Hezbollah Gaining Strength in Latin America

Nancy Vandermee | Newsmax

The Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah is expanding its influence in Latin America with the aid of Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, according to testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security.
At a July 7 committee meeting, Roger Noriega — former American ambassador to the Organization of American States — said Hezbollah has been establishing alliances with Mexican and other drug cartels.
Noriega told the committee that the Venezuelan government is encouraging Hezbollah activities in several Latin American nations. A key operative in the Hezbollah network, he pointed out, is the second highest ranked diplomat in the Venezuelan embassy in Syria, Ghazi Nassereddine.
Nassereddine, who was born in Lebanon, reportedly manages a network that raises and launders money and trains operatives to expand Hezbollah’s influence in Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
Noriega also noted that an Iranian overseer of Hezbollah is Mohsen Rabbani, who is wanted by Argentinian prosecutors for his role in the 1992 and 1994 terrorist attacks against the Israeli embassy and the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.
“Noriega’s main point seems to be that the presence of Hezbollah in the region has metastasized,” Luis Fleischman observed in The Americas Report, a project of the Center for Security Policy.
“As a result of the support Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia and others are giving to the terrorist organization, a more active role for Hezbollah should be expected in the future.”
Also appearing before the committee was Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. He said Hezbollah is helping to build tunnels used by drug smugglers along the U.S.-Mexican border.
These tunnels could be used to smuggle terrorists and weapons of mass destruction into the United States, he warned.
Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, told the committee that Hezbollah has established terrorist training camps in Venezuela and is setting up a camp in Mexico to illegally infiltrate operatives into the U.S.
According to Berman, Hezbollah already has a presence in 15 American cities.
Berman said: “Over the past decade, Hezbollah’s regional activities have shown a clear pattern of targeting U.S. interests and assets throughout Latin America.”

Obama’s Quaqmire: Leadership and the Libya War

By John R. Bolton

Opponents of the Vietnam War–that seemingly endless, inconclusive, increasingly unpopular and ever-more-deadly and costly conflict–called it a “quagmire.” They said it was unwinnable and should never have been fought–and that America must avoid similar future wars. Today, our real risk of “quagmire” is Libya.

Our Nobel Peace Prize-winning president has gotten things badly wrong. By demanding Moammar Khadafy’s ouster while restricting US military force to the more limited objective of protecting innocent civilians, President Obama has set himself up for massive strategic failure.

But this is not why our president ordered U.S. forces into action. His rationale, explicitly articulated in Security Council Resolution 1973, is protecting Libyan civilians. While that strikes many as praiseworthy, others ask how it can be fully realized without removing Qaddafi.

In fact, Obama is pursuing ideological, not geopolitical, objectives. He said in Chile on March 21 that “the core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community almost unanimously says that there’s a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words, that we have to take some sort of action.”

Obama’s comment is a paradigmatic statement of the beguilingly known “responsibility to protect,” a gauzy, limitless doctrine without any anchor in U.S. national interests. This putative responsibility emanates from the desire to divert American military power from protecting U.S. interests to achieving “humanitarian” objectives. The doctrine had its adherents even in the Bush administration, but they have reached measurable power only now under President Obama. The current U.S. military engagement in Libya, as he has defined it, is the jewel in their crown.

The “responsibility to protect,” of course, is limitless by its own terms. Why are we not using force to protect the North Koreans, who’ve suffered through decades of totalitarian rule? Why are we not using force to protect Zimbabweans from Robert Mugabe, whose abuses are easily on a par with Qaddafi’s? What about Syrians, Iranians, Tibetans, etc.?

The endlessness of the responsibility to protect is not a conceptual problem with the doctrine, but its essence. It cannot be “corrected,” because that is its core message. And its error lies not just in its unbounded vistas, but in its critical dirty secret among the international High-Minded: It requires using someone else’s troops, usually ours, to achieve moral satisfaction. President Obama revealed this acutely troublesome aspect when he said recently: “It means that we have confidence that we are not going in alone, and it is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.” Having our military “volunteered” by others is easy for those doing the volunteering, but potentially fatal for the honorees. Having an American president willingly adopt this expansive view of our military’s legitimate purposes is no answer to the basic question of why their lives are being risked. These are unquestionably rationales disconnected from U.S. national interests, and a disconnected president does not bridge the fundamental disjunction.

Advocates of the doctrine respond that military force is only one aspect of a broader theory, but force is inevitably central to any debate about humanitarian intervention. Providing food to a war’s starving victims in a permissive environment is something Americans do instinctively; sending their sons and daughters into conflicts that do not affect their vital interests is something else altogether. Moreover, the “responsibility to protect” is not just another euphemism for U.N.-style peacekeeping. Successful peacekeeping operations rest on the consent of the parties to the conflict in question, which obviates any reason for the “protectors” to use force, and dramatically reduces any risks even in providing humanitarian assistance.

In addition, while the “responsibility to protect” seems to present an alluring moral clarity, it dangerously ignores competing moral claims. The highest moral duty of a U.S. president, for example, is protecting American lives, and casually sacrificing them to someone else’s interests is hardly justifiable. Imagining a future tragedy of Holocaust-sized dimensions and asking whether we would stand idle even in its face may tug at our heartstrings, but emotion is not a policy. And let us be clear: Even the real Holocaust did not motivate U.S. war planners from Franklin Roosevelt on down. They remained entirely focused on the military destruction of Nazi Germany.

Some “responsibility” advocates, conceding that their doctrine obviously cannot be applied universally, argue we should at least act in “easier” cases. Thus, they say, while the risks and costs of protecting the people of North Korea or Iran may be too great, instances such as Libya do not pose nearly such grave challenges. This analysis implicitly assumes that assessing the cost-benefit ratio prior to a humanitarian military mission is relatively straightforward. If only this were so.

Painful experience proves that what initially seems uncomplicated can quickly become mortally complicated. As Churchill put it, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy.” Once war is launched, a combatant “is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” This is as true of “protection” missions as it is of regime-change invasions.

Almost inevitably, a military intervention alters the balance of forces in a conflict, advantaging one set of combatants over another. Protecting some will likely mean death for others. In Libya, for example, we might prefer to think we are simply opposing Qaddafi and not “siding” with the opposition, but effectively we are doing just that. And are all Qaddafi’s adherents, and he has many, as guilty as he for his crimes and deserving of the same treatment? Equally invariably, the disadvantaged side will not take kindly to being intervened against. Terrorist and guerrilla tactics kill humanitarians just as dead as imperialists.

