Debunking European Fantasies

A terrific interview in Spiegel OnLine with the amazingly insightful Charles Krauthammer who skillfully debunks many of Europe’s cherished fantasies.

Excerpts:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Krauthammer, did the Nobel Commitee in Oslo honor or doom the Obama presidency by awarding him the Peace Prize?

Charles Krauthammer: It is so comical. Absurd. Any prize that goes to Kellogg and Briand, Le Duc Tho and Arafat, and Rigoberta Menchú, and ends up with Obama, tells you all you need to know. For Obama it’s not very good because it reaffirms the stereotypes about him as the empty celebrity.

SPIEGEL: Why does it?

Krauthammer: He is a man of perpetual promise. There used to be a cruel joke that said Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be; Obama is the Brazil of today’s politicians. He has obviously achieved nothing. And in the American context, to be the hero of five Norwegian leftists, is not exactly politically positive.

…SPIEGEL: Why do Europeans react so positively to him?

Krauthammer: Because Europe, for very understandable reasons, has been chaffing for 60 years under the protection, but also the subtle or not so subtle domination of America. Europeans like to see the big guy cut down to size, it’s a natural reaction. You know, Europe ran the world for 400 or 500 years until the civilizational suicide of the two World Wars. And then America emerged as the world hegemon, with no competition and unchallenged. The irony is America is the only hegemonic power that never sought hegemony, unlike, for example, Napoleonic France. Americans are not intrinsically imperial, but we ended up dominant by default: Europe disappeared after the Second World War, the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, so here we are. Of course Europeans like to see the hegemon diminished, and Obama is the perfect man to do that.

SPIEGEL: Maybe Europeans want to just see a different America, one they can admire again.

Krauthammer: Admire? Look at Obama’s speech at the UN General Assembly: “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.” Take the first half of that sentence: No nation can dominate another. There is no eight year old who would say that — it’s so absurd. And the second half? That is adolescent utopianism. Obama talks in platitudes, but offers a vision to the world of America diminished or constrained, and willing to share leadership in a way that no other presidency and no other great power would. Could you imagine if the Russians were hegemonic, or the Chinese, or the Germans — that they would speak like this?

SPIEGEL: Is America’s power not already diminished?

Krauthammer: Relative to what?

SPIEGEL: To emerging powers.

Krauthammer: The Chinese are rising, the Indians have a very long way to go. But I’m old enough to remember the late 1980s, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” by Paul Kennedy and the prevailing view that America was in decline and Japan was the rising power. The fashion now is that the Chinese will overtake the United States. As with the great Japan panic, there are all kinds of reasons why that will not happen.

…SPIEGEL: Do you really believe that Obama deliberately wants to weaken the US?

Krauthammer: The liberal vision of America is that it should be less arrogant, less unilateral, more internationalist. In Obama’s view, America would subsume itself under a fuzzy internationalism in which the international community, which I think is a fiction, governs itself through the UN.

SPIEGEL: A nightmare?

Krauthammer: Worse than that: an absurdity. I can’t even imagine serious people would believe it, but I think Obama does. There is a way America will decline — if we choose first to wreck our economy and then to constrain our freedom of action through subordinating ourselves to international institutions which are 90 percent worthless and 10 percent harmful.

SPIEGEL: And there is not even 1 percent that is constructive?

Krauthammer: No. The UN is worse than disaster. The UN creates conflicts. Look at the disgraceful UN Human Rights Council: It transmits norms which are harmful, anti-liberty, and anti-Semitic among other things. The world would be better off in its absence.

…SPIEGEL: How could Obama still win Republican support for healthcare reform?

Krauthammer: He should finally realize that we need to reform our insane malpractice system. The US is spending between $60 and $200 billion a year on protection against lawsuits. I used to be a doctor, I know how much is wasted on defensive medicine. Everybody I practiced with spends hours and enormous amounts of money on wasted tests, diagnostic and procedures — all to avoid lawsuits. The Democrats will not touch it. When Howard Dean was asked why, he said honestly and explicitly that Democrats don’t want to antagonize the trial lawyers who donate huge amounts of money to the Democrats.

SPIEGEL: What would be your solution?

Krauthammer: I would make Americans pay half a percent tax on their health insurance and create a pool to socialize the cost of medical errors. That would save hundreds of billions of dollars that could be used to insure the uninsured. And second, I would abolish the absurd prohibition against buying health insurance in another state — that reduces competition and keeps health insurance rates artificially high.

