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Jewish World ReviewOct. 8,1999 /28 Tishrei, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Carrying a little stick -- PRESIDENT THEODORE ROOSEVELT summarized his approach to foreign policy when he said that we should "speak softly and carry a big stick." Increasingly, in recent years, we have been speaking loudly and carrying a little stick.

As our military forces have been down-sized and their readiness level allowed to fall, we have been making ever more expansive military commitments around the world. We have now had American troops in Haiti and the Balkans for years, in addition to the American forces that have been in Korea and in NATO countries for decades.

Expanding NATO right into Russia's backyard means taking on unending commitments to send still more American troops to deal with whatever future crises may erupt in one of the most volatile parts of the world -- for centuries a region of violent nationalisms and murderous ethnic conflicts. Many of the cities and towns of this region have had multiple names because they have passed back and forth from one country to another.

Recent headlines have proclaimed the American military forces' increasing difficulty in recruiting people to meet the enlistment goals for even our down-sized army and navy. Meanwhile, military pilots are increasingly leaving after their enlistment periods are up. Not only are our military commitments and our military forces moving in opposite directions, the two trends may even be connected with one another as cause and effect.

It is one thing to be willing to put your life on the line to defend your country. It is something else to be sent hither and yon around the world on fuzzy missions, and to be away from your family for years at a time, dealing with some other country's problems.

The same liberals whose hearts bleed when the police do not handle some hoodlum or murderer as gently as they could will blithely dismiss concerns over putting American military personnel at risk by saying, "They volunteered for military service, didn't they?"

Now that more and more people in the military have come to understand the cavalier way their lives are being treated by the powers that be, it is hardly surprising that many are opting out.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, people like Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott are loftily assuring us that the very idea of national sovereignty will be gone in the next century. In other words, we are moving toward world government. Such nations as the United States, Russia or China will be obsolete.

Self-infatuated people like Talbott are in their glory when they are lecturing the rest of us clods from on high and making grandiose preparations for realizing their own visions. That other people can end up having to pay in blood for their smug speculations has never deterred the anointed. Neither are they deterred by the fact that sweeping, long-range projections have a terrible track record, however heady they may feel when they are made.

World government is one of those goals often pursued in complete disregard of the prerequisites for such a thing to be both possible and beneficial.

Nothing is easier than to create an international monster by surrendering national sovereignty in pursuit of a mirage. The heedlessness with which we are trying to create democracies around the world reflects the same utter disregard for prerequisites.

When parliamentary government was first tried in Yugoslavia back in the 1920s, the parliamentarians there would pull out their guns and begin shooting at each other during the heat of debate. One party leader was shot dead during one of these exchanges.

In Africa, setting up newly independent nations as European-style democracies led quickly to despotisms and massive killings. Whoever gained power immediately after independence usually made it a top priority to ensure that this power would never have to be relinquished to another party. The hopeful phrase, "one man, one vote" became the cynical phrase, "one man, one vote -- one time."

Where democracy exists today -- and it is still exists in only a minority of countries in the world at large -- it has taken centuries of political and social evolution to create the conditions in which it is viable. You cannot export those centuries of experience and the cultures and traditions that derive from that experience. But you can get a lot of Americans killed trying to put cultural transplants into unpromising soil.


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©1999, Creators Syndicate