And, as in Somalia, there are no guarantees that the Libyan opposition will not turn out to be as brutal as the ruler it replaces. What do we do then? Police both sides? And what if there are more than two sides, and all of them come to oppose international intervention? At least where there are American interests at stake, there are metrics with which to do our analysis.

And the problems of withdrawal or “exit strategy” are not necessarily less complex in humanitarian interventions than in regime-change invasions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan — the length and human cost of which have been criticized by many of the leading advocates of the responsibility to protect. Take Rwanda: When would a responsibility-to-protect force have known it was safe to leave Hutus and Tutsis alone together?

The Clinton administration experienced precisely this problem in Somalia, taking a limited Bush 41–administration effort to open humanitarian-relief channels, turning it into an exercise in nation building, and ending the operation in failure after the death of 18 service members in Mogadishu. Clinton-administration policy in Somalia is perhaps the closest parallel to the current situation in Libya: It looked easy, and it turned into a humiliating debacle for America and its president. Let’s be blunt. The question comes down to this in every case: How many dead Americans is it worth to you?

The doctrine’s political vagueness is as troubling as its limitlessness. Which nations, for example, constitute the “international community” that determines the existence of the responsibility to protect? While Obama said that, for Libya, this community was almost unanimous, five of 15 Security Council members abstained on Resolution 1973, which implemented the “duty.” The five abstainers included Russia and China — no surprises there. But they also included India, Brazil, and Germany, which at last report were all at least somewhat free and democratic. Moreover, by speaking of a “potential” humanitarian crisis, the president justified the preemptive use of force, a point worth noting given his criticism of prior administrations for precisely that.

Libya will be a most interesting test case, whether Qaddafi stays or goes, and, if he goes, whoever replaces him. In the happy event that Qaddafi either flees Libya or is killed, the doctrine’s advocates will claim success, foreshadowing subsequent missions. They will be wrong but lucky, which may, unfortunately, be more important in their impact on future U.S. foreign policy. If the international Lord Protectors remain in command at the White House, more Libyas will ensue.

The question now, therefore, is whether the American people agree. We should have a national debate on the “responsibility to protect.” Congress should discuss whether committing our young service members, at risk of life and limb, for purely “humanitarian” reasons, is legitimate national policy. We can admire the intentions of those who adhere to the doctrine, but we should ask respectfully whether they truly understand the consequences of their morality. And we should say to them unambiguously: If you want to engage in humanitarian intervention, do it with your own sons and daughters, not with ours.

The original article originally appeared in the April 20th edition of the New York Post

Irresponsible: Against a ‘Responsibility to Protect’ in Foreign Affairs

By John R. Bolton

President Obama’s use of military force in Libya has come under intense criticism across the American political spectrum. There is widespread disagreement over what U.S. objectives should be, and many fault Obama for his initial hesitancy to act, his incoherence in defining our mission, and his ineptness in rallying domestic political support.

The best reason for using force is to secure the removal of Moammar Qaddafi. Even that objective has its complications, not least the question of what kind of regime will succeed him. But Qaddafi’s declared intention and demonstrated capacity to return to international terrorism, and the risk he would likewise resume his pursuit of nuclear weapons, fully justify removing him from the scene.

But this is not why our president ordered U.S. forces into action. His rationale, explicitly articulated in Security Council Resolution 1973, is protecting Libyan civilians. While that strikes many as praiseworthy, others ask how it can be fully realized without removing Qaddafi.

In fact, Obama is pursuing ideological, not geopolitical, objectives. He said in Chile on March 21 that “the core principle that has to be upheld here is that when the entire international community almost unanimously says that there’s a potential humanitarian crisis about to take place, that a leader who has lost his legitimacy decides to turn his military on his own people, that we can’t simply stand by with empty words, that we have to take some sort of action.”

Obama’s comment is a paradigmatic statement of the beguilingly known “responsibility to protect,” a gauzy, limitless doctrine without any anchor in U.S. national interests. This putative responsibility emanates from the desire to divert American military power from protecting U.S. interests to achieving “humanitarian” objectives. The doctrine had its adherents even in the Bush administration, but they have reached measurable power only now under President Obama. The current U.S. military engagement in Libya, as he has defined it, is the jewel in their crown.

The “responsibility to protect,” of course, is limitless by its own terms. Why are we not using force to protect the North Koreans, who’ve suffered through decades of totalitarian rule? Why are we not using force to protect Zimbabweans from Robert Mugabe, whose abuses are easily on a par with Qaddafi’s? What about Syrians, Iranians, Tibetans, etc.?

The endlessness of the responsibility to protect is not a conceptual problem with the doctrine, but its essence. It cannot be “corrected,” because that is its core message. And its error lies not just in its unbounded vistas, but in its critical dirty secret among the international High-Minded: It requires using someone else’s troops, usually ours, to achieve moral satisfaction. President Obama revealed this acutely troublesome aspect when he said recently: “It means that we have confidence that we are not going in alone, and it is our military that is being volunteered by others to carry out missions that are important not only to us, but are important internationally.” Having our military “volunteered” by others is easy for those doing the volunteering, but potentially fatal for the honorees. Having an American president willingly adopt this expansive view of our military’s legitimate purposes is no answer to the basic question of why their lives are being risked. These are unquestionably rationales disconnected from U.S. national interests, and a disconnected president does not bridge the fundamental disjunction.

Advocates of the doctrine respond that military force is only one aspect of a broader theory, but force is inevitably central to any debate about humanitarian intervention. Providing food to a war’s starving victims in a permissive environment is something Americans do instinctively; sending their sons and daughters into conflicts that do not affect their vital interests is something else altogether. Moreover, the “responsibility to protect” is not just another euphemism for U.N.-style peacekeeping. Successful peacekeeping operations rest on the consent of the parties to the conflict in question, which obviates any reason for the “protectors” to use force, and dramatically reduces any risks even in providing humanitarian assistance.

In addition, while the “responsibility to protect” seems to present an alluring moral clarity, it dangerously ignores competing moral claims. The highest moral duty of a U.S. president, for example, is protecting American lives, and casually sacrificing them to someone else’s interests is hardly justifiable. Imagining a future tragedy of Holocaust-sized dimensions and asking whether we would stand idle even in its face may tug at our heartstrings, but emotion is not a policy. And let us be clear: Even the real Holocaust did not motivate U.S. war planners from Franklin Roosevelt on down. They remained entirely focused on the military destruction of Nazi Germany.

