Friday, January 02, 2004

Southeast of Eden

Hat tip to Gerald Vanderleun for providing a link to Ralph Peter's article in Parameters. Colonel Peters implicitly answers the misgivings of Tex DeAtkine in Iraq: anything short of disaster will be good enough, because the Middle East will always be a holding action. The real future lies in Africa and Latin America.

Our obsession with the Middle East is not just about oil. It’s about intellectual habit. We assign unparalleled strategic importance to the survival of the repugnant Saudi regime because that’s the way we’ve been doing things for half a century, despite the complete absence of political, cultural, or elementary human progress on the Arabian Peninsula. Certainly, the United States has genuine strategic interests between the Nile and the Indus, and the threats from the region’s apocalyptic terrorists and rogue regimes are as deadly as they are likely to be enduring. But we must stop pretending there is a bright, magical solution for the darkest region on earth, if only we Americans could discover the formula. The Middle East will remain a strategic basket case beyond our lifetimes. We will need to remain engaged, but we must be careful not to be consumed. If you are looking for hope, look elsewhere.

Peters believes that we while can only hope to keep down weeds in the Middle East the only garden that will bloom lies south of the Rio Grande and below the Sahara. "Latin America’s family secret is that everybody really wants to be a gringo, though it dare not be said in public." So why not make it happen, by showing the Latin Americans how?

Latin Americans don’t want to Latinize the United States -- they want to Americanize their own countries by creating responsible governments, lawful economies, and social regimes that respect human rights and human dignity. Yet the United States shows greater respect for Saudi Arabia, a regime founded on the principle of religious intolerance that permits no political dissent, routinely abuses human rights, and denies the most elementary freedoms to its female citizens. It would be hard to design a more counterproductive, nearsighted foreign policy.

As for Africa, Peters suggests that much of its current trouble really springs from efforts to overthrow the second and hidden European colonization. "The first European conquest of Africa was accomplished with guns. The second European conquest was achieved through the inspiring rhetoric and practical folly of Marxism-Leninism and related theories of “rational” social organization. Today, Africans must achieve a third conquest of their continent by themselves, a liberation from the poisonous cant of their liberators." In his view, the entire continent is convulsed in a struggle against corrupt and tribalist elites who mask their primitive rapacity with French-accented Marxism and that it is in America's best interests to help them find their way.

All this is heady stuff and, in the main, true. But it is fraught with danger, for the torch of freedom can burn as well as warm; and the desert always bars the path to the Promised Land. Even as Sherman set his face towards the sea, he knew the risks. Nothing is so certain in hindsight as a wager won and nothing so definite in prospect except that a way -- some way -- must be tried.