Entries from October 2004

The Case For George W. Bush

David Frum October 28th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

LetÕs start with the bad news. George Bush is not the most eloquent president in the history of the United States. HeÕs not the best-read either. Like most of us, health heÕs riddled with flaws and imperfections. And heÕs made some mistakes as president. ThatÕs not unique either.

The case for George Bush is not that he never does anything wrong. The case for George W. Bush is that he has again and again got the big things right.

On 9/11, medicine the United States was hit hard and treacherously by an invisible enemy. In the hours afterward, mind many people around the world worried that the US would blindly lash out.

In those dangerous hours, President Bush calmed and reassured a shattered country.

He visited a mosque and urged Americans to respect Muslim citizens – and in all the United States there were only three fatal hate crimes after 9/11.

The President ordered up a war plan for Afghanistan that put humanitarian concerns in first place. Maybe you remember that some antiwar activists claimed that plans were being drawn up that “took for granted” the deaths of millions of Afghans? In fact, with famine already looming under the Taliban, it was President BushÕs carefully planned military campaign that saved the lives of millions of Afghans. In mid-October Afghans, men and women, went peacefully to vote in the first free elections in that nationÕs 5000 year history.

After 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, many people expected more and more mass terrorist attacks in the United States. It has not happened. Maybe thatÕs luck. But credit also has to go to President BushÕs Patriot Act. Before 9/11, the FBI could not even bookmark the website of a radical Islamic group unless it was investigating a crime that had already been committed. Some people worry that the Patriot Act could threaten civil liberties. President Bush worried about it too. So he ensured that most of the Patriot Act would expire in 2005 – after the election – to give Congress time to reconsider and to correct any abuses or excesses.

Iraq is a controversial subject. HereÕs something to keep in mind. After the Israelis destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, Saddam went back to building a nuclear bomb. By 1990, he was maybe a year away from finishing when he invaded Kuwait. You donÕt lose knowledge like that. Sanctions and inspections could delay the danger. They could not end it. Learning from 9/11, President Bush took action before it was too late.

Iraq has been tough, much tougher than the administration expected. But isnÕt the world safer with a US administration that is willing to take on the tough missions as well as the easy ones?

Especially since there are so many tough missions ahead, like Iran and North Korea.

Those of us around the world who support President Bush support him because we trust him not to accept the unacceptable.

ThatÕs true inside the United States as well.

President Bush is not an ideological conservative in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. But he has been willing to demand common-sense answers to long-ignored American problems: schools that donÕt teach; a health care system that spends too much on malpractice lawsuits; a Social Security pension program that will run out of money before even half the baby boomers have retired; taxes that slow economic growth.

Not everybody shares BushÕs deep moral values on issues like using human embryos for medical research. But even those who disagree should appreciate that Bush has taken huge political risks to stand up for what he believes right.

For non-Americans, George Bush sometimes seems an exotic character. He doesnÕt speak French or Spanish – and he sometimes leaves you wondering whether he even speaks English.

Yet heÕs a president who cares about AmericaÕs neighbors. HeÕs worked hard to support Vicente Fox, MexicoÕs first fully democratically elected president. And heÕs been a good president for Canada. He didnÕt react when he was mocked or insulted by officials of the Canadian government. His administration has worked to speed trade and lawful traffic across the US-Canadian border: Whether you measure it in dollars or border crossings, 2004 will be a record-breaking year for US-Canadian trade.

Canadians tend to prefer Democratic presidents, and if the polls are right, that preference still holds in 2004. But if those same polls are right, Americans by a narrow margin will make a different choice.

If so, Canadians will be challenged to understand that choice.

Many Canadians may find that difficult. Despite everything thatÕs happened since 9/11, Canadians still feel safe in this dangerous world. ItÕs hard to put yourselves into the heads of people who have suffered and grieved when you have not. But suffering and grief are part of reality too. The candidate who best shows he understands that truth is the candidate to whom Americans will entrust the presidency: George W. Bush.