Some “responsibility” advocates, conceding that their doctrine obviously cannot be applied universally, argue we should at least act in “easier” cases. Thus, they say, while the risks and costs of protecting the people of North Korea or Iran may be too great, instances such as Libya do not pose nearly such grave challenges. This analysis implicitly assumes that assessing the cost-benefit ratio prior to a humanitarian military mission is relatively straightforward. If only this were so.

Painful experience proves that what initially seems uncomplicated can quickly become mortally complicated. As Churchill put it, “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy.” Once war is launched, a combatant “is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.” This is as true of “protection” missions as it is of regime-change invasions.

Almost inevitably, a military intervention alters the balance of forces in a conflict, advantaging one set of combatants over another. Protecting some will likely mean death for others. In Libya, for example, we might prefer to think we are simply opposing Qaddafi and not “siding” with the opposition, but effectively we are doing just that. And are all Qaddafi’s adherents, and he has many, as guilty as he for his crimes and deserving of the same treatment? Equally invariably, the disadvantaged side will not take kindly to being intervened against. Terrorist and guerrilla tactics kill humanitarians just as dead as imperialists.

And, as in Somalia, there are no guarantees that the Libyan opposition will not turn out to be as brutal as the ruler it replaces. What do we do then? Police both sides? And what if there are more than two sides, and all of them come to oppose international intervention? At least where there are American interests at stake, there are metrics with which to do our analysis.

And the problems of withdrawal or “exit strategy” are not necessarily less complex in humanitarian interventions than in regime-change invasions such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan — the length and human cost of which have been criticized by many of the leading advocates of the responsibility to protect. Take Rwanda: When would a responsibility-to-protect force have known it was safe to leave Hutus and Tutsis alone together?

The Clinton administration experienced precisely this problem in Somalia, taking a limited Bush 41–administration effort to open humanitarian-relief channels, turning it into an exercise in nation building, and ending the operation in failure after the death of 18 service members in Mogadishu. Clinton-administration policy in Somalia is perhaps the closest parallel to the current situation in Libya: It looked easy, and it turned into a humiliating debacle for America and its president. Let’s be blunt. The question comes down to this in every case: How many dead Americans is it worth to you?

The doctrine’s political vagueness is as troubling as its limitlessness. Which nations, for example, constitute the “international community” that determines the existence of the responsibility to protect? While Obama said that, for Libya, this community was almost unanimous, five of 15 Security Council members abstained on Resolution 1973, which implemented the “duty.” The five abstainers included Russia and China — no surprises there. But they also included India, Brazil, and Germany, which at last report were all at least somewhat free and democratic. Moreover, by speaking of a “potential” humanitarian crisis, the president justified the preemptive use of force, a point worth noting given his criticism of prior administrations for precisely that.

Libya will be a most interesting test case, whether Qaddafi stays or goes, and, if he goes, whoever replaces him. In the happy event that Qaddafi either flees Libya or is killed, the doctrine’s advocates will claim success, foreshadowing subsequent missions. They will be wrong but lucky, which may, unfortunately, be more important in their impact on future U.S. foreign policy. If the international Lord Protectors remain in command at the White House, more Libyas will ensue.

The question now, therefore, is whether the American people agree. We should have a national debate on the “responsibility to protect.” Congress should discuss whether committing our young service members, at risk of life and limb, for purely “humanitarian” reasons, is legitimate national policy. We can admire the intentions of those who adhere to the doctrine, but we should ask respectfully whether they truly understand the consequences of their morality. And we should say to them unambiguously: If you want to engage in humanitarian intervention, do it with your own sons and daughters, not with ours.

The original article appeared in the April 18th edition of the National Review

How to Make Egypt Safe for Democracy

By John R. Bolton

Hosni Mubarak’s resignation as president of Egypt, after thirty years of authoritarian rule, is a major seismic event in the unstable Middle East. Although not as shattering as the 1981 assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, Mubarak’s departure may actually pose more of a challenge to Egypt’s long-ruling military than either Sadat’s murder or the natural death of Gamal Nasser, the first officer in the modern military line after the 1952 overthrow of King Farouk. The “regime” thereafter was the military itself; while Mubarak was obviously its apex in recent years, the military establishment as a whole governed, not just one man.

When Nasser and Sadat died, the collective military leadership knew its next step: have another military leader succeed his fallen predecessor. That outcome seems very unlikely today, although not impossible. In the short term, the military’s highest body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, is in charge, having dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, pending parliamentary and presidential elections to be scheduled. Whether there is a larger, longer-term political role for Egypt’s military (as in Pakistan and Turkey) remains to be seen.

Commentators and historians will debate what actually sparked the demonstrations that brought Mubarak down, but for now the most likely explanation is that they were essentially spontaneous, initiated by the demonstrations in Tunisia against the despised Ben Ali government, fuelled by social networks like Twitter and Facebook and more broadly through the internet and email. As in many Third World countries, youth unemployment, especially among those with “university” educations, was widespread; opportunities seemed limited; and 6,000 years of bureaucratic government weighed heavily on the people.

But the critical political motivator was almost certainly opposition to Mubarak’s long-feared effort to have his son Gamal succeed him in yet another well-rigged Egyptian election. The elder Mubarak, 82 and ailing, was not likely to run again, but the idea of pharaonic succession was more than most Egyptians could tolerate. Significantly, opposition included Egypt’s armed forces: Gamal had never been part of the military, unlike his father, a former commander of the Air Force. Combined with obviously fixed parliamentary elections last November, Mubarak the Second was simply unacceptable.

The spontaneity of the street turmoil was confirmed by the absence of leaders, either from among the demonstrators, or from Egyptian intellectuals, existing opposition political figures, or media moths like Mohammed el-Baradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who rushed back to Egypt from Vienna to speak English to the Western press and unsuccessfully claim leadership of the rising tide of protest.

Although far from certain, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (the “Ikhwan”) probably did not instigate the demonstrations, and may well have been caught off guard like so many others. But the Brotherhood, although legally banned in Egypt for decades and living in a shadow world politically, was nonetheless a major factor in what happened next. It remains well-organised, tightly disciplined, and clear in its Islamicist agenda. On the first Friday after the demonstrations began, the Ikhwan’s mullahs used the Friday prayers to call its followers into the streets, substantially increasing both the size of the demonstrations and their intensity.

