Fred Thompson’s UK Speech
The text of Fred Thompson’s speech to the London Policy Exchange, which I referenced earlier, is up at Townhall. Some excerpts:
Differences of party and domestic policy are incidental, compared to the bigger considerations that define Britain and America as allies. On both sides of the Atlantic, what matters most are the commitments we share, and the work we are called to do in common. This work is based upon the principles we hold — primarily, the right of free people to govern themselves. We also believe that the rule of law, market economies, property rights, and trade with other nations are the underpinnings of a free society.
When historians of the modern era speak of the great democracies, of civilization and its defenders, that’s us they’re talking about — we and our democratic friends across Europe and beyond.
Neither the US nor the UK is universally consistent in preferring popular sovereignty over despots who will support our policy aims. Indeed, we’re currently helping prop up a thug in Pakistan who isn’t doing much to help fight al Qaeda because we fear the alternative. The democratic choice of the Palestinians, which continues to express itself in the election of terrorists to high office, has not been greeted with open arms, either.
Often the cause of our grief is a misplaced trust in the good intentions of others. In our dealings with other nations, people in free countries are not the type to go looking for trouble. We tend to extend our good will to other nations, assuming that it will be returned in kind. No matter how clear the signals, sometimes in history even the best of men failed to act in time to prevent the worst from happening.
The United States and the United Kingdom have learned this lesson both ways — in great evils ignored, and in great evils averted. We learned it from a World War that happened and, in the decades afterward, from the World War that didn’t happen.
We must conclude that the greatest test of leadership — in your country or mine, in this time or any other — can be simply stated. We must shape events, and not be left at their mercy. And in all things, to protect ourselves and to assure the peace, the great democracies of the world must stick together. We must be willing to make tough decisions today in order to avert bigger problems tomorrow. We must be prepared to meet threats before threats become tragedies.
That’s largely right, I think, although we’ve both gone to war to advance our policy aims more often than most states.
Some who seek to check U.S. power believe that legitimacy may only be conferred by international consensus as represented by the UN Security Council. They ask, “If a country can invade another nation for its own good reasons, what is the logical stopping point?”
The American response is to ask how, then, does one justify non-Security-Council-sanctioned actions, such as Kosovo? What are nations allowed to do when the UN cannot muster the political will to act? How many countries must be involved in an action before legitimacy is conferred? Is it just European countries that count? And, how do we deal with problems in concert when many of us don’t agree on the extent or nature of the problem?
There’s likely a difference in acting when the UN fails to act versus acting against the express will of two thirds of the Security Council. Still, Thompson’s right here: Great powers must decide issues of war and peace based on their own national interest. Gaining international consensus is highly desirable but the lack of it can not preclude action. (For the record: I opposed intervention in Kosovo and, indeed, Bosnia.)
For our part, we in the United States must make a better case for our views and our actions. It is possible that things that are perfectly obvious to us may not be so obvious even to those who wish us well. We must be willing to listen and we must be willing to share our intelligence to the maximum extent appropriate.
We must be prepared to make our case not just privately, but to the people of Europe and the world in order to build political support for cooperation. The world is not stronger if America is weaker — or is perceived to be weaker. The same is true of Britain and truer still of our NATO alliance. And we must be capable of making that case.
In return, it is fair to expect that our allies will not put their trade and commercial interests above world security. It is also fair to ask that Europeans consider the consequences if they are wrong about the threat to the Western world.
That’s all well and good in theory but unlikely to happen in practice. For all the just criticisms aimed at the way the Bush Administration handled the run-up to the Iraq War, that they didn’t work very hard to build international consensus is not among them. The president, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and others prostrated themselves at the alter of the U.N. in a futile attempt to get its approval. Indeed, that effort was at the root of the over-selling of the weapons of mass destruction angle, because that was the strongest case to be made in international law for ousting Saddam.
Ultimately, states will act in their own perceived best interests. The US and UK will more often have overlapping interests than the US and France. That’s not likely to change any time soon.
Many in Europe simply have a different view from that of the United States as to the threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism. They think that the threat is overblown. That despite September 11th, and July 7th and other attacks in Europe and elsewhere, America is the main target and therefore the problem is basically an American one. The fact that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq at a particular point in time resolves the matter for them. Also, they see no meaningful connection between terrorist groups and countries like Iran.
Admittedly, even some in America think that the threat is overblown, and that if we had not gone into Iraq, we’d have no terrorism problem.
However, most Americans feel differently. We understand that the Western world is in an international struggle with jihadists who see this struggle as part of a conflict that has gone on for centuries, and who won’t give up until Western countries are brought to their knees. I agree with this view. I believe that the forces of civilization must work together with common purpose to defeat the terrorists who for their own twisted purposes have murdered thousands, and who are trying to acquire technology to murder millions more.
Here, I disagree. Europe fully understands the dangers of terrorism. Not only do they have a much longer experience with the problem but several countries there have a large Islamist population with actual home-grown cells plotting and conducting attacks. There is just a profound difference of opinion in how to deal with the threat and, unfortunately, the mess in Iraq has only strengthened their resolve that our path is the wrong one.
Substantively, this is a speech that any of the Republican candidates could have given, aside from perhaps Ron Paul. Indeed, It wouldn’t take much re-rewriting for Hillary Clinton to be able to say these things. I’m not sure, therefore, that this does anything to set him apart from the field.