The Wrong Man At The Wrong Time

David Frum October 26th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

I’m not going to waste time and space on an endorsement column. I am sure you already know who I am supporting in the 2004 U.S. presidential election and why. Instead, let me offer something more useful: a sober assessment of what a Kerry victory would mean and what consequences it might have.

If John Kerry wins the presidency on Nov. 2, Champagne corks will be popping all over Europe. Radio and television broadcasters worldwide will assure their audiences that the United States has repented and given up its aggressive, provocative ways. “Neoconservative unilateralism” will go out of style; multilateralism and consultation will return to vogue. The international conference circuit will buzz with activity. The leaders of the European Union will plan a royal welcome for President Kerry on his first tour abroad. It will be a joyous first three or four months.

And then reality will kick in.

John Kerry will not have won the presidency, if he wins it, by promising to get out of Iraq and create a Palestinian state. He will have won it by promising to wage a more effective war on terror than George Bush has waged and to gain more foreign support for the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Europeans will quickly discover that President Kerry has no more power than president Bill Clinton had to ratify the Kyoto treaty or the International Criminal Court: Ratifying treaties is the Senate’s job, and there probably aren’t more than six votes in the Senate for either agreement. They will discover that Kerry has no power on his own to stop the death penalty or to ban genetically modified foods.

At the same time, Europeans will find themselves under harsh and immediate pressure to produce troops for peacekeeping in Iraq. If there is any one thing that American voters will believe John Kerry promised them, it is that he could do a better job than George Bush of winning international support for the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign in the Middle East.

Producing those troops will constitute a Kerry administration’s first and most important foreign policy test. Kerry cannot afford to fail. And the more it becomes apparent that he will fail, the harder he will twist European arms to give him something, anything, he can call a contribution to the Iraq mission.

Underpinning all these frictions, Americans and Europeans will soon be waking up to a more bitter and intractable problem: the problem of American “unilateralism.” This is a word that means very different things on either side of the Atlantic. When Americans hear Europeans complain about the Bush administration’s “unilateralism,” they tend to think that Europeans are complaining about the Bush administration’s manners — its failure to consult widely enough or listen carefully enough before taking military action.

But that is not what Europeans and European governments tend to mean. They tend to think that American military force is only legitimate when it is approved by an international organization — that is to say, when they themselves have a veto over it. Many in Europe think it is only the detested “neocons” who would deny Europe this veto. But no American president, not even John Kerry, can concede such a thing, and it will be a very nasty shock for Europe when they learn the truth.

Not so nasty, however, as the shock in store for the Islamic Middle East.

Should George Bush lose on Nov. 2, you will see the cities of the region erupt in delirious celebration. His political defeat will be interpreted as an American admission of military defeat, not only in Iraq, but in the larger struggle against Islamic militancy. But if Kerry wins in November, it will only be because he has persuaded a majority of the American people that he means to fight the war on terror with just as much determination as George Bush.

It’s not true of course. Kerry will fight the war in a weak and vacillating way. He has no vision, no plan, no definition of success. But it will be politically very important to him to conceal his inner weakness from the public. For that reason, anyone hoping that he might — for example — relax visa requirements for Middle Eastern visitors to the United States is due for a nasty disappointment. Ditto for those who might hope that a President Kerry would rehabilitate Yasser Arafat or order Israel to tear down its security fence. Ditto for those who think that he would release the detained terrorists in Guantanamo or other secure locations.

John Kerry is popular around the world because he is seen as a president who will lead an American retreat. And that may be the kind of president he wants to be. But Kerry does not even have the courage of his weakness. He will veer unpredictably between appeasement and anger, between strong words and weak actions, between wooly excuse-making and panicky over-reaction.

By the end of it all, Kerry will have left the world angrier and America’s alliances weaker than ever before. I think Americans will sense that. I think they already do sense it. Which is why I confidently expect that they will never put this inadequate politician to the test of leadership – why they will on Nov. 2 return George W. Bush for four more years.

