I recently wrote George Soros an email expressing disagreement with an item on his blog, and surprisingly, he published my email and posted a reply on his blog.
Here is the full exchange - first published in October 2004:
My Email to Mr. Soros:
You state: "All my experience has taught me that you can't introduce democracy by military means." I respectfully disagree. Just look at Germany and Japan today, two of the most prosperous democracies in the world. Had the Allies not militarily removed the Fascist governments of those nations in the Second World War, they would have never developed into democracies. And the post-war effort that went into turning those nations into democracies was expensive, tedious and costly in terms of human life and also in financial terms. But it was well worth it. The same is true in Iraq today. A peaceful, democratic Iraq will not come cheaply. But the alternative, an Iraq run by Saddam Hussein and his murderous thugs, or even worse, an Iraq run by Islamo-Fascist terrorists, would be far worse in the long-run and far more expensive in terms of our security as a nation and a planet.
As someone who spent the last 5 years in Germany I am convinced that it was right for the United States to act and remove Saddam Hussein from power. There is nothing the United States could have done to convince nations like France or Russia to take 17 UN resolutions seriously and actually enforce them. Saddam Hussein knew that and tried his best to play off Europe and the USA against one another. Fortunately, President Bush didn't let him get away with it. It may not have been the most popular move in certain countries for the US to remove a mass murderer like Saddam Hussein, but it was the right move. As someone who comes from a nation formerly ruled by tyrants the likes of Saddam Hussein you should be applauding the President's liberation of a long-suffering people. I hope that you will consider my opinion.
Mr. Soros' Response:
The analogy with Post-war Germany and Japan is a false one. We didn't attack them in order to introduce democracy. They attacked us and were soundly defeated. We then treated them generously [The Marshall Plan] - not the way we treated Germany after the First World War - and they responded positively. They became true democracies and faithful allies of the United States. It took President Bush's policies to upset the Germans. As you know, German Chancellor Schroder managed to stay in power by taking an anti-American platform. This goes to show how much damage Bush has done to America's standing in the world.
I'm all in favor of removing tyrants like Saddam but the way we went about it has made it more, rather than less difficult, to do it in the future, because we acted unilaterally and arbitrarily. How to protect the world against the likes of Saddam is the great unresolved problem of the present world order. We certainly cannot do it on our own. Please read the second part of my book The Bubble of American Supremacy, where I set forth a more constructive role for America in the world.
Clearly, Mr. Soros does not fully answer a number of points brought up in my email. Here is my formal response to his email:
My Reply to Mr. Soros:
Dear Mr. Soros,
In your reply to my email you fail to address the central point of my argument: That democracies can be successfully introduced and established through military means. A number of the world’s democracies, including the United States of America, were born of military conflict and revolution. Your assertion that “you can’t introduce democracy by military means” has been repeatedly proven wrong by history.
You further contend:
“The analogy with Post-war German and Japan is a false one. We didn’t attack them in order to introduce democracy. They attacked us and were soundly defeated.”
With all due respect: I never claimed that the United States attacked Japan and Germany in order to introduce democracy. Nor did I claim that the US attacked Iraq or Afghanistan solely for that purpose. My point was that military action ultimately brought freedom, liberation and democracy to Japan and Germany following the Second World War despite the tremendous cost to the United States and its Allies in both human lives and financial resources. America’s military liberation of Iraq and Afghanistan from regimes of mass murder has also provided those nations with an historic opportunity to establish free societies. Democracy will not come easily or cheaply. No one has ever said it would. But the alternative, a terrorist state, is something that the free world simply cannot afford.
Your statement that “we didn’t attack them (Japan and Germany) to introduce democracy” also stands in stark contrast to the following passage from page 157 of your book, “The Bubble of American Supremacy”:
“In World War II, America fought for the survival of democracy and human rights---although the expression human rights was not as popular then as it has become since.”
You also made no attempt to answer my concerns involving the United Nations. I wrote, "There is nothing the United States could have done to convince nations like France or Russia to take 17 UN resolutions seriously and actually enforce them.”
