Satan Doesn't Wear Sweaty Socks.
January 18, 2002 6:38 PM   Subscribe

Satan Doesn't Wear Sweaty Socks. Matthew Parris of The Times weighs in on the War on Terrorism, painting the U.S. as the 900-lb. gorilla of world affairs and offering the observation that maybe Al-Qaeda isn't as scary as the Bush and Blair administrations say it is.
posted by mr_crash_davis (26 comments total)
It is always great sport to make fun of America. Buyt let the writer count the number of terrorists already located and arrested in his own country. Add to that those found in a dozen other countries. And assume that there may well be many many more as yet not found. Then he will see that what he is reacting to is not the true threat of terrorism but rather the overly loud mouthed manner in which some of our leaders make public pronouncements and at the same time lift freedoms away from the rest of us in the name of "a war on terror." My guess is that it is the part of the equation he is belittling. If not, would he suggest ignoring any potential terrorist cells in Great Britain as yet not found.
posted by Postroad at 7:07 PM on January 18, 2002

Hmm. It's only knocked down the two tallest buildings in the financial heart of America's largest city and the nation's defense headquarters, killing thousands. That's pretty scary.
posted by raysmj at 7:50 PM on January 18, 2002

I don't think this is making fun of America at all, Postroad. All he really says is that the U.S. government look after their own national interests before any other countries'. I can't disagree. I guess it shoulda been a column about infrigement of civil rights in the U.S., but it isn't. Frankly, it rings pretty true to me.
posted by Gilbert at 8:01 PM on January 18, 2002

America is arrogant. We don't get it, nor want to. End of story.
posted by fleener at 8:11 PM on January 18, 2002

Washington’s way of “fighting terror” is not, despite appearances, the same as Britain’s.

Thank God. Once again shows why America has to lead the rest of the world. When they're sitting around noshing on tea and crumpets wagging their fingers at whoever's making noise, America's actually doing something. Sometimes we're wrong, but I think some action is better than inaction.

If we had let the UN or some other useless body take the lead they would still be saying "Mullah Omar, we ask you pretty please with a cherry on top to release Osama Bin Laden. If you don't, we shall wag our fingers at you furiously". Gimme a break.
posted by owillis at 8:15 PM on January 18, 2002

We seek to project the message that there are rules to which all nations are subject. America has a simpler message: kill Americans, and you’re dead meat.

I can live with that.

Has it occurred to you that our message is a lot more worldly? We're not trying to make the world dance to our tune until they show up here and try to kill us. Then we'll make sure they stop. The British idea, mentioned here, is fundamentally coercive and is in a sense a new form of imperialism. No longer does Europe actually try to own the world; now it has let its colonies go free. The new message is "You're free, as long as you conform to our wishes about how you should behave."

As he puts it, however, our message is much simpler: you're free to be whatever you want to be as long as you don't fuck with us.

I can live with that message. It's clear that he doesn't like it, though.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 8:35 PM on January 18, 2002

America is arrogant. We don't get it, nor want to. End of story.
posted by fleener at 8:11 PM PST on January 18

Steven Den Beste then posts

"We're not trying to make the world dance to our tune until they show up here and try to kill us."

Confirming the arrogance.

Anyone that believes the only time we try to make the world dance to our tune only when they try to kill us is simply not paying attention.

Arrogance - making unwarrantable claims or pretentions to superior importance or rights.

End of story.
posted by onegoodmove at 8:59 PM on January 18, 2002

i think that phrase SDB used in his weblog is really applicable, like it's getting rid of the last 2% of errors or bugs or whatever that takes the most effort. most of the time it's okay to leave it alone, and it's not worth it anyway, it's good enough. but it's when that 2% (of people who don't agree with you) comes back to bite you on your ass that you're willing to expend whatever effort is necessary to wipe it out. so yeah it may look like the US is throwing its weight around on a mosquito or something, but it's like a stitch in time thing. (sorry about the mixed metaphors :)

i was also thinking about what someone else said in another thread about moving beyond nationalism. like is enlightened self-interest, what's good for you is good for me, possible for a nation-state? i think it is, but (to give another analogy :) it's like asking people to think beyond their tribe. you can't expect washington to do what is not in washington's interests. the best you can do is align your interests with washington's. hence all the alliances. it's why india and pakistan are both our "friends" now. everybody tries to convince each other of where their best interests lie.

what's a crumpet?
posted by kliuless at 9:23 PM on January 18, 2002

This is always the way of the dominant power of the day. The British once upon a time invented a little thing called "gun-boat diplomacy". Empires don't generally take to the idea of "sharing".

It's also the way of middle and second-rate powers to be profoundly unhappy with this unilateral bullying and international lawlessness. But they know that USA can turn any one of them in to a car park overnight so they play along.

I can live with that message

Yes yes we know you can. Too bad it's not quite as easy to live with you.
posted by lagado at 10:10 PM on January 18, 2002

noshing on tea and crumpets wagging their fingers
mindless bigotry doen't exactly enhance your argument, owillis.
posted by lagado at 10:11 PM on January 18, 2002

My extended commentary on this.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 11:06 PM on January 18, 2002

mindless bigotry doen't exactly enhance your argument, owillis.