The Marriage Buffet

David Frum October 16th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

A week ago, the writer Andrew Sullivan issued on this very page a challenge to political conservatives: Now that the Supreme Court has declared that homosexuality can no longer be considered a crime, what do you think it is? If homosexuality is not a crime, on what grounds can conservatives justify denying homosexuals any of the rights they seek, including the right to marry a person of the same sex? In short, there is a demand that conservatives state some kind of “policy” on homosexuality.

Something like 25% of the American population describes itself as “conservative.” That’s nearly 75 million people. It would be hazardous to generalize about what this large population thinks or does not think on the subject of homosexuality. Some no doubt think it a terrible sin. Others surely regard it as a harmless preference. A good many of them are no doubt homosexual themselves. But if I had to guess, I’d guess that the very large majority of American conservatives have for many years regarded homosexuality as something that just is, and that should be tolerated in the same spirit of live- and-let-live with which they tolerate all the other variations of the human species.

But for some advocates of change, “live and let live” is not enough. They are riding a very fast train, and it does not halt at any stops between the criminalization of homosexuality and full state recognition of homosexual relationships. But there are many such stops, and marriage is the most important of them.

Let’s start with a basic premise: The gay marriage debate is perceived by many as a debate about gays. It is not. It is a debate about marriage.

As always seems to be the way, we’ve come to understand the importance of marriage at exactly the moment that the institution is approaching the verge of collapse. A generation of social scientists has documented the benefits to children of growing up in a father- mother household; yet today, an American child has less than a one-in- two chance of reaching the age of 18 in the same home as both of his or her parents. That fact should concern us all. And any changes in family policy ought to be directed at one supreme goal: improving children’s odds of growing up in a stable home.

Allowing same-sex marriage would reduce those odds. That’s not an assertion; it’s an empirical observation. In the past decade, same-sex marriage or something like it has entered the law of eight countries: Denmark, France, Hungary, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and, most recently, Canada. Each has its own distinctive approach to the matter. But in all of them, the push for same-sex marriage has had the same result. Rather than get into a fight with religious organizations for whom the term “marriage” refers to one of their own sacraments, governments try to mollify everybody by creating a new legal category very similar to marriage, but not exactly the same. France, for example, has enacted into law something called a Pacte Civile de Solidarite, a registered partnership that grants any two people who live together a bevy of rights while holding each responsible for the other’s rights and obligations.

Compared to marriage, a civil pact is harder to get into (some of its benefits do not arrive until a couple has been together for two or even three years) and much easier to get out of. That is very appealing to couples nervous of marriage — and these days, who isn’t nervous? It’s been estimated that some 40% of the couples entering “civil pacts” are heterosexual.

Something similar is going on in Canada, only there the categories are even blurrier. A couple that simply lives together for two years automatically and without any formal act acquires many of the rights of a formally married couple. The exit from a relationship is just as blurry as the entry: In one famous case, a Canadian court ordered a man who had divorced his wife before he became wealthy to pay her an increased settlement based on the income he had begun to earn after the marriage ended.

Now think about what this means. Marriage used to have a bright clear line: you were married or you were not. It was a serious commitment — and most people understood that if they weren’t ready for this commitment, they ought to postpone having children until they were.

Today, in France and Canada and other places, marriage is a continuum, a series of gradations between true singlehood and formal matrimony. A woman who is cohabiting with a man in Canada or is pacted in France might well be deceived into thinking that her family situation is stable enough for her to have a child. But she would be wrong. The average cohabitation in Canada lasts only five years. Her government has told her that she is the next-best-thing to married; but from the point of view of her children, the next best thing is no good at all.

Many American advocates for homosexual marriage understand all this, and for that reason oppose “civil pacts” and “domestic partnerships” and “common law marriages” just as fiercely as any social conservative does. They want to restore the bright line too — only with same-sex relationships on the farther side of it. But if that has not happened even in Sweden or France, where organized religion is powerless, it certainly will not happen in the U.S.

