Why Americans Hate
I was in Berlin in November 1989, the weekend the wall opened. The Cold
War was over. The ICBMs weren't going to fly. The world wouldn't melt in a
fusion fireball or freeze in a nuclear winter. Everybody was happy and
relieved. And me, too, although I'm not one of those children of the 1950s
who was traumatized by the A-bomb. Getting under a school desk during
duck-and-cover was more interesting and less scary than the part of the
multiplication table that came after "times seven." Still, the notion
that, at any time, the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. might blow up the whole
world-my neighborhood included-was in the back of my mind. A little
mushroom-shaped cloud marred the sunny horizon of my future as an
internationally renowned high school JV football player. If On the Beach
was for real, I'd never get tall enough to date Ava Gardner. What's more,
whenever I was apprehended in youthful hijinks, Mutually Assured
Destruction failed to happen before Dad got home from work. Then, in the
fall of 1962, when I was fifteen, Armageddon really did seem to arrive. I
made an earnest plea to my blond, freckled biology-class lab partner (for
whom, worshipfully, I had undertaken all frog dissection duties). "The
Cuban missile crisis," I said, "means we probably won't live long. Let's
do it before we die." She demurred. All in all the Cold War was a bad
Twenty-seven years later, wandering through previously sinister Checkpoint
Charlie with beer in hand, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my
shoulders. I remember thinking just those words: "I feel like a weight
has been lifted ..." A wiser person would have been thinking, "I feel
like I took a big dump."
Nastiness was already reaccumulating. I reported on some of it in
ex-Soviet Georgia, ex-Yugoslav Yugoslavia, the West Bank, Somalia, and
Iraq-ravaged Kuwait. The relatively simple, if costive, process of
digesting the Communist bloc was complete. America needed to reconstitute
its foreign policy with-so to speak-a proper balance of fruit and fiber.
The serious people who ponder these things seriously said the new American
foreign policy must include:
A different approach to national security; Universal tenets of democracy.
This didn't occur to me. Frankly, nothing concerning foreign policy had
ever occurred to me. I'd been writing about foreign countries and foreign
affairs and foreigners for years. But you can own dogs all your life and
not have "dog policy."
You have rules, yes-Get off the couch!-and training, sure. We want the
dumb creatures to be well behaved and friendly. So we feed foreigners,
take care of them, give them treats, and, when absolutely necessary, whack
them with a rolledup newspaper. That was as far as my foreign policy
thinking went until the middle 1990s, when I realized America's foreign
policy thinking hadn't gone that far.
In the fall of 1996, I traveled to Bosnia to visit a friend whom I'll call
Major Tom. Major Tom was in Banja Luka serving with the NATO-led
international peacekeeping force, IFOR. From 1992 to 1995 Bosnian Serbs
had fought Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims in an attempt to split
Bosnia into two hostile territories. In 1995 the U.S.-brokered Dayton
Agreement ended the war by splitting Bosnia into two hostile territories.
The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was run by Croats and Muslims.
The Republika Srpska was run by Serbs. IFOR's job was to "implement and
monitor the Dayton Agreement." Major Tom's job was to sit in an office
where Croat and Muslim residents of Republika Srpska went to report
Dayton Agreement violations.
"They come to me," said Major Tom, "and they say, 'The Serbs stole my
car.' And I say, 'I'm writing that in my report.' They say, 'The Serbs
burned my house.' And I say, 'I'm writing that in my report.' They say,
'The Serbs raped my daughter.' And I say, 'I'm writing that in my
"Then what happens?" I said.
"I put my report in a file cabinet."
Major Tom had fought in the Gulf War. He'd been deployed to Haiti during
the American reinstatement of President Aristide (which precede the recent
American unreinstatement). He was on his second tour of duty in Bosnia and
would go on to fight in the Iraq war. That night we got drunk.
"Please, no nation building," said Major Tom. "We're the Army. We kill
people and break things. They didn't teach nation building in infantry
Or in journalism school, either. The night before I left to cover the Iraq
war I got drunk with another friend, who works in TV news. We were talking
about how-as an approach to national security-invading Iraq was ...
different. I'd moved my family from Washington to New Hampshire. My friend
was considering getting his family out of New York. "Don't you hope," my
friend said, "that all this has been thought through by someone who is
smarter than we are?" It is, however, a universal tenet of democracy that
no one is.
