Betting Against the Gentle Giant

Posted: Jul 28, 2006 10:02 AM
Betting Against the Gentle Giant

You can tell a lot about a country from its money.

The U.S. dollar, for example, is the unofficial reserve currency of the planet. Countries stockpile tens of millions of dollars to have on hand in case of an emergency. And our dollar bills feature portraits of great men, including Washington, Lincoln and Franklin.

The British pound is also a serious currency. The two-pound coin includes Isaac Newton’s famous quote reminding present generations that we are “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Pound bills celebrate other great Brits of the past.

Not so with the single European currency, the Euro. Its notes feature lovely pictures of bridges and arches—but they’re not real. The European Union had an artist draw pretend landmarks to feature on its currency, so it wouldn’t seem to be favoring one country’s actual bridges over another’s.

But the EU is about to get an injection of real money.

Billionaire George Soros (who, ironically, made much of his fortune by attacking the British pound) plans to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in foundations that will attempt to build the EU into a true international powerhouse. “The European Union has a mission: the spread of peace, freedom and democracy,” Soros told the British publication “The practical message for Europeans is that the world really needs a strong European union with a mission which is different to America’s priorities.”

Good luck, George. First of all, the EU isn’t dedicated to democracy; it’s distinctly anti-democratic. Just last year, the Dutch and the French voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposed EU constitution. But the EU’s bureaucrats won’t take no for an answer.

“We note that after the ‘non’ of France and the ‘nee’ of the Netherlands, the date of 1 November 2006 initially foreseen for ratification is no longer tenable,” Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, announced, “as those [states] that have not ratified [the constitution] are not in a position to provide the necessary answer before mid-2007.” In other words, we European leaders know what the “necessary answer” is. Whether voters like that or not, they’re going to get that answer.

Even if the EU could somehow be turned into a democratic powerhouse, Soros wants it to solve a non-existent problem. “The attitude of the Bush administration has had disastrous consequences,” he claims. “The world needs an alternative.” But that ignores the fact that the U.S. is the greatest force for good the world has ever known.

The American mission is to spread freedom and open markets. We’re not an empire—an empire takes power from citizens. It makes people subjects of a crown or a leader. It seeks to have and hold territory, using the land to benefit its rulers. The United States follows a very different model—a model based on free trade and free choice.

Washington has made mistakes, of course. Too often we’ve backed dictators (“he’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch,” as Franklin D. Roosevelt once put it) when they seemed to support short-term American goals. That explains, for one, our ill-fated relationship with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

But since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has sent soldiers into battle mostly to defeat tyrants, from Saddam Hussein to Slobodan Milosevic. And wherever American soldiers have been based, they’ve worked to build institutions of public and private freedom.

The key components of economic freedom are property rights (why bother inventing something if the government or a powerful interest is just going to steal it?), contracts (why bother working unless you know you have a contract that ensures you’ll get paid?) and stable money (why bother earning or saving money if inflation will make it worthless?). Through our overseas deployments, the United States has exported these critical institutions and unlocked the entrepreneurial spirit in millions of people world wide.

The rest of the world knows that the U.S. is a gentle giant. Last year in The New Republic, Gregg Easterbrook wrote that “the United States accounts for 44 percent of world military spending.” In fact, he added, “it is not out of the question that, in the future, the United States will spend more on arms and soldiers than the rest of the world combined.”

Clearly, if other nations really feared the U.S. they’d at least attempt to build militaries that could fight against ours. Instead, Canada, for one, maintains a 3,000-mile, undefended border with the United States. Nations acting in good faith know they have nothing to fear from our military.

If George Soros wants to convert his cash into Euros, that’s his prerogative. But he’d do more good if he endowed a new American aircraft carrier. Long after the EU has collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions the U.S. military will still be around, defending freedom and opportunity around the world.