American Elephants

A Warning Comment from London: by The Elephant's Child

From The Wall Street Journal’s “Notable & Quotable” column, a quotation picked from the current news that is worth noting.  This one is from Columnist Janet Daley, writing in the London Telegraph, on November 10.

The United States has now acquired an electorally powerful liberal bourgeoisie who are convinced, as their European counterparts have been for several generations, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that public spending is inherently virtuous, that poverty can be cured by penalizing wealth creation, and that government intervention can engineer social “fairness.” But just when some of Europe’s political class has begun to appreciate the dangers of this philosophy—that taken to its logical conclusion, it leads to economic stagnation and social division—America seems to have decided that it is the quintessence of enlightened sophistication.

Might be a good idea to pay attention.


The Obama Doctrine Would Dismay the Founders! by The Elephant's Child

The group now attempting to keep Gadhaffi from slaughtering the rebels in his country, France, Britain, Italy, Qatar, and America are responding to a humanitarian crisis, yet there seems to be no clear idea of what to do if Gadhaffi refuses.  Planes patrolling “No Fly” zones fly too fast and too high to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  We have pretty much informed Gadhaffi already of what we might do and what’s off the table, which seems silly, but is the way Obama chooses to avoid blame.

After two or three weeks, Obama issued an ultimatum to Gadhaffi.  Gadhaffi issued a “cease fire,” which he didn’t mean, and the British and the U.S. Navy shot off 112 Tomahawk and Cruise missiles.  Unidentified somebodys damaged Gadhaffi’s compound.  American authorities hastened to say it wasn’t us.

European reaction to Obama’s dithering and hesitation has been pronounced.  I found Janet Daley’s comments interesting. “After weeks of dithering and mixed signals…punctuated by periods of impenetrable silence, the White House had a sudden epiphany and declared itself in favor of a UN resolution allowing much more than a no-fly zone.”

She touches upon the spin from the left: “All this floundering was actually part of a superbly clever strategy. In other words, they were only pretending to be useless: it may have looked like a collapse of moral leadership to you but it really went completely according to plan.

Even if we take this wildly charitable interpretation at face value, what does it say about the role that America is choosing to adopt on the global stage? That in future we can expect it to follow rather than lead? That it has abdicated its role as defender and standard bearer for the principle of freedom – the idea that all men are born with inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, which the great founding documents of the United States declare to be universal and not simply the birthright of residents of one nation? If America is now to make its commitment to those values conditional – even when the oppressed populations of totalitarian countries are putting their lives at risk to embrace them – then we are living in a very different world from the one to which we have been accustomed. And this is a far, far bigger leap than is assumed by the champions of “international law” and multinational bodies who are happy to see America take a back seat – at least until the ammunition starts to fly.

The concept of “American exceptionalism” was coined by De Toqueville, who believed that the facts of America’s origin made it fundamentally different from the old European cultures from which it sprang: this was a country created on first principles which were consciously embraced by all those who chose to live there. Those principles necessarily implied that freedom was the ideal condition of human life and that democracy was the best protector of that condition – and the moral duty of America in the world followed from that. Mr Obama has given serious and consistent indications that he wishes to withdraw America from that historical function – to wilfully abdicate its traditional responsibility – and this not just on the grounds of pragmatic isolationism with which America has experimented before (only to repent later). …That presumably is the heart of it. Obama’s foreign policy is really perfectly consistent with the goals of his domestic policy. His object is to turn the US into a European-style social democracy complete with hugely expensive welfare provision and a federal healthcare programme: a country where security and universal provision of services is the first priority. What he was saying to Europe was: you have relied on our defence cover to spare yourselves the cost of military spending and that allowed you to lavish benefits and public services on your populations. It’s our turn now. The great threat from Soviet power is gone, so we are going home to tend our own fire.

What would an America be like that did not expect to be called upon to support democratic movements and defend oppressed people? Its citizens have always been taught to see themselves not just as fortunate residents of a lucky country but as bearers of a spiritual truth – a model for the world of how men should live. Are they now to become just one more self-preserving, inward-looking populace obsessed with entitlements and an easy life like so many – dare one say it – cynical, war-weary Europeans?

Janet Daley is an American who has been living and writing in the UK since 1965.  Always a trenchant observer and a thoughtful one, she’s worth listening to.  I think it helps to read the commentary of friendly writers from abroad.  When I say friendly, I mean people who generally share the same world view.  They are the ones who can really make you think.

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