The Brotherhood had already been active in the scheduled September presidential elections, moving close to a formal endorsement of el-Baradei’s candidacy, a seemingly odd coalition between a collection of medieval, theocratic radicals and, in effect, a European social democrat. Nonetheless, the alliance served both parties, giving the Ikhwan entrée to the Western media and a role in opposition to Mubarak. Even before the demonstrations began, el-Baradei had announced support for the Hamas autocracy in the Gaza Strip and for ending all sanctions against Hamas: “Open the borders, end the blockade!” he told Der Spiegel last July. Since Hamas is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Brotherhood, this was a critical point. Ending Egypt’s blockade of its border with Gaza (the little-known and sporadically effective counterpart to Israel’s blockade) would allow free transit between Gaza and Egypt, thereby facilitating the transfer of operatives, weapons and finance from Hamas’s major backer: Iran.

As the days passed in Egypt, the Obama Administration went through a public agony of confused, contradictory, and inconsistent responses. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened the public torrent of words by observing that Mubarak’s government was stable, and Vice-President Biden chimed in that it was not a dictatorship. Within days, however, President Obama himself was telling Mubarak privately and publicly that the “transition” to democracy had to begin “now”, enabling his press avatars to leak furiously that Mubarak must resign immediately. Within less than a week, the White House endorsed Mubarak remaining in office until the end of his term in September, a line replaced just days later by renewed insistence on Mubarak’s immediate departure from office.

This foolish, endless public commentary was an all-too transparent effort to stay on top of the news cycle, and to portray the US President as directing events rather than merely responding to them. As a consequence, Obama’s credibility was undercut everywhere. By trying to please everyone, he ended up pleasing no one. The truly important communications, entirely off the media’s radar, were between the Pentagon and Egypt’s military, urging restraint while also trying to understand the shifting dynamics on Egypt’s streets and behind closed doors, where the key political negotiations were taking place. Unfortunately, Obama’s public twisting and turnings have obscured the important, beneficial impact of these invisible lines of communication between Washington and Cairo.

The issue now, of course, is what happens next. The West can justifiably be optimistic about the legitimate aspirations for freedom and true democracy many demonstrators in Egypt and elsewhere expressed. Tunisia, for example, now seems the most likely candidate to make a successful transition from authoritarian rule to truly representative government. But a pragmatic assessment of the situation in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East nonetheless underlines the daunting obstacles in the way of that transformation. Moreover, critical US national security interests, such as the stability of the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement, Egypt’s 35-year strategic alignment with America following Sadat’s pivot away from the Soviet Union, and the fate of the Arabian Peninsula’s oil-and gas-producing regimes, justifiably weigh in the balance for Washington’s decision-makers, and the West as a whole.

Many others also have strategic interests at risk. Suddenly, one of the foundations of Israel’s security, the Camp David Accords, is potentially imperiled. Pro-Western Arab governments, particularly monarchies from Morocco to the Gulf, see their stability endangered. They watched in dismay the way in which Obama treated Mubarak, loyalty to unappealing allies in trouble not having been a strong suit in Washington for many years. If the White House threw Mubarak “under the bus”, they wondered, what would be their fate if they faced internal turmoil? And concern whether loyalty was a principle that counted in Washington was not confined to the Middle East, but extended globally.

Conceptually, of course America supports democracy for all people; how could we do otherwise? But in international politics, as in life, key moral principles and deeply held philosophical values can conflict. Statesmen necessarily face deeply unappealing choices which academics and commentators in their suburban literary redoubts are spared. Sad to say, it is comforting but utterly unrealistic to believe that pursuing one value to the effective exclusion of the others will nonetheless result in all being reconciled satisfactorily.

Advocating democracy and actually building it are two radically different things. Jeane Kirkpatrick’s 1979 Commentary article, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” which first brought her to the attention of prospective presidential candidate Ronald Reagan, deftly skewered Jimmy Carter’s handling of two earlier regime crises, which may have uneasy parallels with what is transpiring in Egypt. Kirkpatrick’s characteristic honesty made famous the argument that pro-Western authoritarian governments had at least the potential for a gradual transformation to democracy, something no repressive communist government had ever done. But Kirkpatrick’s thesis was more profound than simply a Cold War polemic; she explained eloquently why proclaiming support for democratic ideals in no way guaranteed implementing them successfully. Her case studies were the Shah’s government in Iran and the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, replaced, respectively by ayatollahs in Tehran and Sandinistas in Managua. We thus moved from two authoritarian, pro-US regimes to two even more authoritarian, anti-US regimes, partially thanks to Carter’s bungling. The lesson was plain.

Kirkpatrick quoted approvingly from John Stuart Mill’s magisterial essay, “Considerations on Representative Government”, in which Mill described three preconditions for such governments to succeed: “One, that the people should be willing to receive it; two, that they should be willing and able to do what is necessary for its preservation; three, that they should be willing and able to fulfill the duties and discharge the functions which it imposes on them.” Americans have their own version of this insight, a perhaps apocryphal tale occurring in Philadelphia after the secret, closed-session drafting of the Constitution in 1787. As the story goes, a woman approached Ben Franklin on the street and said, “Well, Doctor, what have you given us, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin reportedly replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

Today’s world is filled with failed efforts at democratisation. Russia has passed from totalitarianism, into democracy, and now seems to be passing right out again, regressing to authoritarianism or worse, although seemingly not of the communist variety. Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution has been hijacked by Hizbollah, the Shi’ite terrorist group armed and financed by Iran. And in Gaza, Hamas, albeit Sunni, is similarly armed and financed by Iran. In short, the forms and processes of democracy can produce substantively decidedly illiberal results, as Mussolini’s Fascisti and Hitler’s Brown Shirts should have amply warned us in the last century.

Moreover, beyond the issue of Egypt’s future government, broader US national security interests have legitimate–and enormous–claims. Americans may admire Woodrow Wilson’s aspirations to make the world safe for democracy, but they actually follow Theodore Roosevelt’s devastating response: “First and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves.” Attention to US strategic interests is not evidence of indifference to democracy, but a recognition that America’s democracy itself requires its leaders to do what nation states exist to do, and as its Constitution specifically admonishes, to “provide for the common defence”.

