American not-so-greatness

By Joe Schembrie
web posted May 8, 2000

"I think it's time we revisited the notion of a new kind of Colonialism," says Jonah Goldberg, editor of National Review Online. "I don't mean ripping off poor countries . . . I mean going in - guns blazing if necessary - for truth and justice."

Goldberg's recent column, A Continent Bleeds (May 3), recounts the litany of problems facing Africa today. "In Sierra Leone, children have had their arms lopped off by rebels . . . South Africa is so besieged by rapists that celebrities are cutting public-service ads asking young men to refrain . . . By my rough calculation, AIDS and malaria kill more Africans in one year than handguns have 'killed' Americans in the history of the US."

Goldberg suggests that what Africa needs is not McDonald's or Nike but the US Army. We'll send in our soldiers, knock some tribal leaders' heads together, and impose a constitutional democracy, just like back in the Good Ol' USA.

"Conservatives have been enjoying a healthy debate for the last few years on something called 'American Greatness,'" writes Goldberg. "The idea, mostly pushed by our friends at The Weekly Standard, is a fairly amorphous notion that America should do big things to fulfill its destiny, and conservatives should not shy from the idea that government must do these big things." Goldberg's 'Big Thing' is military intervention into Africa.

The American Greatness people need to take a look in the national mirror sometime, and realize that America is no longer the country they think it is. America is no longer enamored of Judeo-Christian morality, limited-government Constitutionalism, or even the free-enterprise system. America today is a secular-liberal welfare-state with secular-liberal welfare-state values. If we go into Africa, those are the values that we'll take with us and impose.

Can any good come of that?

If our present-day values of materialistic nihlism are inspiring children in America to kill other children just for fun, how will imposing those same 'American Values' stop the killing in Sierra Leone?

If South Africa adopts American-style liberal criminal justice -- releasing rapists after an average of only eighteen months in prison -- will the rape rate really go down?

And what will happen to the Zimbabwe AIDS rate if we impose American-style sex education ("If it feels good, do it!") and mandate civil-rights protection (rather than quarantine) for AIDS-carriers?

Will American-style progressive education (anti-phonics and New Math and ritalin and 'boosting self-esteem') improve the economies of Africa? Would those subsistence economies grow faster if they were shackled with an American-style forty percent tax rate - and a hundred pages of new federal government regulations every day?

The American Greatness people have to face up to a crucial, overriding reality: America today is not so great. We have inherited an incredible economic machine from past days of greatness, but in such success are the seeds of national demise - for our great wealth enables us to tolerate and even venerate national policies and leadership of spectacular incompetence and failure. Other nations, not as wealthy as we are, could not afford the inefficiencies and outright inanities of what passes today for 'American Values.'

And before we go sending a million soldiers to Africa, let's remember our little misadventure in Serbia last year. We bombed a country back into the Stone Age, killed thousands of innocent people, created half a million refugees, turned over a province to terrorist drug-lords, and incurred the hatred of millions of Serbs, Russians, and Chinese.

And for what? To stop a genocidal 'ethnic cleansing' on the part of the Serbian army that supposedly had executed a hundred thousand ethnic Albanians into mass graves. But a year later, only forty such 'mass graves' have been found. Not forty thousand - forty!

In the name of stopping an imaginary ethnic cleansing, we inflicted a real one. This was no fluke. It was a consequence of having Bill Clinton as President. And that's no fluke: Bill Clinton is President precisely because his mindset is in tune with the American electorate - the material that we'll still have to work with when formulating future national policy.

It would be nice to save the world, but let's put aside political fantasies and accept the reality that spreading our lousy welfare-state values to Africa will only destroy national economies and social structures. Our national political myopia and lack of attention span will guarantee mismanagement and eventual corruption of any endeavor, no matter how good-intentioned it was to begin with.

Maybe a Republican-led Administration and Congress will restore to America some values worthy of exporting to the rest of the world. Maybe. But one thing for sure -- let's sweep our own floor before we take the broom over to the neighbors.

Joe Schembrie is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right.

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