by Austin Bay
November 25, 2003
Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus last week blistered a fossilized but politically potent cohort of Europeans when he observed that too many people on the Continent inhabit a "dream world of welfare, long vacations, guaranteed high pensions and cradle-to-grave social security." The dreamers, Klaus added, have yet to realize "they are not moving toward some sort of nirvana."
Klaus, interviewed by the always trenchant Arnaud de Borchgrave, was specifically addressing the EU's failure (for the ninth straight year) to certify its budget. The extensive problems led Klaus to suggest "democratic accountability" can't exist "in anything bigger than a nation state." That's a smart guy's slap at the glazed brains who believe the Brussels government will morph into a superpower utopia of eternal peace and easy prosperity. Frustrating, isn't it, that European intellectuals like Klaus get zip air time with Peter Jennings.
Klaus' comments also have resonance for the United States and the entire "Western world," and not merely in terms of echoing classic democratic propositions like the government that governs best governs least or the more "local" the democratic action the more accountable.
Klaus touches on "the West's" most troublesome strategic weakness: the fat cats' lack of will and courage. The "dream world" of wealth and leisure is dandy as long as someone with courage and competence is policing the real world's vicious nightmares.
The United States didn't sleep during the 1990s. Washington fought a slow war with Saddam. Al Qaeda, however, declared war on the United States, and until 9-11 Washington thought it could keep that war "over there." On 9-11, responsible Americans woke up, though two years on, a predictably irresponsible clan willfully buries its fossil hippie head in pillows.
Klaus recognized the War on Terror implications of his insight when he added: "It is quite normal that the principal targets of Al Qaeda are the U.S. and the U.K., as they have taken the lead to do something about those who launch the terrorist attacks. ... We understand the fragility and vulnerability of today's world, and we know these attacks are coming close to us, but as someone from a small country, I have a tendency to take domestic issues first and then look at the external ones."
Translation: You do what you can do, but recognize the sacrifice of those doing the most.
Though the Czechs have contributed troops to coalition forces in Iraq, it is the bitter lot of America that in defending liberty and the lives of innocents from Al Qaeda's sociopaths, we are required to "do more." Some Americans bear a greater burden of that defense than others, such as soldiers and police. It's a damned lousy lot.
I recall sitting in my tank along the old East German border watching Russians watch me. Winter is a curse in Germany, for field soldiers. For Alpine skiers, of course, it's winter wonderland. December 1975, and I asked myself why the heck am I here freezing in a tank? The answer: Only America could "contain" the Soviet Union. In Frankfurt, fat cat turf, American troops were dirt. In border villages, Germans who lived near the communist guard towers smiled and gave us absolutely superb beer. The residents of Muhle -- a real kuhdorf -- weren't in Frankfurt's dream world.
I admit it. In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, I hoped America would no longer have to "do more," at least with tanks and rifles. That hope was a short, sweet dream.
Recently, a radio interviewer asked me how long attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq would continue. His anxiety and concern were genuine and palpable. I hated my response: This war will go on a long time, not simply in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in other sad corners on the planet. There isn't an easier way.
That's why I'm thankful for soldiers courageous enough to face the violence. I should have added I'm also thankful -- 365 days a year, not merely on the last Thursday in November -- for aid and relief workers, and diplomats who risk their lives in a long, tough struggle to build a more secure and democratic world.