Over a twelve-year period, Saddam Hussein refused to cooperate and abide by international law, hoping to eventually have sanctions lifted so he could resume development of weapons of mass destruction. Neither France, Russia nor China, all members of the Security Council with veto power, made any serious attempt to hold Saddam to over a dozen Security Council resolutions. In fact, the opposite is true. In 1998 when Hussein refused to cooperate with UNSCOM inspectors, France, Russia and China refused to back tough measures to get inspections back on track, resulting in the collapse of the UNSCOM inspection regime and the expulsion of UNSCOM inspectors from Iraq. It is also important to remember that all three nations had extensive business dealings with the Hussein government and were owed billions in debt by Iraq. Recently, allegations that Saddam bribed Russian and French officials have also prompted new questions as to those nations’ true motivation for resisting military action to enforce international law in Iraq.
Mr. Soros, on page 108 of your book you quote the following passage from a UN commission reporting to Kofi Annan:
“The Security Council should take into account in all its deliberations that, if it fails to discharge its responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations crying out for action, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of the situation---and that the stature and credibility of the United Nations may suffer thereby.”
Not only did the United Nations fail on Iraq for twelve years, it also failed on genocide in Rwanda and it failed repeatedly in the Balkans. How can you honestly expect Americans to trust their national security to an organization with a track record of failure in a post 9/11 world? How do you expect the UN to effectively stand up to Iran and North Korea when they weren’t even able to deal with Rwanda or Kosovo? Clearly, “the stature and credibility of the United Nations” has suffered over the past decade.
Additionally, I disagree with your wholesale dismissal of any comparison between “Germany and Japan” and Iraq as “false.” In fact, a number of useful comparisons and analogies can be drawn between the two while keeping historic differences in mind:
The most useful comparison of Nazi Germany to Saddam’s Iraq involves the proposition that we cannot appease dictators and allow them to become imminent threats. In the 1930s the world stood by as Adolf Hitler violated one international arms treaty after the other. A pacifist policy of appeasement and multilateral diplomacy through the League of Nations was initially pursued to deal with Germany’s rearmament and expansionist tendencies. Hitler, a dictator armed with a clear ideology of hate and aggression, was allowed to flout international law while snatching up neighboring states one by one. Finally, when it was already far, far too late, the world took decisive action to stop Nazi Germany. By that time the Fascist state had become an “imminent threat.” 55 million people died in World War II.
Many point to Saddam’s Iraq and 2003 and declare that there was no “imminent threat” to the United States. Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction and it was therefore wrong to invade. I ask them: Should we have waited for Saddam to become an “imminent threat?” Should we have waited until he was in a position to kill millions before stopping him? Was there any doubt that he would have sought weapons of mass destruction if given the chance? This is the same man who invaded two neighbors, used chemical weapons to murder thousands of his own people, fired SCUD missiles at Israel, and killed, tortured, imprisoned and suppressed millions more. Not only would it have been wrong to further pursue an ineffective diplomatic path in dealing with such a man in a post 9/11 world, it would have been dangerously irresponsible.
We have written a number of articles on our website comparing Germany during and after World War II to Iraq. I invite you to look them over and decide for yourself if the comparisons that they draw are valid or not. You can view a few recent examples here, here and here.
Mr. Soros, you also add in your reply:
“I’m all in favor of removing tyrants like Saddam Hussein but the way we went about it has made it more, rather than less difficult, to do it in the future, because we acted unilaterally and arbitrarily.”
I appreciate the fact that you are in favor of removing tyrants like Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, had we followed your plan to deal with Saddam through the United Nations, his regime of mass murder and torture would likely still exist today. I would contend that it is the fundamentally flawed United Nations system, chronically blocked from taking any real action to enforce vital resolutions, which has made it more, and not less difficult to remove brutal dictators from power. Mr. Soros, on page 118 of your book you state that NATO military action in Kosovo was justified even without a UN resolution, you write:
“I believe we were justified in intervening in Kosovo without UN authorization, and we would have done better if we had relied on NATO and not the United Nations in Bosnia. But unilateral action that goes against international public opinion cannot be justified, and it can endanger our national security by turning the world against us. That is what the Bush administration has accomplished by its rabid unilateralism.”