Americans hate foreign policy. Americans hate foreign policy because
Americans hate foreigners. Americans hate foreigners because Americans
are foreigners. We all come from foreign lands, even if we came ten
thousand years ago on a land bridge across the Bering Strait. We didn't
want anything to do with those Ice Age Siberians, them with the itchy
cave bear-pelt underwear and mammoth meat on their breath. We were off to
the Pacific Northwest-great salmon fishing, blowout potluck dinners, a
whole new life.
America is not "globally conscious" or "multicultural." Americans didn't
come to America to be Limey Poofters, Frog Eaters, Bucket Heads, Micks,
Spicks, Sheenies, or Wogs. If we'd wanted foreign entanglements, we would
have stayed home. Or-in the case of those of us who were shipped to
America against our will, as slaves, exiles, or transported prisoners-we
would have gone back. Events in Liberia and the type of American who lives
in Paris tell us what to think of that.
Being foreigners ourselves, we Americans know what foreigners are up to
with their foreign policy-their venomous convents, lying alliances,
greedy agreements, and trick-or-treaties. America is not a wily, sneaky
nation. We don't think that way. We don't think much at all, thank God.
Start thinking and pretty soon you get ideas, and then you get idealism,
and the next thing you know you've got ideology, with millions dead in
concentration camps and gulags. A fundamental American question is "What's
the big idea?"
Americans would like to ignore foreign policy. Our previous attempts at
isolationism were successful. Unfortunately, they were successful for
Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan. Evil is an outreach program. A solitary
bad person sitting alone, harboring genocidal thoughts, and wishing he
ruled the world is not a problem unless he lives next to us in the trailer
park. In the big geopolitical trailer park that is the world today, he
America has to act. But, when America acts, other nations accuse us of
being "hegemonistic," of engaging in "unilateralism," of behaving as if
we're the only nation on earth that counts.
We are. 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 quakes when a couple of hundred Falun Gong members do tai chi
for Jesus. The European Union looks impressive on paper, with a greater
population and a larger economy than America's. But the military spending
of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy combined does not equal one third
of the U.S. defense budget. The United States spends more on defense than
the aforementioned countries-plus Russia plus China plus the next six top
defense-spending nations. Any multilateral military or diplomatic effort
that includes the United States is a crew team with Arnold Schwarzenegger
as coxswain and Nadia Comaneci on the oars. When other countries demand a
role in the exercise of global power, America can ask another fundamental
American question: "You and what army?"
Americans find foreign policy confusing. We are perplexed by the subtle
tactics and complex strategies of the Great Game. America's great game is
pulling the levers on the slot machines in Las Vegas. We can't figure out
what the goal of American foreign policy is supposed to be.
The goal of American tax policy is avoiding taxes. The goal of American
health policy is HMO profits. The goal of American environmental policy is
to clean up the environment, clearing away scruffy caribou and seals so
that America's drillers for Arctic oil don't get trampled or slapped with
a flipper. But the goal of American foreign policy is to foster
international cooperation, protect Americans at home and abroad, promote
world peace, eliminate human rights abuses, improve U.S. business and
trade opportunities, and stop global warming.
We were going to stop global warming by signing the Kyoto protocol on
greenhouse gas emissions. Then we realized the Kyoto protocol was
ridiculous and unenforceable and that no one who signed it was even trying
to meet the emissions requirements except for some countries from the
former Soviet Union. They accidentally quit emitting greenhouse gases
because their economies collapsed. However, if we withdraw from diplomatic
agreements because they're ridiculous, we'll have to withdraw from every
diplomatic agreement, because they're all ridiculous. This will not
foster international cooperation. But if we do foster international
cooperation, we won't be able to protect Americans at home and abroad,
because there has been a lot of international cooperation in killing
Americans. Attacking internationals won't promote world peace, which we
can't have anyway if we're going to eliminate human rights abuses, because
there's no peaceful way to get rid of the governments that abuse the
rights of people-people who are chained to American gym-shoe-making
machinery, dying of gym shoe lung, and getting paid in shoelaces, thereby
improving U.S. business and trade opportunities, which result in economic
expansion that causes global warming to get worse.
