The price of success

Bill Murchison

2/5/2002 12:00:00 AM - Bill Murchison
With some people, no matter what you do, you never get ahead. Take our, um, allies and assorted overseas friends, who have lately been beating a sturdy tattoo on the American noggin. It's not that we didn't just extinguish an evil regime in Afghanistan; or that we refuse to export investment capital and make needed loans. The problem, seemingly, is that we're too powerful and too prosperous. Thus, Europeans of the distinctly leftish variety -- the main sort now exercising power in Europe -- take fright that President Bush has identified an "axis of evil" that must be broken sooner or later for the whole world's good, and with never (apparently) a side glance at the woes and grievances of the Palestinians. Thus, at the World Economic Forum in New York City, the United States drew raps for insufficient attention to other people's afflictions -- for instance, poverty and hunger. Now, this is the sort of thing you get used to in international dealings when your country is the world's most powerful, the cynosure of jealous eyes. Foreign critics tend to vent jealousy and spite. In the face of which the delicious advice of one of Britain's empire builders comes to mind: "Never apologize. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl." That's how you conduct a foreign policy. Nobody since the Victorians has been quite up to the task. The current world split is not properly along us-vs.-them lines; it concerns statism vs. capitalism and democracy. Statism, when it comes to prosperity, is a bust. The state drags down, rather than lifts up, working people; but to statists, the ideology of the state is what counts, thus making it appropriate to blast the capitalists. Americans shouldn't get the impression their country has committed any offense other than success. The successful, as statists see them, are heartless and -- you can see it coming on in discussions of the Enron fiasco -- crooked. The left doesn't love success; it loves victimhood. You can never do enough, it seems, for victims. No wonder Israel regularly gets it in the neck from these folk. Israel is a remarkable success. The Palestinian regime of Yasser Arafat clings to victimhood; thus it is an egregious failure. It really is worse than that. All other Arab regimes in the immediate vicinity are failures to one degree or another -- moderate Jordan, with a succession of sensible kings, being the most presentable of the lot. Current European and Arab wisdom is that until the Palestinian Problem is successfully addressed, the Islamic world will never find peace. Alas, the Palestinian Problem is self-created. Israel is democratic, a boast no Arab nation can make. Israel -- despite a residual commitment to the socialist ideal -- generally supports the profit motive and lavishly approves of hard work. Arab economies are run from the top, with maximum benefit accruing to those who sit at the top (e.g., the House of Saud). What the United States is supposed to do about all this is unclear, which isn't too surprising. The jealous will normally bash the successful with any club that comes to hand. The envy of the outside world -- the logical consequence of achievement in its varied forms -- may be destined to warp U.S.-everybody else relations to a degree. It is as though the world would like us better if we had 250,000 troops bogged down outside Kandahar, unable to move. What's sorrowful is watching prominent Americans smile understandingly as the foreigners rant; e.g., Bill Gates, commending antiglobalist demonstrators for "raising the question of 'Is the richer world giving back enough?'"; and Hillary Rodham Clinton answering his question with, "We've not done our fair share." What would that fair share amount to? Best not to ask. Fair-share demands have more to do with expressing resentment than with actually wringing measurable benefits out of the United States. Call it the price of American success. There are worse ways to live -- e.g., under the heavy, fat thumb of Yasser Arafat.