Ironically, once Egyptian demonstrators verged on toppling Mubarak, the Obama Administration suddenly found virtue in demonstrations in Iran, with ringing statements by Vice-President Biden and others. By contrast, after Iran’s fraudulent 2009 presidential election, the White House had been silent or even supportive of Ahmadinejad’s election “victory”, so desperate was it to engage Tehran in negotiations over its nuclear weapons program. Obama’s sustained unwillingness to acknowledge, let alone endorse, the protesters in Iran against their totalitarian, theocratic military rulers provoked enormous criticism, which obviously stung the hyper-media-conscious White House. But while being rhetorically ahead of the media spin cycle is a mark of success at the Obama White House, as in so many other cases, rhetoric is all there is. Mistaking rhetoric for action is the Obama Administration’s hallmark.

So, today’s pressing question for Egypt is what steps the new military rulers should take. First, there should not be a rush to elections. It was a fatal mistake for Palestinians when the Bush Administration, reading supposedly irrefutable polls that Hamas could not win, scheduled elections in 2006 that allowed Hamas to do just that. Democracy is a culture, a way of life, as Mill and Kirkpatrick recognised, not simply the counting of votes. Any realistic assessment of Egypt’s “opposition” shows it to be weak, disorganised, and indifferently led. Moving to early elections, as the Muslim Brotherhood wants, will not bring the Age of Aquarius, but only benefit those factions with existing political infrastructures, which is a formula for domination by the Brotherhood. Far better to proceed when the true democrats are ready, which may not be soon enough for some, but which is unambiguously the more pro-democratic course.

Second, participation in the elections, whenever scheduled, should be limited to real political parties. From Mussolini to Putin, from Hamas to Hezbollah, terrorists, totalitarians and their ilk masquerading as political parties do not really believe in representative government. Banning such faux-democrats from participating in the legitimate political process until they become true political parties is entirely legitimate, and may well be critical to avert disaster. America did so for decades by outlawing the Communist Party, as post-World War II Germany did with the National Socialists. Thus, for President Obama to say, as he did, that the transition “must bring all of Egypt’s voices to the table” is not only naive, but fundamentally dangerous.

In order to join legitimate political parties in contesting elections, we asked in Lebanon and in Palestinian elections that terrorists had to renounce violence (and mean it), give up their weapons, and abjure the prospect of resorting to force if they didn’t like the outcome. Sadly, we did not insist on these standards, and the results in Lebanon and Gaza prove our mistake. We should not repeat these errors, although Obama seems well on the way to doing so.

Third, the West should provide material assistance to those truly committed to a free and open society. In days of yore, the United States supplied extensive clandestine assistance to prevent communist takeovers in post-World War II elections in France, Italy and elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the Obama Administration is too fastidious for such Cold War-style behaviour, but perhaps overt, democratic institution-building assistance is not too much to ask. Advocates of doing nothing will argue that Western assistance, overt or covert, will “taint” the real democrats, and should therefore be avoided. Of course, there are always excuses for doing nothing. At a minimum, we should let Egyptians themselves decide whether they will be “tainted” with outside assistance; if they can live with the taint, so should we.

Fourth, Egypt’s military must restore and extend stability, setting an example throughout the Middle East, thereby allowing whatever progress toward a truly democratic culture to emerge. Egypt’s military will require political space in the months ahead. The Pentagon’s continuing close relationship with Egypt’s military should give us confidence that the right message about civilian control over the military is getting through. One of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ first announcements was that it would honour Egypt’s international obligations, presumably including Camp David. This is important and reassuring internationally, but hardly dispositive of what future governments will do.

The 1990s were filled with visions of a “new Middle East” that would transform the “cold peace” Israel had achieved with Egypt and Jordan into broader economic and security ties, and that would extend to other Arab countries too. That vision was stillborn, but there is little doubt that we are now going to see a new Middle East whether we like it or not, and whether or not it will be better than what it replaces. Alea iacta est–“the die has been cast”–and it may be long years before it comes to rest.

This article originally appeared in the March 2011 edition of Standpoint Magazine

How Freedom’s Foes Exploit Arab Unrest

By John R.  Bolton

As Iran’s rulers busily suppress opposition to their dictatorship, they’re poised to seize greater regional influence because of pervasive Middle Eastern unrest.

Notwithstanding the undeniable benefits of real, sustainable democracy, it must be secured and enhanced over time, not merely proclaimed in an adrenaline rush. And the hard work to achieve democracy in the Middle East remains. Ask Russians, whose democracy may be disappearing before its adherents can nurture an enduring free society’s culture and institutions.

Moreover, democracy’s theoretical international-relations benefits (the “democratic peace”) remain theoretical. Practically, Israel’s security is almost certainly in greater jeopardy. Neighboring Arab states, particularly monarchies with close ties to Washington and critical to the global economy, feel similarly threatened.

By contrast, Iran’s power is dramatically enhanced, however unintentionally, by the consequences of the region’s anti-regime demonstrations. When strong Sunni Arab governments are replaced by newer, unsteady regimes, their prospects for democracy notwithstanding, Iran sees weakness to exploit for its own strategic purposes.

Although Libya and Yemen have today’s headlines, Bahrain is actually the most dramatic case in play. The Middle Eastern base of the US Fifth Fleet, Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy has long been vulnerable to Iranian subversion, and demonstrations there are likely based primarily on its Sunni-Shia divide, with the population 70 percent Shia. Last week, Gulf Cooperation Council countries stood by Bahrain’s king, implying willingness to provide military assistance, and the Saudis apparently urged forceful action against the demonstrators, despite contrary US advice. So far unanswered is whether Iran is actively causing mischief, hoping for the unnecessary lethal force used by Bahrain’s government in response.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak’s fall has not altered the fundamental reality of military control, but it inevitably means more internal focus, and less energy opposing Iran’s regional hegemonic efforts. Moreover, Mubarak’s successor will likely be less sympathetic to the Camp David Accords; even pro-democracy leaders have called for revising this foundation of Middle Eastern stability, and things can only go downhill from there. And Iran’s dispatch of warships to the Suez Canal graphically for the first time since the mullahs seized power in 1979 demonstrates its confidence in projecting power against Israel.

Are other GCC governments vulnerable to either Muslim Brotherhood-style extremists or Iranian subversion? Because of their oil wealth and the popular legitimacy the monarchies claim, perhaps not. But if, as in Bahrain, economics is not the dominant factor, both Iran and Sunni extremists could try to topple these regimes and seize control of hydrocarbon revenues, directly or indirectly.

How should America respond? We are legitimately interested in lessening Iran’s influence–which is certainly not democratic, as events in Iran itself demonstrate daily. Indeed, any system resting on absolute theocratic control is necessarily destructive of freedom of conscience. Accordingly, Washington and its allies should seek to block Iran even as it seeks cover under “pro-democracy” pretenses.

