"Many in the U.S. are now learning that democracy cannot be imposed by military force."
--German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, speaking at an international security forum in Munich on Feb. 10
It's always good to be reminded by our German friends that democracy can't be imposed by military force. Perhaps the Japanese would like to weigh in too? Actually, they wouldn't. Living next door to nuclear-armed dictatorships, and not having succumbed as thoroughly to postmodern otherworldliness, the Japanese democracy is in fact building up its military and strengthening its U.S. alliance. Still, the German Foreign Minister was simply expressing, in a particularly un-self-reflective way, an increasingly common point of view on both sides of the Atlantic.
Indeed, on the same day Steinmeier was speaking in Munich, Barack Obama was launching his presidential campaign in Springfield, Ill. His speech had two paragraphs on foreign policy. In the first, Obama acknowledged the importance of a strong military in the key task of this generation--to "confront" and "track down" terrorists. In the second, he urged that "we bring an end to this war in Iraq" by sending our combat troops home. "It's time," he said, "to admit that no amount of American lives can resolve the political disagreement that lies at the heart of someone else's civil war." Obama anticipated the obvious objection that giving up on the attempt to resolve someone else's civil war isn't the same thing as actually bringing that war to an end. So he concluded with this sentence: "Letting the Iraqis know that we will not be there forever is our last, best hope to pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace."
But this is less a hope than a pipe dream. Obama, like many other Americans, wants to get our troops out of Iraq, whatever the consequences. And some in Congress are so worried that the Bush Administration is even thinking of using military force against Iran that they're discussing legislation prohibiting Bush from doing it. So it's worth asking straightforwardly, Is a propensity to rely on military force a vice to which we Americans are prone? And doesn't the Bush Administration need to learn a lesson about the danger of using military force in pursuit of foreign policy goals?