The much more likely outcome in this country would be the spread of a crazy-quilt of differing systems of “marriage-lite” across the country: California might have a domestic partnership law that grants virtually all the rights of marriage to registered couples; Michigan could have one that treats partners as married for inheritance purposes but not tax purposes, while Oregon did the reverse. Some states might require domestic partners to do some affirmative act: sign a book, buy a license, etc. Other states might just treat any couple that lives together for two years or three or five as if it had registered. Still other states might do both.

And then there would be the question of federal rights: immigration, Social Security, federal tax law, and so on, just to make the whole problem more complicated.

It is highly unlikely that these proliferating domestic partnerships would be offered to same-sex couples alone. That might even be unconstitutional, a deprivation of equal protection, but certainly it would be politically impossible. Every American city and state that offers domestic-partnership benefits offers them equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals. The result of a national trend toward same-sex marriage would be that the young people of the country would be presented with 50 different buffets, each of them offering two or more varieties of quasi-marital relationships. In such a world, the very concept of marriage would vanish.

It would become impossible to tell young people “Don’t have children outside of marriage,” because they would not even know — until it was too late — whether they were “inside” a marriage or not. The rich and the smart would protect themselves of course. They could hire lawyers to draft personal contracts, itemizing and detailing their responsibilities to each other and to their children. The non-rich and the non-smart would stumble into trouble, and their children would begin life even more severely disadvantaged than they already are.

You need a very strange definition of progress to regard such an outcome as a progressive reform.

The Presidential Debates

David Frum October 14th, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

Rule Number One of politics is that there are no rules. For years, healing political scientists have been writing books about Americans dwindling interest in politics and the declining importance of the two major parties.

The election of 2004 has up-ended all those observations. Suddenly Americans care about politics again – and they have proven it by tuning into the presidential debates in record numbers: 61 million people watched at least some of the first presidential debate and viewership has remained unusually high for the second and third, and for the vice-presidential debate as well.

Many in the media ridicule these debates. Carefully negotiated rules forbid the candidates to interrupt, to ask one another questions, or even to speak directly to one another. Some journalists refuse to describe these events as “debates” at all – they call them “joint appearances,” as if they were nothing more than a pair of side-by-side monologues.

This disdainful view is very much mistaken. There is much to be learned from these debates, both about the issues and about the candidates.

Start with George Bush. Many perceive George Bush as an amiable dunce, to borrow a phrase that the legendary Democratic statesman Clark Clifford once applied to Ronald Reagan. Viewers of these debates saw for themselves however that Bush is no dunce – and not always so amiable either.

In both the second and third debate, the president showed an impressive command of facts and figures on domestic policy. He cited statistics on the growth of federal aid to primary and higher education, homeland security spending, immigration enforcement, job growth, and other important policy matters in an easy, familiar way. Even in the president’s least successful performance, the first, he spoke knowledgeably and effectively about world problems and world leaders. (It’s true that he slipped in debate two and referred to “Sergio” Berlusconi – but he caught and corrected his mistake in another answer a few moments later.)

At the same time, the president frequently revealed the fiercer side of his personality: his intense emotions, his combativeness, and yes, his temper. In the first debate, he frequently scowled in anger as he listened to Sen. Kerry, and while he controlled his face better in debates two and three, viewers could easily see the strain of the struggle against his emotions.

Sen. Kerry’s emotional thermostat is set to a much cooler temperature than George Bush’s. This coolness served him well in the formal first and third debates, but disserved him in the second, a town hall format in which ordinary people asked questions of the candidates. Again and again, Kerry failed to make personal connections with the questioners and sometimes lapsed into the haughtiness and condescension that is his most serious weakness as a politician.

In that second debate, for example, Sen. Kerry said at one point that he could tell by looking at his St. Louis Missouri audience that nobody there except himself, the president, and the moderator would pay more tax as a result of Kerry’s plan to raise taxes on households and businesses earning more than $200,000 a year.

But how could he be so sure? Four percent of US households earn more than $200,000 and so do many small businesses. There were nearly 100 people in the room. It was as if the famously well-tailored senator took a look at this Midwestern audience’s clothes and hair and hastily decided that none of these yokels could possibly have any money.