SPIEGEL: But you also need to cut back on healthcare expenses.

Krauthammer: It is absolutely crazy that in America employees receive health insurance from their employers — and at the same time a tax break for this from the federal government. It’s a $250 billion a year loophole in the government’s budget. If you taxed healthcare benefits, you would have enough revenue for the government to give back to the individual to purchase their own insurance. If you did those two reforms alone, you would have the basis for affordable health insurance in America.

What the Democrats seem to be aiming for, however, is something somewhat different: the government gets control of the healthcare system by proxy; you heavily regulate the insurance companies, you subsidize the uninsured. That kind of reform would also work, but less efficiently — and because of its unsustainable costs, we would, in the end, have to go to a system of rationing, the way the British do, the way the Canadians do, there is no other way. Obama can’t say any of that, the word rationing is too unpopular.

…SPIEGEL: Is the conservative movement in the United States in decline?

Krauthammer: When George W. Bush won in 2004, there was lots of stuff written that about the end of liberalism and the death of the Democratic Party. Look where we are now.

SPIEGEL: A Democrat is back in the White House, the party also controls Congress.

Krauthammer: Exactly. We see the usual overreading of history whenever one side loses. Look, there are cycles in American politics. US cycles are even more pronounced because we Americans have a totally entrepreneurial presidential system. We don’t have parliamentary opposition parties with a shadow prime minister and shadow cabinets. Every four years, the opposition reinvents itself. We have no idea who will be the Republican nominee in 2012. The party structures are very fluid. We have a history of political parties being thrown out of the White House after two terms — as has happened every single time with only one exception (Ronald Reagan) since World War II. The idea that one party is done in the US is silly. The Republicans got killed in 2006 and 2008, but they will be back.

SPIEGEL: The party lacks a strong, intelligent leader.

Krauthammer: Yes. And if the Republicans don’t have one by 2012, they’ll lose and they’ll have to wait till 2016. It could take eight years to develop. You know, people say — the White House was pushing this idea — that the radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is the leader of the opposition because there’s no other leader. Well, ask yourself, in 2001 and 2002 and 2003, who was the leader of the Democratic Party? There was none. We don’t have a parliamentary system in which opposition leaders are designated.

…SPIEGEL: At the end of Bush’s second term, he granted you a long interview. Afterwards, you wrote that history would judge Bush kindly. Why?

Krauthammer: Basically I think Bush will have the same historical rehabilitation that Harry Truman did.

SPIEGEL: And why is that?

Krauthammer: Truman left in the middle of an unpopular war, to use your phrase, a war of choice. Truman didn’t have to go into South Korea. And he was reviled and ridiculed for the stalemate that resulted. Now, he’s seen as one of the great presidents of the 20th century.

I think Bush actually handled the Iraq War better than Truman handled the Korean War. For one thing, the number of losses is about one-tenth. Secondly, he made the right decision with the surge. Thirdly, if Iraq turns out well, meaning becomes a country fairly self-sufficient and fairly friendly to the West, it will have a more important effect on the West than having a non-communist South Korea. The Middle East is strategically a far more important region.

Bush’s worst mistake was the conduct of the Iraq war in the middle years — 2004-2006 — and the attempt to win on the cheap, with a light footprint.

On the other hand, I think he did exactly the right thing after 9/11. Look at the Patriot Act, which revolutionized how we deal with domestic terrorism, passed within six weeks of 9/11 in the fury of the moment. Testimony to how well Bush got it right is that Democrats, who now control Congress and had been highly critical of it, are now after eight years reauthorizing it with almost no significant changes.

Afghanistan is more problematic. Our success in overthrowing the Taliban in 100 days was remarkable. It’s one of the great military achievements of all time. On the other hand, holding Afghanistan is a lot harder than taking it, and to this day we are not sure how to do it. But the initial success in 2001-2002 did decimate and scatter al-Qaida. It is no accident that we have not suffered a second attack — something no one who lived in Washington on Sept. 11 thought possible.

I’m sure he will be rehabilitated in the long term.

Clare Booth Luce once said that every president is remembered for one thing, and that’s what Bush will be remembered for. He kept us safe.

SPIEGEL: Is it too early to foresee what Obama will be remembered for?

Krauthammer: It is quite early. It could be his election.

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