Mindless bigotry? You mean Brits don't like their tea and crumpets? Same way us Yanks don't like a big hunk a steak, burgers and fries - wash it down with a Coke? Come on now. Stiff upper lip.
posted by owillis at 12:19 AM on January 19, 2002

SDB thanks for sharing your essay. It's an accurate accounting of the lead role the United States has taken in stabilizing the world over the past century. We do what we have to do, alone if we must. You could call this a lot of things. One of them is arrogance. Another is leadership. It all depends on your point of view.

If the world is a family, I would say the United States is the eldest son of a broken home with too many siblings to count. The parents are divorced and constantly feuding, the grandparents are crazy and can't take care of themselves, and the rest of the kids are running around on sugar highs and will kill themselves if left alone for too long. We hand out the allowances, pay all the bills, and try to keep the peace. For being the responsible one, we are resented and forced to endure endless excuses as to why this is so. Not surprisingly, many times we are told that we have no right to make the rules of the house. Yet the hands remain out, eager for the aid that comes from our pocket. And when anyone gets themselves into trouble, guess who they turn to? The one who always comes through, of course. Old reliable. Still, we get no thank-yous, no appreciation, no hugs... only headaches, demands, and complaints.

But that's all right. We don't do it for thank-yous or hugs. We do it because we love you all so much.

My favorite line of the article, of course, is the last:

We should hang back.

Yeah, what else is new, buddy?

Could you at least do the dishes or take out the fucking garbage? Ah, forget it, we'll do it ourselves.
posted by David Dark at 1:26 AM on January 19, 2002

I'm going to have to assume that last from David Dark was parody. It's the funniest thing I've read today, either way.

Coming in a close second in risibility was this piece of nonsense : "We're not trying to make the world dance to our tune until they show up here and try to kill us." Come on , Steven. The words sound good, but they are so vacant of meaning or relationship to the consensus reality of the rest of the planet that I find it hard to believe you could have said it with a straight face.

Unless by 'we' you mean 'I'.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:08 AM on January 19, 2002

As has been wisely noted here, though a bit limited in scope: every country that was top dog at any time was always in a postion were others would find many reasons to admire, distrust, or be jealous of them.
Take, for example:
Roman Empire, Holy Roman Empire, Byzantium, Spain (at its height), Ottoman Empire, England (the sun never sets etc), France, Germany (oh, yes, WWI and WWII), Russia. And soon, all to soon, China.
When you are the dominanat world power you will get verbal abuse if nothing else, and you will also find yourself doing things that are considered (rightfuylly, very often) obnoxious, terrible, thoughtless etc by lesser powers.
What can they do about it? well, gang up in numbers, as in EU, U.N, League of Nations etc.
Till then, walk a mile in my shoes made by Nike by underage kids overseas, somewhere.
posted by Postroad at 3:39 AM on January 19, 2002

"The world's policeman cannot be above the law: The US attempt to exempt its citizens from international courts is immoral." This pre-9/11 Guardian essay by AC Grayling (who teaches at Birkbeck College, London) focuses on one American policy that offends much of the rest of the world: refusal to recognize International Criminal Court authority over US citizens.

A relevant excerpt: "The US acts as world policeman not out of charity but because it serves its own economic and security interests by doing so. But it cannot sustain that role if it claims exemption from the standards it wishes everyone else to observe. And in trying to be thus exempt, it stands in the way of one of the most important advances ever made for humanity: the prospect of at last enforcing the internationally agreed human rights standards which the UN adopted after the horrors of the Holocaust."
posted by Carol Anne at 5:09 AM on January 19, 2002


what's a crumpet?

They're like pancakes, but English.
posted by bifter at 7:19 AM on January 19, 2002

Carol Anne, there's an undertone in much writing about this, an a priori assumption that it is immoral to act in one's own self interest.

Why should that be? Every nation which has ever been a leading power in the world in history has always acted in its own interest. Why should that be any different for the US?

A lot of these internationa agreements which the US has eschewed were attempts by the weak to shackle the strong and prevent its use of strength. It's completely understandable for the weaker nations of the world to want to put into place all sorts of international agreements which would limit everyone to the capabilities of the weak -- level the playing field, as it were.

But if one nation does have substantial advantages, why should it give them away? Those weaker than it will browbeat it and try to use verbal abuse to make it come into line, but sometimes you have to recognize that for what it is -- and ignore it.

Why doesn't the US consent to the ICC? Because there's no constititional basis for doing so. The Constitution would have to be amended, so far as I can tell; it can't be done solely by treaty. The US Constitution explicitly places the top judicial power in the US Supreme Court, but the proposed ICC would have power that no nation's court could override.

Under the Constitution, treaties have the force of law. But neither treaties nor law can be used to override the Constitution itself. The Europeans have been trying to get the US to accept all sorts of treaties which would violate the Constitution. Congress cannot override the power of the Supreme Court because Article III of the Constitution says so.

