STATE OF THE UNION: Now is the perfect time for the US to withdraw from Korea. Having shown its power in Iraq, it can abdicate without revealing weakness

STATE OF THE UNION: Now is the perfect time for the US to withdraw from Korea. Having shown its power in Iraq, it can abdicate without revealing weakness - I trust in the inexorable advance of liberal capitalism, hold the US to be the foremost force for good, see multiculturalists as apologists for backwardness, supported the expedition to Iraq and dream of executing every tyrant from Riyadh to Pyongyang. I am, to all intents, a hawk. So why does the prospect of an American empire bother me?

by Nick Denton, publisher of Gawker - www.nickdenton.org
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I trust in the inexorable advance of liberal capitalism, hold the US to be the foremost force for good, see multiculturalists as apologists for backwardness, supported the expedition to Iraq and dream of executing every tyrant from Riyadh to Pyongyang. I am, to all intents, a hawk. So why does the prospect of an American empire bother me?

Some still question the premise that the US is intent on Pax Americana After all, the idea of reordering the entire Middle East holds sway only in a few neo-conservative think-tanks, and their Pentagon branches. There is no serious expectation that the US will march on Damascus and Tehran. And the Bush administration has been circumspect in its response to the sabre-rattling of the North Korean dictator.

Yet the vulnerability of the US to terrorist attacks and the overwhelming strength of the superpower's military combine to make a powerful case for intervention. And a growing number of political thinkers scheme to fix the world on a grand scale, from Syria to North Korea. In the Weekly Standard, required reading for administration conservatives, Max Boot took the discussion to its natural conclusion. 'The most realistic response to terrorism is for America to embrace its imperial role,' he wrote.

The word imperial is enough to bring out Washington's domestic and foreign critics in a spluttering rage: US motives are impure, it's all about oil, the US system is no more valid than any other, intervention never works ...

Most of these points are tired and empty, but there is a deeper flaw in the imperial project: moral hazard. A guarantor, whether an insurance company or a central bank, typically encourages perverse behaviour. Countries borrow too much and their banks lend too freely - both in the expectation of a bailout by the International Monetary Fund.

By assuming the role of global guarantor, the US runs an analogous risk. Guaranteeing the security of Israel ensures that no Israeli government will make a settlement with the Palestinians. Guaranteeing the global order encourages the caprice of a country such as France. By supporting the Mubarak regime in Egypt, the US removes the pressure for democratization. With an external power guaranteeing stability, the people of Egypt and other puppet states can never take ownership of their own predicament. As bankers say, the road to hell is paved with guarantees.

The smartest individual I met in Tunisia, one of the few at the time who acknowledged that Arabs rather than Mossad might have attacked the Twin Towers, railed against the regime. Why not campaign for political reform? I asked. No point, he answered, because everybody knows the US ambassador picks Tunisia's leaders.

So what if the US just let go, and allowed history to take its course? Let Vietnam go communist, Europe deal with Bosnia, the theocracy hold back Iran until the old ayatollahs die out, let Mubarak fall to the Islamists, and Hugo Chavez take on Venezuela's capitalists and landowners.

No-one should pretend that the immediate effects of laissez-faire would not be disastrous: the loss of another generation in Iran, the emigration of the middle class from Egypt, further chaos in Venezuela. But at least these countries would be taking control of their own destiny, free to make their own revolutions, and fumble towards liberal democracy. No superpower to bail them out, no-one to blame but themselves.

It's amusing that neo-cons, of all people, don't spot the obvious irony. They have lectured for decades on the perverse effects of government action: that welfare payments encourage sloth and single parenthood; that foreign aid distorts developing economies; and that bailouts attract defaults. In foreign policy, they retain a touching belief in the efficacy of bureaucratic initiative.

The US rails against the irresponsibility of the European and Asian powers, their failure to manage even their back yards, and despises the impotent anger of the Arab masses. In its self-righteous mood, it fails to acknowledge its own complicity. With the best of intentions, America encourages the behaviour it works against. The more irritatingly interfering the US, the more wayward its charges - like a family spiralling into dysfunction.

So, a therapeutic suggestion. Now is the perfect time for America to withdraw from the Korean peninsula. Having demonstrated its power in Iraq, the US can abdicate without revealing weakness.

To be sure, North Korea is probably the most qualified member of the axis of evil. Kim Jong-Il's tyranny is industrial rather than feudal; it is an obscenity of design rather than accident. But he has neighbours - Russia, China, Japan and South Korea - with both an interest in containing Kim and the force to do it. Let someone else worry for a change. It will do them good.

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