I disagree that the United States should base its national security policy on “international public opinion.” In many parts of the world it was unpopular to stand up to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, yet it was the right thing to do. In many parts of the world it was unpopular to oppose Fascism in World War II, yet it was the right thing to do. Bluntly put: The United States should not and cannot change its foreign policy to match the ever changing whims and fancies of international opinion. To ask it to do so would not only be impractical, it would endanger the nation’s security. It was right to act in Kosovo, and it was right to act in Iraq, where, by the way, the humanitarian situation was far worse.
You label the Bush administration’s actions as “rabid unilateralism” and on page 174 of your book you even call them “rampant unilateralism.” How so? The Bush administration spent months at the United Nations hoping against hope to see real action on Iraq. Nothing the President or anyone else could have done would have convinced nations like France, China and Russia to fully enforce the seventeen Security Council resolutions on the books concerning Iraq. That was the fundamental problem. We all know that the three veto powers opposing the US had big money tied up in Iraq. For them it was more about national interest and less about international justice.
So did President Bush subsequently engage on an “arbitrary” and “unilateral” campaign? Not at all. How can you call putting together a coalition of dozens of nations “ rabid unilateralism?” Tell the leaders of Great Britain, Poland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Denmark and the Netherlands that Mr. Bush is rabidly unilateral. Soldiers from all of those nations have fought and died next to American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Bush was enforcing the UN resolutions that the UN itself could not and would not enforce. How can we see a body that cannot even enforce its own laws as “legitimate” Mr. Soros?
Bluntly put: The United Nations Security Council and the five veto powers do not have a monopoly on the terms “multilateral” or “legitimate” nor does acting outside the United Nations necessarily make an action “unilateral” or “illegitimate.” That seems to be where we have a fundamental difference of opinion.
To me, a failure to confront a humanitarian crises or international threat through the United Nations is far more illegitimate than a willingness to take action outside the United Nations to confront that threat. Until we fundamentally reform the United Nations, this will always be an issue and a problem. I appreciate the suggestions you make in your book on UN reforms. The problem is actually getting them implemented.
You write in your reply:
“It took President Bush’s policies to upset the Germans. As you know, German Chancellor Schroeder managed to stay in power by taking an anti-American platform. This goes to show how much damage Bush has done to America’s standing in the world.”
Mr. Soros, as a citizen of both Germany and the United States, I can assure you that anti-American sentiment in Germany has been around far longer than George W. Bush or any of his policies. Additionally, Chancellor Schroeder is not the first German leader to win an election or profit politically by taking advantage of this anti-American sentiment. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in former President Jimmy Carter’s autobiography “Keeping the Faith.” Here is what President Carter wrote in 1982:
“Helmut Schmidt seemed to be torn between the conflicting political forces in his country. In private conversations he was very tough in dealing with the Soviet threat, often the leader among Europeans in proposing strong action. But in German political debates, he emphasized the opposite facet of the same question and seemed reluctant to do anything that might be interpreted as anti-Soviet. At times this conflict made it difficult for Americans to understand him and was the reason for some of our problems. There were many reports from news reporters and others in Europe and in the United States concerning his critical comments about me, Secretaries Vance and Muskie, Dr. Brzezinski, and other officials in our government. These persistent criticisms, often highly publicized, helped to legitimize anti-American sentiments in Germany." (Pages 537-538, "Keeping Faith")
It is also common knowledge that the majority of Germans widely opposed Ronald Reagan’s tough stance against the Soviet Union and his decision to station Pershing rockets on the European continent in the 1980s. Yet that decision was a decisive step in winning the Cold War.
Sadly, anti-Americanism has a long and storied history in post-war Germany and in much of Europe for that matter. The chronically biased reporting of the media further exacerbates the problem. If you followed our website regularly you would know that. If I had millions to spend, I would invest some of them in publications like Medienkritik that seek to uncover and expose outrageous, anti-American bias in the European media. Few things have damaged transatlantic relations more than that bias.
