What should be the U.S. goal in Iraq? The American government is clear on this point: it is "a free and peaceful Iraq," which it presents as critical to the stability of the Middle East, which, in turn, "is critical to the security of the American people."
A free and peaceful Iraq is one in the American image — democratic, liberal, capitalist, under the rule of law. While completely sympathetic to this vision — who could not be? — I worry both that Iraqis do not welcome American guidance and that such an ambition ultimately is unrealistic.
My thoughts on the second of these worries are clarified by Samuel P. Huntington's remarkable new book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity, forthcoming in May. In it, the Harvard professor analyzes the impact other civilizations are having on America — via immigration, bilingualism, multiculturalism, the devaluation of citizenship, and the denationalization of American elites. He argues eloquently for the need to reassert core American values in the face of this challenge.
Along the way, Mr.Huntington observes that Americans can choose among three broad visions for their country in relation to the outside world.
Cosmopolitan: America "welcomes the world, its ideas, its goods, and, most importantly, its people." In this vision, the country strives to become multiethnic, multiracial, and multicultural. The United Nations and other international organizations increasingly influence American life. Diversity is an end in itself; national identity declines in importance. In brief, the world reshapes America.
Imperial: America reshapes the world. This impulse is fueled by a belief in "the supremacy of American power and the universality of American values." America's unique military, economic, and cultural might bestows on it the responsibility to confront evil and to order the world. Other peoples are assumed basically to share the same values as Americans; Americans should help them attain those values. America is less a nation than "the dominant component of a supranational empire."
National: "America is different" and its people recognize and accept what distinguishes them from others. That difference results in large part from the country's religious commitment and its Anglo-Protestant culture. The nationalist outlook preserves and enhances those qualities that have defined America from its inception. As for people who are not white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, they "become Americans by adopting its Anglo-Protestant culture and political values."
Mr. Huntington sums up this triad of choices: "America becomes the world. The world becomes America. America remains America."
The left tends to the cosmopolitan vision; the right divides among imperialists and nationalists. Personally, I have wavered between the latter two, sometimes wanting the United States to export its humane political message and at other times fearful that such efforts, however desirable, will overextend the American reach and end in disaster.
Which brings us back to Iraq and the choices at hand.
Cosmopolitans reject the unilateralism of the Iraq campaign, despise the notion of guiding the Iraqis to "a free and peaceful" country, and deeply suspect the Bush administration's motives. They demonstrate on the streets and hurl invectives from television studios.
Imperialists are guiding American policy toward Iraq, where they see a unique opportunity not just to rehabilitate that country but to spread American ways through the Middle East.
And nationalists find themselves, as usual, somewhere in between. They sympathize with the imperial vision but worry about its practicalities and consequences. As patriots, they take pride in American accomplishments and hope U.S. influence will spread. But they have two worries: that the outside world is not ready to Americanize and Americans are unwilling to spend the blood and treasure to carry off an imperial mission.
Mr. Huntington is clearly a nationalist. Less clearly, so am I. I believe the U.S. goal in Iraq should be more narrowly restricted to protecting American interests. I hope the Iraqi population benefits from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and can make a fresh start, while I reject the rehabilitation of Iraq as the standard by which to judge the American venture there.
The American military machine is not an instrument for social work, nor for remaking the world. It is, rather, the primary means by which Americans protect themselves from external violent threats. The U.S. goal cannot be a free Iraq, but an Iraq that does not endanger Americans.