Sen. Kerry was of course immensely verbally fluent and articulate in all three debates. Yet one of the real surprises of the debates was the revelation that he was less intellectually nimble than George Bush. Bush did not deliver his prepared statements nearly so well as Kerry. Yet Bush was quick to seize on mistakes and missteps by the senator; the senator by contrast again and again missed opportunities given him by the president.

In the first debate for example Sen. Kerry made his now notorious statement that American military actions must pass a “global test.” The president understood immediately that the senator had made a political error and promptly drew the audience’s attention to it. Yet in that same debate the president made a mistake of his own, when he presented it as an achievement that Osama bin Laden had “been isolated.” Senator Kerry pounced on this extraordinary opening – but not until fourteen days later, in the third debate. He missed it entirely at the time.

Most viewers of all three debates would probably award the palm of victory to the senator. But how much does rhetorical success mean in today’s political environment? In a focus group after the second debate, one participant said: “I guess Senator Kerry’s better at talking than the president. But I think the president is better at fighting.” If that opinion is representative, President Bush can lose a lot of debates and still win this wartime election.

Originally published in La Stampa.


David Frum October 1st, 2004 at 12:00 am Comments Off

In a famous passage from his great polemic “Economic Consequences of the Peace,” John Maynard Keynes offered this vignette of affluent life in the summer of 1914:

“The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble, in their prospective fruits and advantages; or he could decide to couple the security of his fortunes with the good faith of the townspeople of any substantial municipality in any continent that fancy or information might recommend.

“He could secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could despatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much surprised at the least interference. But, most important of all, he regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable.”

Only half a decade later, a grim new world of tariff barriers, monetary controls, investment restrictions, entry and exit visas, and armed frontiers had replaced KeynesÕ Edwardian idyll – seemingly forever.

Yet here we are at the beginning of a new century, and KeynesÕ world has been reborn. The billion-plus people of the developed countries are wrapped in a network of technologies and institutions that enable us to communicate ideas, invest capital, exchange goods, move money, obtain information, and travel with a speed and ease that would impress a duke or duchess of 1914. This freedom and mobility is undergirded by a global system of law, some of it formal (like the treaties and agreement that govern world trade), some of it strikingly informal (like the VISA and Mastercard merchant agreements that protect tourists from fraud and theft).

This liberal world order has triumphed over many enemies. Many enemies remain. Here in these pages though we may have to protect it from its friends.

For many years, enemies of this liberal world order have condemned it as “imperialistic.” And unfortunately, many of this world orderÕs friends – in some cases out of genuine misunderstanding, in others out of mischief – have in recent years accepted and adopted the insult as a term of pride.

Yes, they say, the liberal world order is an empire – and a good thing too!

And no doubt the meaning of the word “empire” can ingeniously be stretched and twisted in such ways as to make it approximately fit the circumstances of today. But such a stretching and twisting adds nothing to understanding. Indeed, it dangerously distorts our understanding. Worse, it incites the resentments and fears of those peoples and states who have not yet succeeded in joining the liberal world order, to their own loss and ultimately to ours as well.

People who want to describe the liberal world order as an “empire” can cite an all too-familiar list of facts: The dominant economic position and overwhelming military power of the United States; the pervasiveness of the English language and American popular culture; US military interventions in the Balkans, Africa, and now the Middle East – and so on; the American refusal to be accede to international agreements like Kyoto and the International Criminal Court.

But what really do these individual items mean?

A concrete example: The American war plan for Iraq envisioned an invasion of the north of the country from Turkey. This northern invasion was highly important to the political success of the operation, because it would have sited more of the fighting in the pro-Baathist center of Iraq and much less in the anti-Baathist south. In February 2003, however, the Turkish parliament voted against military cooperation with the United States.

Think of this for a minute. Imagine how a real empire – the Romans for example or the Soviets – would have responded to an ally who refused to do what the imperial power wanted. What did the United States do? It respected the wishes of its Turkish ally and hastily rewrote its war plan.

