Letters to the editor

The Fifty-first State?

In his article on the problems facing the United States in a postwar Iraq ( "The Fifty-first State?," November Atlantic), James Fallows makes a seemingly sound point: if Washington invades Iraq alone, the United States alone will bear the high financial costs of rebuilding the country. After all, why would countries that opposed the war spend millions of dollars to deal with the aftermath?

This line of reasoning, however, overlooks a key point. It would be in the interests of Europe and Japan to provide money for reconstruction. As Fallows points out, Iraq, with its vast, untapped oil reserves, has the potential to be another Saudi Arabia. If Western countries opted out of providing financial assistance, they would jeopardize their oil interests in Iraq, which history shows they are loath to do. France has avoided taking a hard-line stance against Saddam Hussein partly because of its desire to tap Iraq's oil once sanctions end. After the Persian Gulf War, Japan helped to maintain its influence in the region through construction projects for Iraq's neighbors.

In short, the allure of Iraq's oil and the desire to limit the United States' economic gains would compel Europe and Japan to provide financial assistance even if Washington fought Saddam alone. As Fallows argues, Washington would face major problems in a postwar Iraq, but a heavy financial burden for reconstruction would probably not be one of them.

Erik Swabb
Salt Lake City, Utah

James Fallows writes with foresight about the terrible consequences if the United States invades Iraq. But he doesn't similarly write of the consequences of Saddam Hussein's having a nuclear weapon. So both sides may be right: it's a disaster if the United States goes in and a disaster if it doesn't. In foreign policy we sometimes face a variety of alternatives, each one demonstrably wrong. The test is which are the better alternatives when none of them are desirable.

Ron Cohen
Houston, Texas

End of the West

It is difficult to envision Europe's becoming "a formidable counterweight to the United States on the world stage," as postulated by Charles A. Kupchan (The Agenda, "The End of the West," November Atlantic), considering that the EU "heavyweights" (Germany, France, England) are steadily undergoing a profound racial and ethnic transformation by unfettered immigration, from predominantly Caucasian to Middle Eastern Semitic and African Negro, and in religious identity, from predominantly Christian to Muslim.

The EU had best make haste if it is considering "making a run at the United States," before it collapses in multicultural chaos, although a dispassionate analysis of current immigration-driven demographic trends in the United States portends a drowning of national identity in multicultural chaos here, too. Looks to me like a contest between ninety-seven-pound weaklings, with Communist China the chuckling onlooker.

Leonard C. Johnson
Moscow, Idaho

Charles Kupchan's article raises several excellent points about the troubled future of the trans-Atlantic alliance but misses two key points.

First, citing expansion into Eastern Europe as a means of increasing the European Union's power overestimates the value these states will bring to the EU. As with the induction of new countries into NATO, the states of Eastern Europe will be a net drain for some time to come. In particular, the hordes of cheap labor that stand ready to flow into Western and Northern Europe will present a real point of contention. Kupchan cites Europe's antipathy toward foreign immigrants as a values gap with the United States; Western Europe fears cheap labor swarming in from Eastern Europe every bit as much as from North Africa. Moreover, as the EU acquires new members, it will also acquire a host of new dilapidated economies, ravaged environments, and sharp ethnic conflicts. Given decades of intensive investment, Europe will in time realize the potential of these countries, but to assume that geographic expansion automatically translates into increased power is erroneous.

Second, heavy American military investment in European security through NATO remains the elephant that no one wants to talk about. Kupchan's remarks do not address the twin problems that would readily beset Western Europe should the United States radically reduce or remove its European military presence. Not only would the absence of "neutral" third-party America likely drive some if not all of Western Europe to reconsider old rivalries, but those same European nations lack the financial resources to meet the challenge of arming for themselves—even to a modest level. Western European military forces are a mere shadow of their former selves and lack much of the advanced technology that makes U.S. forces so effective: strategic lift, command and control, precision-guided munitions, and the like. The trans-Atlantic defense community has long recognized a growing gap between the very high-tech forces that the United States fields and the traditionally low-tech forces fielded by its NATO allies.

At issue, then, would be the very effectiveness of the defense forces that the EU would have to build for itself. For any mission beyond territorial defense, the nations of the EU would have to make substantial cuts to their socialized butter in order to pay for the new guns—and post-Cold War history shows that the nations of Europe have been extremely reluctant to cut the social-welfare benefits that high taxes and high investment bring in order to pay for robust militaries. Moreover, building robust militaries—even if only for territorial defense—would require either expanded conscription or extended terms of service, both of which are highly unpalatable to Europeans.

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