[This was published in the Canberra Times, March 19, 2003]
The Sept. 11 attacks on America led many to ask, about the terrorists, “Why do they hate us?” Today, a similar question applies to those who virulently condemn a U.S. war against Iraq—along with a similar answer.
It is not actually anti-war views that they are expressing; they mount no mass demonstrations against the military aggressions of, say, Bosnia, or Russia—or Iraq. It is solely America, retaliating against the threat of aggression, that evokes such widespread hostility. Why? Because these are anti-American protests, prompted by only one factor: this country’s declaration that it has a categorical moral right to uphold its self-interest.
An official of the European Union, for example, denounces America for “setting and imposing the rules . . . in pursuit of its own national interest.” The “Not In Our Name” campaign, headed by such people as Noam Chomsky and Gloria Steinem, complains contemptuously that America has “not only attacked Afghanistan but arrogated to itself and its allies the right to rain down military force anywhere and anytime.”
Since the force America is employing in Afghanistan and, imminently perhaps, in Iraq is against those who have already initiated its use, this criticism is simply a repudiation of America’s right to decide who its enemies are–the same premise behind the apoplectic reaction to President Bush’s unequivocal description of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil.”
The “anti-war” rallies are generated not by any love for Iraq, but by a hatred for America—or, more fundamentally, for the principle America represents. The protesters oppose the individualism that lies at America’s foundation. They despise the idea of a capitalist system, in which the individual is sovereign, free to live his own life and pursue his own values, irrespective of the wishes of “the public.” And they therefore despise the derivative idea that, as a free nation, America has the sovereign right to defend its self-interest, irrespective of the wishes of the international community.
In surveying current attitudes toward Americans abroad, USA Today offers an astute observation: “A growing number of foreigners see some of the United States’ political decisions (pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty on global emissions) and personal choices (Americans’ penchant for gas-loving SUVs) as at best unilateral and at worst selfish. The confrontation over Iraq is just more fuel on a bonfire.” At root, these issues are indeed the same.
The “anti-war” forces are not against an invasion of Iraq, if authorized by the U.N.; they just don’t want the decision to be made by the United States. It is America’s deferral to the U.N. that they frantically seek. It is American “selfishness”—the tenet that one has the moral right to uphold one’s self-interest—that triggers anger and fear in them. It is the undercutting of America’s sovereignty—the surrender of the principle of individualism to the principle of collectivism—that underlies the malicious glee with which U.N. dignitaries hail attacks on America, that motivates the spiteful cowardice of the “human-shield” volunteers in Baghdad and that constitutes the ideological goal of the “anti-war” movement.
We are smeared as “unilateralists” if we defend our interests by engaging in military action, or by rejecting a pseudo-scientific international treaty. We are smeared as “isolationists” if we defend our interests by not sending troops on altruistic, “peacekeeping” missions (or by rejecting an international treaty). Every refusal to sacrifice ourselves to the demands of others provokes the same essential response.
The protest leaders are the standard gamut of leftists—from modern environmentalists to old-line Marxists. They are united, not in the superficialities of what they support, but in the fundamentals of what they detest: Americanism, capitalism, individualism. Their one, overwhelming desire is to cut America down by making it defer to some higher authority. They want us to submit.
Which is what the Islamic terrorists seek as well. They want us to renounce individualism and bow to their theocratic dictates. The “anti-war” activists may invoke a more secular authority, but they want the same kind of capitulation. They want the individual to subordinate his freedom to the collective will of his community, and they want the government of a free people to subordinate the liberty of its citizens to the collective will of the international community.
The way to prevail against the anti-American protests, therefore, is not by mollifying the U.N. or bribing our “allies”—but by resolutely acting on our moral right to defend ourselves, regardless of the wishes of any other nation.