Jewish World Review Dec. 3, 1999 /24 Kislev, 5760
Keep Bubba home ---
and his mouth
In a neglected part of his recent and notorious "isolationism" speech,
national security adviser Sandy Berger acknowledged that the United
States is often seen abroad as an overbearing "hectoring hegemon." But he
concluded that, given the disparity of power and influence in the world
today, there is not much we can do about it.
Well, one thing we could do is keep President Clinton home and his mouth
shut. Instead, he goes around the world smugly telling other people how to
improve themselves. Clinton has this irresistible urge to pronounce himself
on--and thus thrust the United States into--disputes that are none of our
This colossally flawed man makes an unlikely missionary, but he can't help
himself. He has an opinion--lofty, moralistic, blissfully disinterested--on
everything. He goes to Athens, for example, and decides that the Elgin
Marbles rightly belong to Greece.
Now, Britain and Greece have been arguing over the Elgin Marbles--88
priceless works of Phidias taken from the Acropolis early in the 19th
century--for almost 200 years. The treasures are housed in the British
Museum. The Greeks want them back. But even Tony Blair's Labor
government, which often vies with Clinton's in touchy-feeliness, has stated
flatly that they are staying where they are.
It is a problem not easily solved. The Greeks obviously have a claim. But
what about the Egyptians and the Persians, the Chinese and the Japanese,
the Fijians and Pacific Islanders who find so much of their ancient
patrimony sitting behind glass in museums of their erstwhile conquerors and
Such conundrums are no problem for a man such as Clinton. Not only
should the marbles be returned, he told Greek Minister of Culture
Elizabeth Papazoe, but, she reports, he thinks all such items should be
returned to their countries of origin.
Of course, under that principle, American museums would have to be
emptied. We are, after all, a country too young to have any antiquity of our
own. Where does Clinton think all that stuff inside the Metropolitan
Museum of Art--the Greek and Roman statuary, the medieval art and
armor, the mummies and the masks--comes from? Topeka?
Clinton's words might have been meant to curry favor with the mob that
greeted his arrival in Athens. But the only real effect was to infuriate the
Brits, who reacted viscerally to this gratuitous bigfooting into their private
business. Clinton's pronouncements on the Elgin Marbles will not influence
their ultimate disposition. They will serve only to impress upon our most
loyal ally--from Monica to Kosovo, Blair has carried a lot of water for
Clinton--the "hectoring hegemon" Sandy Berger warned against.
Then on to Kosovo, where Clinton touched down just long enough to
instruct the Kosovar Albanians on forgiving their enemies. (Clinton is
something of an expert in the field, having forgiven his enemies for
The Kosovars must not be "focused on hatred and past wrongs and getting
even," said the man who gave the world James Carville.
What is wrong with that sentiment? First, it is terminally naive to wade into
the middle of the Balkan cauldron--where Serbs and Albanians kill each
other with regularity as soon as either side gets the upper hand--and
blithely preach love.
Moreover, it is arrogant for an American president to tell people--people
living amid roiling nationalisms and tribal memories we can barely
understand--not only what to do but what to think and feel.
This is hardly the way to deal with the "hectoring hegemon" problem.
Managing hegemony is difficult enough. Historically, hegemons--great
powers dominating everybody else--create resentment among weaker
countries, causing them to build a coalition of opposition.
How to prevent that? First, you temper your aims--you don't run around
the world determining how Haitians and Somalis and Kosovars ought to
live, for example.
Second, you temper your language and ration your advice. Of course,
there are times when you must assert yourself and display your power. But
you save that for big things like the Gulf War or NATO expansion--and
skimp on the extras. You are spare in your pronouncements. You avoid
unnecessary intercessions in other peoples' disputes. And you bag the
gratuitous moral instruction.
From golden arches over Tokyo to B-2 bombers over Belgrade, there are
enough demonstrations of American dominance. How to deal with the
result, what Berger called the "visceral reactions to our culture and status"?
"There is not much we can do about this except exercise a fair measure of
humility," he said. A lesson for his
Comment on Charles Krauthammer's column by clicking here.
11/29/99: Not for Moi, Thanks
11/19/99: Where's the 2000 Buzz?
11/12/99: Reluctant Cold Warriors
11/08/99: Federalism's New Friends
10/29/99: The Phony Battle Against 'Isolationism'
10/25/99: Still With the Soul Of a Candidate
10/18/99: Nixon On the Couch
10/11/99: Slouching Toward The Center
©1999, Washington Post Co.