As the nineteenth-century American naval hero Stephen Decatur said in his
famous toast: "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may
she always be in the right; but our country, right or wrong, should carry
condoms in her purse."
One problem with changing America's foreign policy is that we keep doing
it. After the Cold War, President George H. W. Bush managed to engage
America-in spite of itself-in the multilateralism of the Gulf War. This
left Saddam Hussein exactly where we found him twelve years later. Like
other American achievements in multilateralism, it wasn't something we'd
care to achieve again. The east side of midtown Manhattan, where a decent
slum once stood, is blighted by the United Nations headquarters. And, in
the mountains of the Balkan peninsula, the ghost of Woodrow Wilson wanders
Marley-like, dragging his chains and regretting the deeds of his life.
President Bill Clinton dreamed of letting the lion lie down with the lamb
chop. Clinton kept International Monetary Fund cash flowing into the
ever-criminalizing Russian economy. He ignored Kremlin misbehavior from
Boris Yeltsin's shelling of elected representatives in the Duma to
Vladimir Putin's airlifting uninvited Russian troops into Kosovo. Clinton
compared the Chechnya fighting to the American Civil War (murdered
Chechens being on the South Carolina statehouse Confederate flag-flying
side). Clinton called China America's "strategic partner" and paid a
nine-day visit to that country, not bothering himself with courtesy calls
on America's actual strategic partners, Japan and South Korea. Clinton
announced, "We don't support independence for Taiwan," and said of Jiang
Zemin, instigator of the assault on democracy protesters in Tiananmen
Square, "He has vision."
Anything for peace, that was Clinton's policy. Clinton had special
peace-mongering envoys in Cyprus, Congo, the Middle East, the Balkans, and
flying off to attend secret talks with Marxist guerrillas in Colombia.
Clinton made frantic attempts to close an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
What if the Jews control the Temple Mount and the Arabs control the movie
industry? On his last day in office, Clinton was still phoning Sinn Fein
leader Gerry Adams. "Love your work, Gerry. Do you ever actually kill
people? Or do you just do the spin?"
Clinton was everybody's best friend. Except when he wasn't. He conducted
undeclared air wars against Serbia and Iraq and launched missiles at Sudan
and Afghanistan. Clinton used the military more often than any previous
peacetime American president. He sent armed forces into areas of conflict
on an average of once every nine weeks.
Then we elected an administration with adults in it-Colin Powell, Dick
Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Gone was the harum-scarum Clinton
policy-making apparatus with its frenzied bakeheads piling up midnight
pizza boxes in the Old Executive Office Building. They disappeared, along
with the clinically insane confidants-vein-popping James Carville,
toe-sucking Dick Morris-and the loose haircuts in the West Wing and the
furious harridan on the White House third floor.
President George W. Bush's foreign policy was characterized, in early
2001, as "disciplined and consistent" (-Condoleezza Rice): "blunt" (-The
Washington Post), and "in-your-face" (-the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace). Bush began his term with the expulsion of one fourth
of the Russian diplomatic corps on grounds of espionage. He snubbed
Vladimir Putin by delaying a first summit meeting until June 2001, and
then holding it in fashionable Slovenia.
On April 1, 2001, a Chinese fighter jet, harassing a U.S. reconnaissance
plane in international airspace, collided with the American aircraft,
which was forced to land in Chinese territory. Bush did not regard this as
an April Fools' prank. By the end of the month he had gone on Good Morning
America and said that if China attacked Taiwan, the United States had an
obligation to defend it.
"With the full force of American military?" asked Charlie Gibson.
"Whatever it took," said Bush.
The president also brandished American missile defenses at Russia and
China. The Russians and Chinese were wroth. The missile shield might or
might not stop missiles, but, even unbuilt, it was an effective tool for
gathering intelligence on Russian and Chinese foreign policy intentions.
We knew how things stood when the town drunk and the town bully strongly
suggested that we shouldn't get a new home security system.
In the Middle East, Bush made an attempt to let the Israelis and the
Palestinians go at it until David ran out of pebbles and Goliath had been
hit on the head so many times that he was voting for Likud. In Northern
Ireland, Bush also tried minding his own business.
Excerpted from "Peace Kills: America's Fun New Imperialism" by P. J. O'Rourke. Copyright © 2005 by P. J. O'Rourke. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.