Your claim that it took President Bush’s policies to upset Germans is simply incorrect and clearly contradicts the historic record. The fact that Chancellor Schroeder shamelessly exploited anti-American sentiment to win re-election after promising the United States not to make Iraq a big issue is more of an indictment of his character than anything else. It is also interesting to note that Germany’s most extreme parties, the Communists and the Neo-Nazis share Mr. Schroeder’s firm anti-war, anti-Bush stance.
Mr. Soros, throughout your arguments you fail to hold European politicians and journalists responsible for the current transatlantic rift, choosing to place most if not all of the blame on the United States and President Bush. Not only is this approach one-sided, it is patently unfair. That is not to say that the United States bears none of the blame. It simply means that there are two sides to every coin.
I would suggest you change the name of your book from “The Bubble of American Supremacy” to “The Bubble of European Impotence.” I don’t say that in an attempt to be funny or insulting. I say that because the Europeans’ lack of real military power makes it impossible for them to intervene in major international crises without the United States backing them up. That means that, without the US, the Europeans are necessarily confined to diplomacy to resolve problems, leaving them largely impotent when diplomatic channels prove ineffective in dealing with ruthless dictators like Saddam Hussein. This was demonstrated with remarkable clarity during the Bosnian conflict. European forces were unable to deal with a relatively minor conflagration in their own backyard until the United States stepped onto the scene and flexed its military muscle. The same will be true in Iran, and the Iranians know it. They know as long as they play the European diplomacy game that they have nothing to fear. The only power that can truly hold them accountable is not the EU or the United Nations, but the United States.
The fundamental imbalance of power arising from Europe’s inability to live up to its military obligations and its lingering dependence on the USA provides for an environment of inequality and resentment. Many European nations such as France and Germany have come to define themselves through their resistance to US “dominance” or “hegemony” which they define as “unilateral” despite the fact that the US is currently in a coalition consisting of dozens of nations in Iraq. They insist that the US seek “legitimacy” through “multilateral” channels. In reality, these terms are code words for European checks on US power. Despite your claims to the contrary Mr. Soros, there is nothing particularly “multilateral” or “legitimate” about one, two or even three nations with a veto in the UN Security Council, (France, Russia and China) determining whether US actions are justified or not. To me, a Chinese dictator sitting in Beijing should not have the right to determine what is “multilateral” or “legitimate” in the world, yet that is exactly how the UN Security Council works. To expect Americans to put their security in the hands of such a dictator is, again, not only unrealistic but also dangerous, particularly in a post 9/11 world.
The solution is for European nations to step up to the plate in accepting greater international responsibility. Until they do so, they will never be accepted by the United States as "equal partners." That means they will have to spend far more on their militaries so that they can actually resolve conflicts such as the one in Bosnia without US help. A stronger Europe would allow the United States to spend less on its military and more on international aid. A stronger Europe would contribute to a greater equilibrium of power in the world. But a stronger Europe standing side-by-side with the US in partnership will never become a reality if Europeans don’t become proactive and simply continue to blame the United States for all the world’s problems. I fear that your criticisms contribute to and reaffirm this complacency born of blame.
Unfortunately, in your book and on your website, you choose to largely ignore the failings of the Europeans, the UN and the international community. You and many others have turned President Bush into a convenient scapegoat for virtually everything. I believe that this flagrant lack of balance also runs rampant in the European press and has done serious damage to transatlantic relations. If we refuse to look at this problem from a more comprehensive, balanced position, we will never be able to solve it. And the European bubble of impotence and resentment will continue to grow and grow.
In closing I want to point out that my wife’s family is from Russia. Both of her parents are scientists who were able to make it through some very tough times in the USSR because of the philanthropic work that you did Mr. Soros. For that I say “thank you.” Again, I hope you consider my opinion. It comes from the heart.
To conclude, I must say that Mr. Soros did have the decency to publish my email in its entirety on his blog. Despite the fact that I disagree with him on a number of issues, I appreciate the fact that he is willing to engage in a tough and open debate on these important matters. (UPDATE: I stand corrected, Mr. Soros has now decided to suddenly remove my email and his response from his website. Hardly conducive to an open discussion.)
First published here in October 2004.