Abroad, negativism vs. a catalog of reality

Posted: Jan 08, 2004 12:00 AM

Down history's road, the year 2003 may shine brightly as marking a major improvement in how things are going abroad.

The spring crushing of the Baathist regime and Saddam's capture a month ago were the top stories abroad. And look what has happened largely as a consequence:

- Libya has announced it will scrap its nuclear program.

- North Korea, with assistance from the communist oligarchy in China, has declared it might do the same.

- Our good friends the Saudis have begun to get serious about terrorism.

- Russia has conditionally promised to forgive its Iraqi debt.

- Israel has moved to dismantle a few West Bank settlements.

- In an "Afghan Spring" perhaps surpassing the "Prague Spring" of 1968, a land that just two years ago boasted one of the planet's most oppressive regimes saw 502 delegates representing warlord factions across Afghanistan create an enlightened constitution.

- Colombia, working for six months with American military intelligence, has captured the most important communist leader (Ricardo Palmera) in a 40-year guerrilla war.

- India and Pakistan have agreed to wide-ranging talks that may not only forestall a fourth war between the two countries since 1947, but also could produce a genuine peace at last.

- In Iraq itself, attacks against American forces are down by half, a provisional government is in place, training of police and an army proceeds, a Saddam trial will help purge the past and unite tribal/regional/religious factions, and self-government is set for summer.

All this, of course, has happened and is happening in the face of unremitting negativism from naysayers generally - and specifically from leftists, slighted Continentals, and threatened Arab autocrats.

Recall that the American left holds it as an article of ideological faith that no moderate or conservative foreign policy initiative can succeed where liberal policy has failed. Everything a Republican administration does abroad, and how it does it, is axiomatically wrong. Sen. Ted Kennedy warned against going after Saddam, citing the specter of thousands of American body bags - recalling the failed policies of '60s leftism in Vietnam. Howard Dean says, even with all the optimistic developments cited here, that Saddam's capture does not make the world safer.

And if it's negativism you want, consider the Germans and French who owe American sacrifice so much. Seeking to form an international counterpoise to the United States, they opposed the removal of Saddam and niggle even now about American actions in the post-Saddam era. (How deliciously ironic that oh-so-civilized Continental leaders apparently have encountered more difficulties in writing a constitution for the European Union than did 502 Afghan rabble.)

Perhaps, regarding the Continentals and others, it has been ever thus.

At hand is a 1946 Life magazine article by novelist John Dos Passos, written aboard a Navy ship returning from Europe. As you read the following, keep in mind what Germany and France soon became - and what the naysayers are saying now notably about American efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq...

A tour of the beaten-up cities of Europe six months after victory is a mighty sobering experience for anyone. Europeans, friend and foe alike, look you accusingly in the face and tell you how bitterly they are disappointed in you as an American. They cite the evolution of the word "liberation." Before the Normandy landings it meant to be freed from the tyranny of the Nazis. Now it stands in the minds of the civilians for (despicable things).

You try to explain to these Europeans that they expected too much. They answer that they had a right to, that after the last war America was the hope of the world. ... But they blame us now.

Never has American prestige in Europe been lower. ... They blame us for the corruption and disorganization of the (United Nations relief agencies). They blame us for the fumbling timidity of our negotiations with the Soviet Union. They tell us that our mechanical de-nazification policy in Germany is producing results opposite to those we planned. "Have you no statesmen in America?" they ask.