In Cold War days, we understood that pro-Communist forces called for “free elections” under “united fronts,” cynically using the forms of democracy to undermine its substance. We were not deceived then by Moscow, nor should we be deceived today by Tehran (or, similarly, by Sunni extremists).

We should encourage states transitioning to democracy to protect themselves from Iranian efforts to subvert their progress. Iran funds and arms terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, a subsidiary of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Preventing Iran from using Hamas as a conduit to the Brotherhood, and similar arrangements elsewhere, should be a major priority–just as, by analogy, US law rightfully prohibits foreign campaign contributions. Moreover, Washington could help trace illicit Iranian money flows, making such information available to interested states.

We also should focus on undermining the Tehran regime and its puppets. For too long, we’ve said and done little as Iranian and Syrian opposition groups have been marginalized. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is Lebanon, where the democratic Cedar Revolution is now in mortal peril from Hezbollah and Iran. Playing only defense makes no more sense in international politics than in sports.

Finally, we should not apologize for defending US national interests even if they conflict with demands for immediate elections. Our interests derive from our own democracy, giving them ample legitimacy. Welcoming democracy for others does not entail putting our interests in second place, even if advancing our interests overrides opposing views of pro-democracy forces. That is a hard but necessary truth. We may wish it was otherwise, but for our own protection, our statesmen must recognize reality.

The original article originally appeared in the February 21st edition of the New York Post

The West Needs to Stand Up to Beijing

By John R. Bolton

Mao Zedong once said that “all political power comes from the barrel of a gun”. Whether his apostolic successor President Hu Jintao, visiting President Barack Obama this week in Washington, believes this particular line in Mao’s catechism is unclear. Completely clear, however, is that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) not only believes it, but is implementing it.

Systematic expansion of China’s strategic nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities; rapid growth in submarine and blue-water naval forces; substantial investments in anti-access and area-denial weapons such as anti-carrier cruise missiles; fifth-generation fighter-bomber platforms; and sophisticated cyber-warfare techniques all testify to the PLA’s operational objectives.

Western business and political leaders have chattered for years about China as a globally “responsible stakeholder” enjoying a “peaceful rise”. This is the acceptable face Mr Hu will present in Washington. But just because the musclemen aren’t listed on the Chinese leader’s passenger manifest doesn’t mean they aren’t flying the plane. China’s Communist party remains unquestionably dominant, and the PLA remains its most potent element.

During US defense secretary Robert Gates’ Beijing meetings last week, China tested its stealthy new J-20, a prototype combat aircraft. Many scoffed at the notion that Mr Hu seemed surprised when Mr Gates raised the test, and at the Chinese leader’s explanation that the timing was coincidental. Was the J-20 flight intended to embarrass Mr Gates and Mr Obama prior to Mr Hu’s Washington visit, or was it a signal to China’s civilian leadership about who is actually in charge? In truth, both seem likely.

Both Mr Hu and the PLA undoubtedly understand that China is dealing with the most leftwing, least national-security-oriented, least assertive American president in decades. This matters because China will be heavily influenced by its perception of US policies and capabilities. Mr Obama’s extravagant domestic spending, and the consequent ballooning of America’s national debt, has enhanced China’s position at America’s expense. Indeed, the only budget line Mr Obama has been interested in cutting, which he has done with gusto, is defence.

Sensing growing weakness, therefore, it would be surprising if China did not continue its assertive economic, political and military policies. Thus, we can expect more discrimination against foreign investors and businesses in China, as both the US and European Union chambers of commerce there have recently complained. Further expansive, unjustifiable territorial claims in adjacent east Asian waters are also likely. While the Pentagon is clipping coupons and limiting its nuclear capabilities in treaties with Russia, the PLA is celebrating Mardi Gras.

Consider two further important issues: Taiwan and North Korea. When Beijing threatened Taipei in 1996 President Bill Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan strait, demonstrating America’s commitment to Taiwan’s defence. Does anyone, particularly in Beijing, believe Mr Obama would do anything nearly as muscular faced with comparable belligerence today? On the North Korean menace, meanwhile, Mr Obama is conforming to a 20-year pattern of US deference to China which has enabled a bellicose, nuclear Pyongyang.

Of course, if China sensed an America determined to maintain its dominant position in the western Pacific, and ready to match its determination with budget resources, it might be dissuaded from its recent objectionable behaviour. In such circumstances, more balanced, co-operative and ultimately more productive relations would likely follow. On the other hand, if China is determined to increase its military strength regardless of Washington’s posture, all the more reason for America to ready itself now.

China should take careful note: neither Mr Hu nor the PLA ought to assume that Mr Obama truly represents broader US public opinion. There could be a different president two years hence, ready to reverse his agenda of international passivity and decline. Beijing can certainly take advantage of Mr Obama for now, both because of his philosophical and leadership weaknesses. But so doing could cost them in the future, if America in 2012 goes to the next level in rejecting Mr Obama’s failing policies.

The original article appeared in the January 28 edition of the Financial Times

Uncle Sam Has His Head in the Sand

By John R. Bolton

France’s Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie received a rude introduction to Arab-Israeli issues on Friday when irate Hamas supporters attacked her entourage in Gaza. She escaped injury but faced protesters venting disapproval of her support for freeing Hamas’ long-held prisoner Israeli Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit. Ms. Alliot-Marie was not even remotely freelancing because Sgt. Shalit is a dual citizen of France and Israel, and her call for his immediate release merely restated Paris’ long-held views.

Nonetheless, the Gaza violence should be a wake-up call to both France and Europe more broadly that European Union (EU) policies in the Middle East are failing badly. Unfortunately, there is little prospect anything will change. France and the EU as a whole suffer from contradictory impulses that render their policies impotent and even harmful to their own interests and Middle East stability.

On the same trip, for example, Ms. Alliot-Marie responded to a question from Israel’s Haaretz newspaper by saying Syria “is an actor of much importance in the region that can and must play a constructive role on the area’s stability.” France has a particular blindness because it insists on its historical role in Syria and Lebanon dating to the Crusades; Arabs believe it is a legacy of 19th-century imperialism and the World War I Sykes-Picot agreement with Great Britain.

Yet for all of France’s supposed interest, Lebanon verges on losing the Cedar Revolution and falling under the unambiguous control of the Iran-financed terrorist organization Hezbollah. In fact, in the most troubling but entirely likely scenario, all the progress made since 2005 in forcing Syria out and restoring true Lebanese independence is very much at risk.

