We are in a war for self-defense

Charles Krauthammer
Posted: Mar 01, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON--The ``axis of evil'' caused a sensation around the world because it established a new American foreign policy based on three distinctive principles: morality, pre-emption and unilateralism. Our sophisticated European cousins are aghast. The French led the way, denouncing American ``simplisme.'' They deem it a breach of manners to call evil by its name. They prefer accommodating to it. They have lots of practice, famously accommodating Nazi Germany in 1940, less famously striking the Gaullist pose of triangulating between the evil empire and primitive Yanks during the Cold War. The Europeans are not too happy with pre-emption either. Pre-emption is the most extreme form of activity, of energy, in foreign policy--anathema to a superannuated continent entirely self-absorbed in its own internal integration. (Hence the paralysis even in the face of fire in its own Balkan back yard.) The Europeans hate pre-emption all the more because it means America acting on its own. And it is our unilateralism above all that sticks in their craw. Tough luck. A policy of waiting to be attacked with nuclear (and other genocidal) weapons is suicidal. Moreover, self-defense is the self-evident justification for unilateralism. When under attack, no country is obligated to collect permission slips from allies to strike back. And there is no clearer case of a war of self-defense than America's war on terrorists and allied states for whom ``death to America'' is not just a slogan but a policy. I was a unilateralist before it became unfashionable. Long before the axis of evil, long before the Afghan war, long before Sept. 11, I argued that the multilateralism of the Clinton years inevitably produced lowest-common-denominator foreign policy--diluted, ineffective, as feckless as the pinprick cruise missile strikes Clinton liked to launch as an ostentatious pretense to assertiveness. When the Bush administration came to power advertising its willingness to go it alone when necessary, the Democrats were apoplectic. Early last year, for example, when Bush made it clear that he would be junking the ABM Treaty, Sen. Carl Levin, now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and thus a man who should know about these things, declared ``I have great concerns about (such) a unilateral decision ... because I believe that it could risk a second Cold War.'' Wrong. Totally wrong. In fact, when Bush did abrogate the ABM Treaty, the Russian response was almost inaudible. Those who'd been bloviating about the diplomatic dangers of such a unilateral decision noted quizzically the lack of reaction. Up in arms over the axis of evil--``it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement,'' said former President Carter--they are warning once again about how the world will rise against us. Wrong again. Our enemies have already turned against us. Our allies will not. Europe knows that in the end, its security depends on our strength and our protection. Europeans are the ultimate free-riders on American power. We maintain the stability of international commerce, the freedom of the seas, the flow of oil, regional balances of power (in the Pacific Rim, South Asia, the Middle East) and ultimately, we provide protection against potentially rising hostile superpowers. The Europeans sit and pout. What else can they do? The ostensible complaint is American primitivism. The real problem is their irrelevance. Being subordinate they can tolerate. Irrelevant they cannot. They may have been subordinate to the United States in the Cold War, but in that great twilight struggle, they manned the front lines, gamely fielding huge land armies against the Warsaw Pact. We provided the nuclear guarantee. They provided the boots on the ground. We were the dominant partner. But we were still partners. No longer. And they know it. The Soviet threat is gone. Against the new threat of terrorists and terrorist states, the Europeans are sidelined. They are capable of police work, but are irrelevant to war-making. The Afghan war, conducted without them, highlighted how America's 21st century high-tech military made their militaries as obsolete as were the battleships of the 19th-century upon the launching of the Dreadnought in 1906. This is not our fault. We did not force upon them military obsolescence. They chose social spending over defense spending--an understandable choice, perhaps even wise given that America was willing to pick up the slack. But hardly grounds for whining. We are in a war of self-defense. It is also a war for Western civilization. If the Europeans refuse to see themselves as part of this struggle, fine. If they wish to abdicate, fine. We will let them hold our coats, but not tie our hands.