Empires are not defined by their cultural reach: If so, we would have to say that 18th century German belonged to the French empire.

They are not defined by wealth: If so, we would today speak of a Swiss or Kuwaiti empire.

They are not defined by military power: Spain in 1898 was very weak, but was still an empire; Japan today has one of the most capable militaries on earth, but nobody would call contemporary Japan “imperial.”

Empires are defined, rather, as polities in which one group – one nation, one state, one people, even one city – rules over others. Lenin once said that all of politics could be reduced to the short question, “Who, Whom?” Without accepting LeninÕs proposition in all cases, it certainly does apply to the politics of empire. In the Baltic region of 1650, the answer to the question, “Who?” was: Sweden. The answer to the question: “Whom?” would be: Finns, Estonians, Pomeranians, and so on.

But in the case of the putative American empire, who is the “whom”? Who are the subjects?

It is ironic to the point of absurdity that the United States is sometimes described as “imperial” because of its unwillingness to agree to this treaty or that, Kyoto or the International Criminal Court or the landmines treaty. In these cases, America is called on empire not because it rules others, but because it refuses to be ruled by others.

There is a grain of truth concealed inside the language of “empire.” We do not live in a world of equal states. Five states hold vetoes at the UN Security Council; the rest do not. The International Atomic Energy Authority recognizes the right of some states but not others to own nuclear weapons. States that fall into financial crisis are constrained to submit to the orders of the International Monetary Fund. Increasing numbers of Third World states are failing in ways that persuade other countries they must intervene, as Britain has done in Sierra Leone and France has done in the Ivory Coast. Even in Europe, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia live in strange semi-independence, under the supervision of international authorities.

Nor is it only poor and failed states that have accepted limits on their sovereignty. Many of the wealthy nations of Europe have subordinated vast elements of their national life – their currencies, their law, their migration policies, soon perhaps even their powers of taxation – to the European Union. Many people in those states have also come to believe that even the ultimate act of sovereignty, war, has to be legitimated by some multinational entity.

In such a world, AmericaÕs insistence on preserving its full sovereignty unimpaired seems to many to be anachronistic, aggressive, and arrogant.

But there is a difference between upholding your own sovereignty (as many European voters would wish their own governments to do) and abridging the sovereignty of others through intimidation or force (which is what empires do).

While America obviously holds a predominant place in the liberal world order (and shoulders at least equally disproportionate responsibilities), this liberal world order is managed by consent and by negotiation. Indeed, if anything it is the worldÕs smaller powers who draw the greatest relative benefits from the liberal world order maintained by American power.

During the Cold War, for example, the United States for example certainly benefited from a policy of deterring Soviet aggression against the Nordic countries – but the Nordic countries benefited much more. Yet the United States paid much more to defend the Nordic countries than they paid to defend themselves. This is a very strange form of imperialism – indeed, some American isolationists have toted up the costs and benefits of the liberal world order and complained that it is AmericaÕs allies who are enjoying the perquisites of empire and that it is the United States that is the “colony of the world”!

Some, especially the radical anti-globalizers will concede that the democratic allies may not be subjects of empire, but that the poor oppressed peoples of the Third World are. The rich nations (the anti-globalizers say) are practicing economic imperialism by purchasing sneakers and sweaters from the poor and offering them nothing in return except capital investment, advanced technology, cheap food, and life-saving medicine.

But here too, it is a strange empire that offers its subjects a better deal than it takes for itself. From the point of view of the billion people in the developed world, the opening of Third World markets is a nice bonus; from the point of view of the people of the Third World, and especially of the poor, the expansion of international trade is literally a matter of life and death. Between 1993 and 2003, VietnamÕs gross domestic product tripled. That surge of economic growth has transformed the lives of the Vietnamese people. From the point of view of the world economy, however, the event is far less dramatic: The 80 million of Vietnam produce goods and services worth only a little more than those produced by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

Critics of America see rock music, CNN, the English language, and the curriculum of the Harvard Business School as emblems of empire as oppressive as the rituals of submission that the Mongols imposed on the peoples they conquered. But for better or for worse, American popular culture has spread because it appeals to something deep and real in the consciousness of ordinary people everywhere – including many ordinary people who deeply dislike American society and public policy.