Of course, America is far too often complicit in Europe’s mistakes. President Obama’s decision to send a U.S. ambassador back to Damascus after five years without one is an act of foolishness impossible to distinguish from France’s own erroneous accommodation with Syria’s authoritarian government. At least Washington can say it did not make the same mistake as French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who two years ago praised the regime of now-deposed Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali for “advancing freedom and human rights.”

Even worse, both the EU and the United States remain devoted to the Perm Five-Plus-One talks with Iran, which continued last weekend in Istanbul. Entirely predictably, the talks ended with no progress in persuading Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program. There is not, and has not been from the outset of these tortuous negotiations, even the slightest chance Iran will renounce its 20-year goal of deliverable nuclear weapons. Nor have successive rounds of economic sanctions against Iran, intended to force it into serious negotiations, succeeded. Instead, the Tehran regime has systematically used the talks to buy time to overcome the many scientific and technological obstacles to achieving its objective.

Ironically, while the EU’s infatuation with Iran is led by its “foreign minister,” Baroness Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, it is the U.K.’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair who has the clearest view of how to handle the Tehran mullahs. Testifying again before the U.K. inquiry into the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Blair said Iran “has to be confronted and changed. … I say this to you with all of the passion I possibly can – at some point the West has to get out of what I think is a wretched policy or posture of apology for believing that we are causing what the Iranians are doing, or what these extremists are doing. … We have to get our head out of the sand. They disagree fundamentally with our way of life and will carry on unless met with determination and, if necessary, force.” Mr. Blair’s clarity is absent from Mr. Obama’s view of Iran and even from President George W. Bush’s policy in his last years in office.

Unfortunately, every indication is that matters in the Middle East will simply get worse. While the Obama administration clears the decks for its 2012 re-election campaign and makes tactical shifts and feints toward the center of American politics to that end, there is no sign that its foreign policy is shifting to a more realistic assessment of the threats and challenges facing the United States internationally. To the contrary, it is business as usual when the president troubles himself to look beyond his domestic agenda.

Because there is no chance that the United States will regain its foreign-policy bearings before the 2012 election, Europeans concerned for the future of the West as a whole have a special responsibility. They must hold the line until American voters get a chance to reverse the 2008 election at the presidential level as they just largely did in November at the congressional level. In the meantime, conditions in the Middle East will simply continue to deteriorate.

The original article appeared in the January 26th edition of the Washington Times

Pooling Our Sovereignty with Others Only Undermines It

By John R. Bolton

For decades, Americans have slept while their national sovereignty has been threatened, chipped away and eroded by a series of innocuous-sounding and nearly imperceptible decisions. We have been locked in a struggle between our sovereignty and the advocates of “global governance” that most of our fellow citizens didn’t even know was under way, let alone how disparate were these two worldviews.

This conflict is not about the buzzword “globalization” and its implications for commerce and culture, but a sharp confrontation about power and government: our power and our government.

Although “sovereignty” has many often contradictory meanings, for Americans, the idea is actually quite straightforward: Sovereignty rests in the Constitution’s opening phrase “We the People,” meaning our control over our own government.

Advocates of “pooling” U.S. sovereignty with others to address “global” problems are really saying we should surrender some of our sovereignty to international organizations that other nations will influence or even control.

That is unquestionably a formula for reducing U.S. autonomy and our authority over government. Most Americans feel we don’t adequately control government now, so it is no wonder that, once aware of the scope of the threat, they will refuse to cede even more authority to distant bodies where U.S. influence is reduced or uncertain.

For President Obama, our first post-American president, surrendering sovereignty seems perfectly reasonable, consistent with his essentially European social-democratic worldview. Obama sees his foreign-policy role less as an advocate for America’s “parochial” interests and more as a “citizen of the world,” in his own phrase.

The description President George H.W. Bush applied to his 1988 election opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, also applies to Obama: “He sees America as another pleasant country on the U.N. roll call, somewhere between Albania and Zimbabwe.”

Threats to U.S. sovereignty are both imminent and long-term. They have varying characteristics, and they are often not necessarily immediately obvious as threats. One element that runs through many of them, however, is the concept of international “norming,” the idea that America should base its policies on the global consensus rather than making our own decisions as a constitutional democracy. “Norming” is a way to constrain U.S. sovereignty by moving our domestic political debate to align with broader international opinion.

Because of the centrality of individual freedom in the United States, norming advocates are invariably on the international Left politically; there are simply no other nations as liberty-oriented as we are.

Thus, much of the threat to our sovereignty comes not in traditional national security areas, but on policies heretofore considered entirely domestic in nature.

Take four issues where our free and open political system allows continuing, robust domestic debates: global warming, abortion, gun control and the death penalty.

Yet the “norming” advocates say that the rest of the world, through treaties, United Nations decisions and “customary international law,” has already decided these questions: for massively increased government taxation and regulation to combat global warming, for widely available abortions, for gun control and against the death penalty.

The issue here is not where you stand on any one of these particular issues, but who gets to decide them: us, or the rest of the world “voting” in our decision making. This is the core issue of American sovereignty and the threat to it represented by the Obama worldview.

Clearly, Obama will now have a far less compliant Congress, so there is every prospect he will use the international route to achieve his objectives.

By clearly understanding how threats to our sovereignty arise, by making them politically important, and by holding our elected officials accountable, we can defend our sovereignty vigorously. But there is no time to waste.

This article originally appeared in the January 20th edition of The Washington Examiner

North Korea: Not the Time for Talks

By John R. Bolton

President Obama’s North Korea policy has come to an entirely predictable dead end. Having for two years correctly resisted resuming the six party talks on the North’s nuclear-weapons program, Mr. Obama is now pressuring South Korea to do just that. This is a significant mistake. It would have been bad enough had Mr. Obama simply picked up where the Bush administration left off in January 2009, but restarting the talks now will signal weakness and indecisiveness.

Since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, Pyongyang has detonated its second nuclear device and launched two unprovoked military attacks–torpedoing a South Korean naval vessel last March and shelling Yeonpyeong Island in November, killing several civilians. Even more significant was the revelation of large, sophisticated uranium-enrichment facilities at Yongbyon, and construction there of a new nuclear reactor to replace the existing aged facility.

