George W. Bush’s ongoing peacekeeping and democracy buildimg mission in Iraq annoys a lot of people for a lot of reasons, but it does make some sense in the context of Wilsonian diplomacy where you accept the concept that it is the job of the great powers of the world to maintain peace and order so that the poorer and more chaotic nations of the world can become civilized and develop more advanced and productive economies.
This idea, which is behind the efforts of many of the efforts of international groups like the UN and the Council on Foreign Relations, assumes that the world will be a better place for everyone if the poor folk of the world are not starving or fleeing from war and violence or spreading trouble by conquering their neighbors. It makes sense if you accept that trouble anywhere in thr world can spill over or have fallout and negative cinsequences for the wealthier and more powerful nations no matter where they are located.
It makes much less sense if you assume that there are more specific limits to national self interest or limits to the amount of money, men and resources you can afford to spend on a missionary foreign policy. As a general rule a liberal foreign policy should at least be somewhat guided by pragmatic self interest because it makes no sense to ruin and bankrupt your own country for the benefit of others.
Spreading peace and promoting economic development makes some sense, so long as the cost is reasonable and the benefits are concrete and likely to be reaped in the forseeable future. Stable nations with relatively modern and productive economies make good trading partners. If you accept the idea that one of the roles of government is to pomote the general welfare (as stated in the Constitution) through maintaining a healthy environment for international trade, then giving a hand up to potential partner nations seems reasonable.
It is also true that if you allow oppression and violence free reign, then the more primitive and troubled nations of the world will spread chaos and poverty in the form of disease and refugees and even invasion and conquest. They can even export violent and destructive ideologies. Improving conditions in these hotspots makes life better for everyone.
All of this informs the decision to become embroiled in Iraq, a country with great economic potential in the heart of the most troubled and unstable region in the world. Stabilize Iraq and you help stabilize the region, allowing economic development and reducing the threat posed to the rest of the world.
The problem with this approach to foreign policy is that the threat posed and the benefits to be reaped in the middle east do not necessarily benefit the United States and certainly not to a degree to justify a cost of a trillion dollars.
Since 9/11 it has become quite clear that the United States is far less threatened by terrorism or other attacks inspired by radical Islam than most other countries of the world. We have a relatively small and largely assimilated muslim population and we are geographically isolated and relatively easily defended from muslim invasion, infiltration or immigration. The WTC attack ws a remarkable accomplishment of luck and planning and one which is unlikely to ever be duplicated within the United States, especially when there are easier targets like US Embassies and troops overseas, and complacent, humanistic European nations only a few hundred miles from muslim strongholds.
Radical Islam holds old grudges and resents western values, and the United States both was not party to most of the historical attacks on Islam, and is a far more religious and moral society from an Islamic perspective than the corrupt nations of Europe. Muslims as a group also have a lot more contact with Europeans than with Americans and a lot better access to Europe geographically and because of the large muslim populations within many European countries. The threat to America is mainly one of isolated acts of terrorsm, mainly outside our territory. The threat to Europe is much more immediate and substantial and could be as serious as an eventual muslim takeover of some European nations.
I know it seems strange. Muslims tried to conquer Europe in the middle ages and again in the 17th century and were turned back decisively. Yet what they could not accomplish with the force of arms in earlier eras they may accomplish with the force of demographics in the next generation or two.
France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and other European countries have large and growing muslim populations. In most of these countries the muslim minority is kept largely isolated and in an economically inferior condition, limited in their employment opportunities and discouraged both by a hostile local population and by their culture from mingling or assimilating with the native society. The rate of immigration is continuing to grow, and under the laws of the European Union there is little which can be done to control the ongoing flood of immigrants as muslim countries like Turkey are admitted to the EU and follow a policy of granting citizenship to any muslim who immigrates to them, even if they move on to another European country shortly thereafter.
In addition, muslim birth rates in Europe are enormously higher than the birth rates of natives. France has a birthrate of only 12/100,000 people which barely maintains the native population. Germany actually has a negative native population growth at 8 births per 100,000 population. In contrast the typical muslim birthrate in Europe is about 35/100,000 population, outbreeding the native population by almost 5 to 1 in many countries. With the death rate in most of Europe at 10/100,000 population for natives and immigrants and with continued relatively unchecked immigration, the population of muslims in many countries will constitute a voting block capable of determining the outcome of any national election within two decades and some countries might actually have a muslim majority by the middle of the century.
Seeing the growing power of muslim minorities, European politicians have already begun to pander to them, passing laws which grant special privileges in consideration of their religion, going so far as to suggest that within Muslim communities Sharia law should be applied rather than the general laws of the nation itself. Last year in Germany there was even acourt ruling where the judge ruled that a muslim husband had the right to beat his wife based on Sharia law and the Koran. This level of concession on such a basic issue as the universality of law and morality is a sign of how thoroughly the European nations are failing to assimilate or even control their immigrant populations and it is only a matter of time before this sort of thinking leads to disastrous results.
So, what do all these problems in Europea have to do with the War in Iraq? Well, the ultimate long-term goal of a US involvement in Iraq and a more or less permanent presence in the middle east is the stabilization of that region. One of the main results of such a program would be an increase in peace and improvements in the economies of the region, massively reducing the desire of natives to emigrate and also reducing the attraction to the poor and desperate of the region to the more radical forms of Islam. It would mean fewer muslims moving to Europe and a reduction in the exportation of terrorism.
Those are great objectives in the abstract, but the problem from the point of view of a pragmatic American is that almost all of the benefits of such a program do not accrue to the United States, which does a pretty good job of assimilating minorities and really isn’t all that threatened by terrorism. Most of the benefits of huge US spending in the middle east come to the natives of that region and secondarily to the nations of Europe in the form of reduced terrorism and reduced immigration.
Ironically, the leaders of the European nations most threatened by Islam, already realizing the political advantages of pandering to their muslim minorities, are notable for their hostility toward the US efforts in Iraq. These are the nations which have not only failed to provide military and financial support for the war, but which have been outspoken in their criticism of US unilateralism in the region. They have lambasted and reviled the United States when the truth is that our costly involvement in the middle east basically amounts to fighting a war largely on their behalf and to their benefit and yet almost entirely at our expense in money and lives lost, even if they find it politically expedient not to acknowledge this reality.
As it has evolved, the Iraq war appears more and more illogical from the point of view of the best interests of the United States. It is too costly and too speculative and doesn’t offer enough of a return on our massive investment to justify our involvement. Yes, there is reason to be concerned with the threat of radical Islam, but it remains a distant threat for the US despite the events of 9/11, although it is a much more real threat to the oblivious socialists of Europe. Looked at objectively, invading the middle east makes about as much sense as France invading Mexico to help with the US immigration problem.
In the long term a full scale conflict between Islam and the United States may be inevitable. In the short term there are better ways to deal with the threat of radical Islam which are less expensive and more productive than a direct confrontation. Future efforts should be mostly diplomatic and economic and should focus on modernizing economies, encouraging capitalism, improving education and opportunity and subtly undermining Islamic culture. And in whatever efforts are made, the Europeans should be required to carry their weight and not abandon their responsibility for their own welfare by relying on the generosity of the United States.
Rather than fighting in the middle east today we could be laying the groundwork for a future in which a great war between Islam and the West could be avoided – not by appeasment as the Europeans have been attempting and certainly not by conquest, but by a gradual process of cultural and economic subversion.