Take the biowarfare treaty which was turned down. Among its other provisions, it would have established an international agency with very broad search powers. It could, in fact, go anywhere it wanted and look at anything it wanted any time it wanted to. The only problem with that is that it would violate the Fourth Amendment. The US government itself cannot perform unlimited speculative searches, and Congress cannot grant that right to an international agency, either. But the other nations refused to change that provision, and that meant that the US could not legally accept the treaty. It would have required a constitutional amendment to revoke our Fourth Amendment rights to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures, and to eliminate the requirement for search warrants.

There was another one, too; my memory is vague but it was more or less a treaty about the Internet which would have given any nation the ability to order a web site in any other nation which was a signatory to be shut down. That would have violated the First Amendment. The US pointed this out in the negotiations, and it wasn't changed. That treaty process also fell apart.

I'm sorry, but I at least am not willing to feed the Bill of Rights into the shredder just to keep the Europeans happy by playing along with international treaties. The Bill of Rights is more important to me than European approval.

But the Europeans keep trying to put provisions into these international treaties which the US cannot assent to, and then they excoriate us for not approving them.

A cynic might suggest that they don't actually want these treaties, either, and that they're putting those clauses in so as to set up the US as the fall-guy when the treaties fail.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:22 AM on January 19, 2002

Stavros, we're not trying to make the world dance to our tune because it's happening on its own.

You don't see US troops patrolling Paris, checking their shoes and summarily executing anyone not wearing Nikes, right?

The French object to McDonalds -- or at least some of them do. But if no-one in France wanted McDonalds, it would fold for lack of business and go away. Someone there must want it, because they're selling a hell of a lot of food.

We are not forcing the world to accept our culture. Our movies run in Europe because the people there want to see them. If they didn't, box office receipts would collapse and no theater owner there would book our films. If no-one there wanted to listen to our music on the radio, ratings woul force the radio stations to play something else.

That's what I meant.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:26 AM on January 19, 2002

Steven Den Beste: In my opinion, might does not make right. Yes, all nations act in their own best interests--or, more accurately, their rulers' best interests--but that doesn't make their actions good for humanity.

At least one international criminal court was quite acceptable to the United States. "In August 1945, the British, French, Americans and Soviets, meeting in London, signed the agreement that created the Nuremberg court, officially the International Military Tribunal, and set ground rules for the trial. The London Charter of the International Military Tribunal, was named to avoid using words such as "law" or "code" in an effort to circumvent the delicate question of whether the trial would be ex post facto."
posted by Carol Anne at 9:40 AM on January 19, 2002

Carol Anne, the Nuremberg court did not have jurisdiction over Americans. The US is constitutionally unable to consent to any international court where Americans could be tried.

And you, too, have that a priori assumption. Explain to me why it is that the US is obligated to do things which are "good for humanity".

Might may well not make right. Might surely doesn't make wrong, however. Every nation looks out for its own interests, whether mighty or not. Why shouldn't we?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:04 AM on January 19, 2002

Not to pile on, but to claim

We're not trying to make the world dance to our tune until they show up here and try to kill us.

is just demonstrably false. On the other hand I think that trying to define America as a classic "Empire" is similarly misguided. Had al Qaeda not attacked the U.S., I'm pretty sure the U.S. would've quietly dealt with the Taliban treating them as yet another "stabilizing authoritarian" regime, to use Kirkpatrick's foul parlance.

Steven, in your long response you used the example of Woodrow Wilson to illustrate America's isolationism, which really doesn't work in your favor. Aside from the fact that he was the one who eventually got us into the War (and jailed thousands of domestic dissenters), he also sent U.S. troops to invade Russia in 1918 to support the provisional government against the Bolsheviks which, regardless of whether or not one thinks it was the right move, is hardly isolationist.

Years before Wilson, we have Theodore Roosevelt. Enough said.

I would agree with the writer that the U.S. has a strong sense of justice, but it is our justice. The United States gov't has rationalized the murder of literally millions of civilians for various reasons, economic power, the dominoe theory, etc. , some of which are defensible, some not. But I think it's a pretty obvious fact that, according to the accepted definition of terrorism (the use of force or the threat of force against civilian populations to achieve a political goal) the U.S. has participated in and supported such action. Was this due to our enlightened self interest, a sense of justice, or basic economic and strategic self interest? Sometimes one or the other, sometimes a mixture of all.
posted by Ty Webb at 10:29 AM on January 19, 2002

If we had let the UN or some other useless body take the lead they would still be saying "Mullah Omar, we ask you pretty please with a cherry on top to release Osama Bin Laden. If you don't, we shall wag our fingers at you furiously".

Yes, much better to simply bomb the country for two months before declaring that capturing Omar and bin Laden isn't necessarily a priority.
posted by aaronetc at 11:05 AM on January 19, 2002

Where there is fear, there is money to be made.
posted by keithl at 11:49 AM on January 19, 2002

It's not that anyone is obligated to do anything. It's that doing things right the first time round makes it easier the next time. A moral nation is a superior nation, and immoral one is prone to fall much farther.
posted by chaz at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2002

It's not that anyone is obligated to do anything. It's that doing things right the first time round makes it easier the next time. A moral nation is a superior nation, and immoral one is prone to fall much farther.
posted by chaz at 1:27 PM on January 19, 2002

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