade the Pacific in the middle of the night seeking a better life in Japan.
No nation compares to America in influence. American fashions, entertainment, aspirations and ideals dominate the planet the way Chandra Levy dominates Fox News Channel. Britain, France and Germany are obscure branch offices of American culture and may be closed in the interests of rational consolidation.
As for comparisons in matters of life and death, America spends more on defense than the next 12 top defense-spending countries combined. If the U.S. is going to be involved in military multilateralism, it should ask its partner nations that ancient question of diplomacy, "You and what army?"
Indeed, getting America involved in anything of a multilateral nature is like naming The Rock to an Olympic rowing team and giving the other oars to David Spade and Calista Flockhart. When America does manage to participate, as an equal, in the community of nations, the results are not pretty. Look at the stupid U.N. And somewhere in the hills of former Yugoslavia the ghost of Woodrow Wilson wanders Marley-like, dragging his chains and regretting the deeds of his life. Yet the foolish notion of one-worlders persists: Let the lion lie down with the lamb chop.
What is the point of multilateralism? Is it supposed to prevent wars? There aren't many wars at the moment--except in Israel, Macedonia and a few other places where multilateralism has been attempted. Is nuclear holocaust to be prevented? America's unilateral missile-defense system will do that, albeit unilaterally. And, by the way, how come all the people who were so in favor of unilateral nuclear disarmament are so opposed to unilateral protection against nukes?
Is the environment to be cleaned up? What's needed for environmental cleanup is money. America has most of it. A Kyoto treaty that damages the American economy is not going to leave us Americans with extra money to help you foreigners recycle your trash--like all those corrupt, deposed dictators you're always sending here.
Or is the point of multilateralism simply that America is expected to imitate the elder and better nations of Europe? They, in their wisdom, decided that their continent did not have enough government and needed one more big one. After Hitler, Napoleon and Attila the Hun, the Europeans should know where this leads. Undeterred by historical example, however, the EU looks to fulfill the age-old dream of having a country of English cooks, German lovers, French defense forces and Italian efficiency experts.
America is not an insular country. Unilateralism is not isolationism. America has always been outward-looking, as the beleaguered Sioux and high-tailing Mexican armies of the century before last could testify. An isolationist America would mean New York State champagne and Mississippi catfish caviar. And there is an intrinsic element of the multilateral in the American character. Look at our malls. We are perfectly willing to accept what the rest of the world deems good--if it comes in attractive colors.
But the rest of the world should not push America too far with claims upon international relations. The earth is not a family. And only an idiot would try multilateralism in a family, anyway. If you foreigners want America to join in a family marriage of nations, fine. But I warn you, we will be a strict dad. Because it's our planet. And we said so.
Mr. O'Rourke is a writer for The Atlantic Monthly. His latest book, "The CEO of the Sofa," has just been published by The Atlantic Monthly Press.