Resuming the six party talks, which include the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and America, clearly has global ramifications. Pyongyang and Tehran have cooperated closely on ballistic missiles and almost certainly on nuclear matters, as the North’s construction of a reactor in Syria, destroyed by Israel in 2007, demonstrates. It has long been a mistake to treat these rogue states as unrelated threats, a point that still eludes the Obama administration.

The talks themselves exemplify how, for almost a decade, Washington has followed Beijing’s Korea policy as if it were its own. China does not want a bellicose, nuclear North Korea destabilizing East Asia, prompting Japan and others to seek nuclear weapons. But it has definitely prized the North as a buffer state against U.S. forces in the South. China would prefer a nonnuclear North Korea but has feared to act on that goal lest the North itself collapse and the Koreas reunify. The talks are Beijing’s mechanism for maintaining the uneasy equilibrium of its contradictory policies, and keeping both the U.S. and North Korea in line.

While South Koreans seem increasingly to be rejecting the six party approach because of the North’s aggression, Mr. Obama is working hard to squeeze President Lee Myung-bak to accept reopening the talks. Last Wednesday, before a foreign-affairs meeting, Mr. Lee said his country has “no choice but to resolve the problem of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program diplomatically through the six party talks.” But his administration has yet to agree to a resumption of talks. Mr. Obama’s representatives are descending on Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo this week and next to torque up the pressure.

Washington should advocate America’s interests rather than China’s. Our objective should be to increase pressure on Kim Jong Il’s regime, hopefully leading to its collapse.

We should thoroughly isolate North Korea by denying it access to international financial markets, ramping up efforts to prevent trade in weapons- related materials and pressuring China to adhere to existing U.N. sanctions resolutions. Opening North Korea to foreign commerce to benefit its near-starving population, as some advocate, is utterly fanciful. If the regime had ever cared about its people, they wouldn’t be in such dire straits.

We should also dramatically expand preparations for Kim’s inevitable demise. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for Washington to see his death only as a risk, rather than an opportunity. We should take every advantage of the inevitable rivalry and confusion that will accompany the transition, and use whatever levers are available to undermine the regime. We must also plan to meet the North’s evident humanitarian needs, whether or not there are massive refugee flows. Even if the population stayed put after a regime collapse, the North’s misery would still require urgent attention. And we must ensure that the North’s weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the wrong hands.

Many of China’s younger leaders do not reflexively support Pyongyang. Although their elders may be hopeless on the subject, the rising policy makers must hear from us that peacefully reunifying Korea is in Beijing’s long-term interests. Having a puppet state separating China from U.S. forces may once have been attractive, but forward- looking Chinese should not accept defending the North’s appalling record. This will be a hard conversation, but we have never had meaningful discussions with China on reunifying the Koreas.

While Mr. Obama is unlikely to shift his views voluntarily, Washington’s politics changed dramatically in November while Pyongyang was attacking the South and showing off its nuclear wares. After 10 years of error, we should recognize, better late than never, that unifying Korea is key to Asian peace and stability.

The original article appeared in the January 3rd edition of the Wall Street Journal

It’s Europe’s Crisis

By John R. Bolton

The recent riots in Athens, London and Rome signal rising insecurity and uncertainty within the European Union. The most profound and widespread challenge is the growing sense that the EU’s common currency, the euro, may not survive in its present form, if at all.

The obvious reason is that, as a matter of economics, the euro project gives surrealism a bad name: A currency without a government was always doomed to fail. Now, there are only two choices: 1) Abandon or dramatically shrink the euro concept, or 2) increase the powers of the European Commission to oversee–and where necessary determine–national tax and spending decisions.

A cynic would say that this crisis was pre-planned–anticipated years ago as a convenient trigger to create the ever-more-centralized EU government that its advocates could never have achieved openly.

Certainly, the euro has always been primarily a political project, rather than an economic one–a rationale that justifies US indifference to its fate.

If the Europeans want it, that’s up to them. They’re perfectly entitled to try to create an alternative to the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency and to be another Western “pole” in world affairs. But we are equally free to let it fail.

As the euro encounters even graver difficulties, America should resist the temptation to save the EU from itself. We must avoid propping it up directly through loans or financial assistance or indirectly through the International Monetary Fund.

Make no mistake: Europe’s crisis is real. Greece’s financial situation continues to deteriorate despite an EU bailout earlier this year. Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowan’s popularity has fallen to record lows, with the opposition almost certain to win the next election, even as Ireland’s debt is massively downgraded once again.

And third-quarter EU employment statistics spell more trouble ahead: Employment contracted in troubled states like Greece and Spain, while rising in the stronger economies of France and Germany.

Spain’s credit ratings are plummeting, as are Portugal’s. Spain’s last 2010 sovereign-bond sale missed its fund-raising target of 4 billion Euros, raising only 2.4 billion, and required much higher interest rates than before. Portugal is trying to fashion an austerity program, but is receiving poor marks.

Italy seems more interested in opposition efforts to remove Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from office than saving its precarious finances. Despite criticism of his flamboyant life style, Berlusconi remains the most business-savvy EU leader–which may explain the intense animosity he faces.

Germany, the rock of Europe’s currency union, has had it with the prodigal states. Chancellor Angela Merkel rejects the idea of “Euro-bonds” (EU-wide financial instruments) to minimize the risk of default on sovereign debt, seeking instead “deeper political and economic integration.”

This is always the Europhile answer to each new failure in their quest to build a European super-state: more of the same. But even countries firmly in Germany’s sphere, like Austria, concede that their banks must raise more capital to ensure financial worthiness.

Yet Great Britain–which never abandoned its own national currency, the pound sterling–will strenuously oppose the transfer of any new fiscal powers to EU headquarters in Brussels. That alone could trigger a split within the EU, encouraging other countries to revert to national currencies rather than surrender even more sovereignty to the Brussels bureaucrats.

Nor would it be a real solution for the EU to amend its basic treaties to create a permanent stabilization mechanism for sovereign-debt crises. To the contrary, a permanent bailout facility is a self-fulfilling prophecy, virtually guaranteeing that it will be used repeatedly.

US government officials argue that we must not permit any EU country to default on its obligations because of the interconnectedness of international financial markets. But if no one is allowed to fail, both businesses and nation-states will be less careful and responsible in their decision making.

Default on a major EU sovereign-debt obligation may just be just the thing to wake up the rest of Europe to get its house in order. It wouldn’t be a bad lesson for Washington, either. We should worry about President Obama’s staggering deficit spending and let Europe worry about its own.

This article originally appeared in the December 21st, 2010 edition of the New York Post