New Doubts About Intervention

Call me a cock-eyed optimist if you will, but despite the almost complete lack of any discussion of foreign policy let alone any serious questions about whether recent foreign policy has been wise during the major-party primaries, I suspect the American people are more on the anti-war side of things than the designated leaders or the establishment media can conceive.

I start with a Paul Harvey broadcast I happened to catch while driving this week. It was the day a dozen French soldiers were wounded. He offered the assessment that come November Kosovo would be "an albatross around Al Gore’s neck, mainly because the commitment is turning out to be longer and more open-ended that advertised, and seems unlikely to solve problems rather than making them worse.

Now I don’t listen to Paul Harvey often, and I didn’t follow him closely during the Kosovo war, so I don’t know what he was saying then. But he certainly speaks for a lot of middle Americans in the heartland. If he views the Kosovo commitment as an "albatross," a lot of other people who don’t get noticed by the media think so too.


Here’s a bit more evidence. Last week, the Web site run by Chris Ruddy, the former New York Post reporter who dug out and explained numerous unanswered question about Vince Foster’s death, released a poll it had commissioned from John Zogby, generally viewed as one of the most accurate pollsters because of his record calling elections in recent years, on foreign policy. It showed that "Americans by large majorities oppose the United States militarily defending several key allies, including Taiwan, Israel and South Korea.

Specifically, the question asked was: "If attacked by another country, should the United States help defend militarily, even though it cost American soldiers their lives, ….[insert country here]. The sample of 1,155 respondents was asked the identical question about Taiwan, Israel, Kuwait, South Korea and Kosovo.

The largest "no" vote, at 74 percent, was for Kosovo. But 71 percent of Americans don’t believe the U.S. should defend Kuwait, the casus belli for Desert Storm. Fully 72 percent of Americans don’t think US forces should be deployed to defend South Korea, 69 percent oppose US troops to defend Taiwan, and 59 percent wouldn’t approve of defending Israel.


To be sure, Zogby introduced a touch of realism that is often absent from hypothetical poll questions by including the phrase "even though it could cost American soldiers their lives." Nonetheless, the findings could be significant. Even though the likelihood of US intervention has been small for most of these countries (besides Kosovo and Kuwait, of course), most policymakers have assumed for decades that the alliances with South Korea, Taiwan and especially Israel included the possibility of military defense.

To be sure, Americans tend to "rally round" a president when a real intervention looms, but such large majorities inclined to oppose military intervention just might give policymakers pause the next time an intervention is contemplated.

Or maybe not. Foreign policy gurus, if anything, pride themselves on being ahead of public opinion (in a superior and enlightened way, of course) and more than willing to ignore it if their conception of the proper role of the United States in a dangerous world can be said to be at stake.


It is fascinating that would commission and publicize this poll. If anything, the site has tended to focus on dangers to the United States (especially from mainland China) and to feature stories and opinion pieces that deplore the depletion of military resources and make the case for more military spending. Retired Admiral Thomas Moorer is featured often and Washington Times writer Bill Gertz, who did a book on the malignant intentions and actions of the mainland Chinese and the dire implications for US national security, is a regular featured columnist.


Japan has taken a long time to process the bursting of its "bubble economy" some ten years ago and the full implications still aren’t reflected in new policies and institutions. But important, even radical changes have occurred and more are coming, presaging a solid economic and political recovery over the next few years.

That’s the message Tsuneo Nishida, Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles, delivered to a joint meeting of the Japan America Society and the Orange County World Affairs Council a couple of weeks ago. Mr. Nishida, described to me by former US State Department official and retired ambassador John Malott as "one of Japan’s very best diplomats," said Japan is struggling to redefine itself and is more open than ever to learning from the more dynamic ways of the US economy.


The long-term goal in Japan, says Mr. Nishida, is sustainable recovery fueled by private investment, not government spending. He noted that some taxes have been cut and short-term interest rates reduced. Deregulation, especially of the financial sector, is at the center of Japanese restructuring. As barriers to foreign competition are reduced, he noted, many Japanese companies have shifted from the old model in which a lifetime job with one company was considered the norm to a more flexible system.

In response to a question, Mr. Nishida said the Japanese government was likely to shift from a "stimulus" budget to seeking a balanced budget within the next two years. That would be an important confirmation of that he calls a dramatic change in thinking in Japan and a big step toward future economic growth.


The shift from reliance on benign government management and strategic subsidies to explicit reliance on the private marketplace seems to be well underway. It is easier to change intellectually than it is to change politically, however. Numerous entrenched interests in Japan, from farmers to conglomerates to large banks, have resisted and will continue to resist reforms that threaten their short-term interests as is true in any country where subsidies and favors have come to be regarded as entitlements. Remember how difficult it was for Ronald Reagan to abolish anything, or for Richard Nixon even to get rid of a Board of Tea Tasters.

Despite what Mr. Nishida said, therefore, while certain intellectuals and officials may understand the necessity to move in the direction of a genuinely free economy with little or no direct or indirect government management, I doubt if Japanese society as a whole has "gotten it" seriously enough for the most important changes to occur. What most analysts call the "big bang" financial deregulation and restructuring packages was actually pretty modest in scope. I’ll believe it when they actually stop trying to stimulate the economy into prosperity.


In some ways, that’s too bad. A strong Japanese economy rooted in private investment would be healthy for the world economy and for the United States (Mr. Nishida noted that 163,000 Californians work for Japanese firms). But there are potential dangers as well.

If Japan becomes an economic powerhouse again, it will be interesting to see how politicians respond. U.S.-Japanese political relations right now are as friendly as Mr. Nishida (who was in Washington from 1989 to 1992) can remember. A Japanese resurgence, however, might bring some of the late 1980s Japan-bashers out of the woodwork.

Author: Alan Bock

Get Alan Bock's Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana (Seven Locks Press, 2000). Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange County Register. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995).