We tell our children not to bow to peer pressure, assuring them that principle trumps momentary popularity every time. Now we need to teach the same lesson to members of Congress.
Honorables in the House and Senate have come down with a severe case of the jitters. It appears that the cool kids (i.e., European diplomats and statesmen) have started snubbing our parliamentarians and are threatening to bad-mouth them all over the world. They’re accusing Americans (and the Bush administration in particular) of torturing innocent terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, executing an endless and pointless war in Iraq, refusing stubbornly to adopt the Kyoto Global Warming Protocol, and failing to show due generosity toward the people of Africa. They have told our nerds to forget sitting at the same lunch table with the cool kids until the United States goes Euro on at least the first three items — and preferably, to do so on all four.
The pressure has begun to work. Republican Senators Chuck Hagel and Mel Martinez have joined Democrat Joe Biden and a host of others in suggesting that we shut down the military prison at Guantanamo. Republican congressman Walter Jones got his first and only invitation to appear on Sunday morning television by going wobbly on the war in Iraq, declaring that the U.S. needs to set a deadline for getting out of the place. Sen. John McCain has joined forces with Sen. Joe Lieberman to mandate U.S. compliance with the Kyoto protocol. And an assortment of yahoos is kvetching about American parsimony toward governments in Africa. In each case, honorables sound the same refrain: If we don’t reverse course pronto, the rest of the world will get really, really mad — and the cool kids will never let us live it down.
Here’s the problem — The cool kids think we’re suckers. They don’t want us in their club. They want to humiliate us, so the other cool kids can get a good laugh. Consider the four areas of discord:
Guantanamo Bay — It has become fashionable to accuse the United States of torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, even though more than 400 journalists have been through the facility in the past couple of years, and several hundred Congressional employees (members and staff) have taken the tour as well. To date, the grand total of returnees claiming to have seen, heard of or suspected prisoner abuse is … zero. Amnesty International embarrassed itself badly when its Secretary General, along the executive director of AI-USA, offered wild accusations about U.S.-conducted tortures before having to confess that they had no evidence to support their assertions.
Contrary to cool-kid wisdom, Guantanamo may be the most humane prisoner-of-war facility in history. Prisoners get warm meals, cooked in accordance with Muslim food-handling and preparation guidelines; they receive a copy of the Koran in whatever language they prefer. They get prayer mats. Their captors have painted stencils on cell floors, pointing the way to Mecca. U-S personnel have received extensive instruction in appealing to terrorist religious sensitivities. Our guys may handle the Koran only after putting on clean white gloves, and they must carry the holy book with both hands, not just one. Bottom line: The prisoners live in posher surroundings than their captors, who live in tents. They get better meals, too.
To desert the place now would be equivalent to a false confession. Moreover, a Gitmo move-out would vindicate every conspiratorial American-hating hothead in the Middle East, thus creating a pretext for further acts of violence against American citizens and/or interests. In short, the Gitmo withdrawal would produce precisely the effect its sponsors say they want to avoid — an unnecessary diminution of American prestige and an unforgivable inducement to attack innocent American citizens.
Iraq: The idea of leaving Iraq by a date certain also smacks of imbecility. Bill Clinton tried something like that (under pressure from Republicans) during the Kosovo war. Despite that, we have troops in Bosnia 11 years after the passing of that theoretical deadline.
A retreat-date would prove self-defeating in several ways. It would encourage insurgents to lay low until the Americans left, thus giving terrorists an opportunity to build strength, gather and train recruits, and plot strategies for disabling an Iraqi security force that would have far less lethal power than the U.S. military.
The U.S. also would make a prophet of Usama bin Laden, who encouraged his September 11th hijackers by telling them America lacked the courage to strike back. Such a perception of weakness would encourage would-be bin Ladens to plot their own special kinds of mayhem.
Finally, a hasty retreat would weaken our already struggling military by inspiring would-be recruits to hold out until after the war’s expiration date. Ironically, an initiative designed to ease the burden on troops would thus have the opposite and unintended effect.
Kyoto: The Kyoto treaty is a fraud and a catastrophically bad deal for the United States. Without getting too deep into the particulars, the measure would require reductions in carbon-based emissions of such magnitude as to cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars per year. The European Union commissioner for Kyoto has admitted that the real aim of Kyoto is to “level the playing field” — i.e., to drag the U.S. economy down to the level of its European counterparts. That kind of equalization would require the equivalent of a second Great Depression, since the average real income of European workers is now one-third lower than that of their American counterparts. This seems an awfully steep price for getting cool kids to like you.
Africa: The United States spends more money on African aid than any nation on earth. President Bush has committed billions to the fight against AIDS, thus making retroviral drugs available to millions of HIV-positive Africans. The U.S. has supported vast debt-relief giveaways to African governments, despite the fact that this merely subsidizes the corrupt behavior of “kleptocrats” who stole the money in the first place. And finally, the U.S. has pushed hard to create trade agreements with African nations, thus encouraging those countries to build economies based on free labor and wealth-creation, as opposed to ruling on the basis of corruption, theft and tribalism. Europe meanwhile has tried hard to hobble African countries — in part, by trying to outlaw technologies that would enable poor nations on that continent to improve the productivity of all their agricultural enterprises. In this case, the cool kids want us to throw the black folks off the bus.
To conclude — When we were kids, our parents warned us about peer pressure. Now, insecure members of our political class want to do a lot of stupid, ruinous things because of…peer pressure.
Fortunately, an adult in the White House won’t let them, but it probably wouldn’t hurt if constituents also spread the word: Grow up. Stand up. And don’t think it’s better to accept a cool kid’s lie than to embrace the honest-to-goodness truth.
In the end, the only thing we’ll get by adopting the destructive rules of the cool class is a whole lot more enemies, who will hold us responsible for all the really awful stuff that would happen if we abandoned Gitmo, quit Iraq, adopted Kyoto and tried to bribe African nations rather than guide them toward democratic prosperity.
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