As for the English language, it has spread as far as it has more because of British power than American power. More than a century ago, Otto von Bismarck quipped that the most important geostrategic fact of the 20th century would be that Britain and the United States spoke the same language. It may well be that the most important geostrategic fact of the 21st century will be that India and the United States do.

America has contributed most to the spread of English less by conquest than by trade and education. People worldwide learn English not to speak to imperial tax collectors or magistrates, but in hopes of getting a better job, of attending an American, or of participating in the American-created world of the Internet.

Indeed, one could plausibly contend that the use of English continues to grow precisely because the United States is not an imperial power. English has become a global lingua franca in very large part because it evokes the fewest memories of conquest and domination. Europeans know this well: It is impossible that an expanding European Union can long continue to treat Latvian, Romanian, and Portuguese as official languages. And yet Latvians, Romanians, and Portuguese people have powerful motives for refusing to concede privileged status to German or French. English is the language that offends the fewest number of people – which is why you hear it spoken more and more often in the halls of Brussels.

Those who describe the United States as an empire do so in order to excite and mobilize their listeners to do something they would not otherwise wish to do. Anti-Americans in Europe often use it hoping to persuade Europeans to concede greater authority to a centralized EU that might balance imperial America. Pro-Americans use this language in hope of enticing Americans into humanitarian missions for which (they fear) Americans would otherwise have little appetite.

But these ambitions should stand or fall on their own merits. If a centralized EU is unworkable or unpopular, it will not become more workable – or long remain more popular – if it is built on a foundation of anti-Americanism. Meanwhile AmericaÕs friends should have enough understanding of America to realize that the most effective way to summon Americans to do good in the world is to appeal to their generosity – not to a pride in domination that extremely few Americans feel or ever will feel.

British schoolboys once grew warm reading the inspiring words of Virgil:

“But, Rome, ‘t is thine alone, with awful sway,
To rule mankind, and make the world obey,
Disposing peace and war by thy own majestic way;
To tame the proud, the fetter’d slave to free:
These are imperial arts, and worthy thee.”

Americans feel no such imperial destiny. To descend to a lower literary level, they think and feel like Ferris Bueller in the 1980s movie of the same name. Bueller, an American high school student, is complaining about a test he was supposed to take on the history of European socialism. “I mean really, whatÕs the point? IÕm not European, I donÕt plan on being European, so who gives a crap if they are socialist? They could be fascist anarchists – that still wouldnÕt change the fact that I donÕt have a car.”

Not all Americans are quite that preoccupied with material and personal pursuits. But many are – which is why America has been such a uniquely moderate and reasonable superpower. Americans do not want to dominate the world. They want to live in freedom on it, to do business with it, to travel in it, to be safe from attack from it. And after all, is that not what most people in most nations want?

The great achievement of the second half of the 20th century was the construction of institutions and rules that made it possible for individuals throughout the advanced world to realize those desires for freedom, prosperity, and security. This achievement was carried forward under American leadership, but it does not belong to America alone.

Since 1990, vast new areas of the earth have moved away from authoritarianism and autarchy in hopes of gaining the benefits of the liberal world order for themselves and their people. Some nations, especially in Eastern Europe, have made the transition remarkably easily. Elsewhere though it remains uncertain whether the struggle will succeed – and in many places, notably the Middle East and Africa, it has barely begun.

The great challenge of the next century will be to extend and strengthen and stabilize the liberal world order until it is global in the fullest sense. ThatÕs a project bigger than any one country can possibly hope to achieve by itself, even if that country is the United States. ItÕs a task that will require great wisdom, great generosity, and great courage. We contribute nothing to this task by affixing to it the inaccurate and defamatory label of “empire.”