DAVID BRIN's world of ideas



by David Brin, Ph.D.

An addendum to "War in the 21st Century." (Copyright © 2004)

On any playground, it is the duty of any big, good-hearted boy or girl to stop bullies from terrorizing the little kids. Americans know this in their hearts and feel no shame over knocking down a horror like Saddam. That's the good part. The part that resembles our role in the Balkans.

Liberals who ignore this -- criticizing the goal and accomplishment of toppling Saddam -- are cluelessly and needlessly shooting themselves.

Embrace it. Or at least get used to it. Concentrate on a myriad other faults. (See my comparisons between good intervention and bad intervention.) There's more than enough to criticize in the lies that made going to Iraq an emergency, squandering that term. Or the utter, blithering incompetence in planning and execution of this mission. Or in the hypocrisy of the exact same list of names who coddled and supportred Saddam, then slapped his wrist in 1991 instead of dealing with the problem then. There is no need to exaggerate and hurt your own cause by calling the basic goal evil.

Looking closely -- and implementing "balance" -- I find that a core silliness undermines credibility among even the brightest and most sincere liberals. It arises when they preach as if an era of lawful international accountability were already at hand, or within easy reach. Too many, in their eagerness for a better world, seem to assume it will happen if only America would sit on its hands. But how? On what basis can we ignore 4000 years of dismal human history, in which the worst enemy of human happiness was not some distant empire but relentless oppression by local bullies? Care to ask the Kosovars and Bosnians and Kurds and women of Afghanistan what they think of Pax Americana?

The whole thing gets even more silly when leftist radicals decry globalization, a process which at every level offers the poor of this world their one hope against the feudal lords and petty gangsters who have savaged them for millennia. Citing illicit logging and Nike factories, leftists complain that globalization aggravates abuse of labor and the environment, completely forgetting how such abuses were stopped -- or at least curbed somewhat -- in the first world. In their own countries, the one thing that did the trick was law.

True, today's globalization is progressing unevenly, with many of the rules biased to favor the world's topmost corporate gentry. So? Do we help Third world workers and forests by leaving them exposed instead to exploitation by local, corrupt elites (a continuing horror seldom noted by the left)? Or by helping those countries get law and accountability, too?

Yes, worldwide accountability and law are on the way. The "right" is just as silly to ignore this fact, as the "left" is to assume the day will arrive on its own.1

But no. Decent worldwide accountability and law will arrive much quicker and better -- ironically -- if we make good use of the world's last empire.


1 Our love-hate relationship with the mere concept of world "government" can and should be discussed, elsewhere. It is a huge topic that we've been avoiding, almost frantically, even thinking about. But honestly, what are you picturing? A sophisticated, interconnected planet in which individuals have no standing before worldwide institutions (the present situation) for how much longer? A thousand years? Two hundred? Can we stave it off for more than twenty?

We Americans had better start discussing it. Because right now Europe-influenced intelligencia on every continent are pushing ahead with ideas based on European bureaucratic-paternalistic models. No one is speaking up for the American preference -- an emphasis on loose, limited and relatively hands-off governance while empowering individuals to have standing to speak for themselves.

The issue will loom in our lifetimes. And right now -- to our peril -- we are leaving the entire conversation to others.