The United States of America and Asia

For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. Isaiah 28:11

The Republic, by my reckoning, has now been at war in Asia five times; in the Philippines, against Japan, in Korea, in Vietnam and Indochina and in Afghanistan. It also fought a clandestine effort against the Communist Chinese from 1945 on. I won't count Russians as Eurasians and, anyway, the intervention in the Russian Civil War in 1919 was meaningless and in European Russia.

I need not remind readers that America disgraced itself and left the business of formal Empire in the first war; had to end the second with atomic weapons; fought back from near-devastating defeat to a compromise peace in the third; was traumatised and practically beaten in the fourth, and is not going to win the fifth because there is no way now to define victory. John Birch and Taiwan aside, the question of who won China is now fairly settled. If you count Iraq as part of Asia, in the Hellenistic sense, the victory on its own terms that the US has won in this sixth war has been at a terrible cost in the lives and treasure of its opponents and itself, respectively.

What happens when the States gets involved in Asian matters? I think the answer comes close to inviting the observation that America meets Asia as a different civilisation, but has few resources available to deal with the idea. It follows that the political arguments that usually follow in the train of an American army--that they bring with them liberty, or freedom, or opportunity--never meet with any understanding either, and nor do the structures they set up in preparation for or after the appearance of, victory. The United States has never had a hostile, ancient and well resourced Empire that shares no fundamental assumptions as an enemy for any length of time. When it does face such people, it finds it very hard to do anything other than adopt Roman style solutions that lead, really, nowhere.

So why not reach out and try something different at the same time? I was very struck today by reading of the global Americana institute. Its aims are surely ones that blue dog Democrats, conservative just like the centre of the country whose Congress they control, and moderates on the left and right can identify with. It seeks to translate American classics into arabic, and to make digests of Jefferson, Adams, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Kennedys, and then to distribute them.

There's a long history to this sort of thing, in both directions. A very good case, for example, can be made that one of the most stirring evocations in American history--the new frontier--sprung not originally from the mind of Sorensen and Kennedy, but instead from Kahil Gibran. If the republic first flexed its muscles in the wake of the decline of the Knights of Malta and the rise of the pirate confederacies in the early nineteenth century, its brain has long been sown by arabic and muslim examples.

That's still going on today, with American muslims integrating quicker and better into the United States than many other ethnic groups in American history. My original doctoral thesis touched on the Irish gangs of New York, and the nativist riots; but where are the dangerous legions of American Muslims? They are nowhere to be seen. Instead, American Muslims are on the whole busy in college and in the army and in every aspect of American life, as Americans. In fact, practically the only 'Muslim' group in America not interested in the republic is the home-grown and mutated one, the Nation of Islam, which speaks to a different past.

As the new year begins, I think that it behoves Europeans to ask why they and their colonial successors can't integrate Muslims, why Albanians have the highest growth rate and the most secular society in Europe, why no one is translating inspirational and illustrative European classics into Farsi and Arabic in great numbers and why none of us are engaging intellectually with the littoral Muslim worlds of the Indian Ocean from a position of cultural self-confidence.

I think that America should expand its efforts. The Indian Ocean, and not the Asian landmass, is becoming the centre of the world's economy again by the day, after several hundred years of disrepair. The American Navy cannot possibly police it, and America cannot win wars in Asia. Strength is fine, I like strength, but trade, alliances, and smiles behind cold steel work too, especially when accompanied by a sharing of history and culture amongst elites and engagement amongst ordinary folk. It is desperately important that America, and the wider west, engage in the gulf, in the east, and in between, and that people of goodwill work to undermine the madmen in their camp and those whose only answer is war in our own.

We'll stammer and be misunderstood, and the men and women of badwill in the Dar-al-Islam will spit and swipe. The war on the terror waged largely by jobless young men and the worser servants of the Book will continue. But if we drop some Tom Paine and Teddy Roosevelt with the bombs, who knows what will happen?

UPDATE: I suppose that the most obvious response to this is, 'wars are about iron and gold and oil, and Tariq Aziz wasn't stopped from being bad by reading Jane Austen and the Brontes'. But I'm going to leave it up because, determined as I am to look badness in the face this year, I want to be a bit uplifting for anyone who can be bothered to read through my twisted prose to the end. I do like the idea of chucking books at loonies too--not all of them can be burnt, or fall on stony ground. My basic point was that if you are ill starred enough to start a war in Asia but incapable of near-genocidal badness, grasp at any straw. Hang onto that old rugged cross....

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