Opposing the Motion: This House Regrets the Founding of the United States of America

April 26, 2007

On April 26, 2007, Senior Fellow Peter Rodman took part in an Oxford Union debate on the motion: “This House Regrets the Founding of the United States of America.” Speaking in opposition, Rodman defended the U.S. role in the world and argued that the unity of the West is as crucial as ever, since Western values are under siege from new forces of extremism.

  • A wise Frenchman – not necessarily an oxymoron – said a few years back that if you stripped away the anti-Americanism, there was nothing left in French political thought on either the Left or the Right. I hope that is not true of this country, or of this House.
  • Anti-Americanism is a crutch, an evasion, a substitute for thought, a way for some to blame others for their own failures. It’s a jumble of resentments and insecurities masquerading as analysis. As Lenin might have put it, it’s an “infantile disorder.”
  • And even the French may be getting bored with it. If Sarkozy wins, it’ll be the ultimate put-down: Anti-Americanism becoming passé!
  • But, alas, it seems to be alive and well in some quarters, among proponents of this motion this evening.
  • I share the regret expressed that our Communist colleague [General Secretary of the UK Communist Party] didn’t make it this evening. I don’t know about this country, but in America it was said that a majority of dues-paying members of the Communist Party USA were FBI undercover agents … which made J. Edgar Hoover the largest single financial supporter of Communism in America. If our Comrade had shown up, I would have asked him ….
  • But we have heard from the two gentlemen representing the 7th century, clearly uncomfortable in the 21st. They were a bit reticent this evening about their own program – Shar’ia law – which they want to impose on you. That is, misogyny, homophobia, stoning of adulterers, banning sex and alcohol – and other ideas that I’m sure will go over very well in this university environment. It’s Borat, but without the sense of humor.
  • But Islamism (like Communism) is a thoroughly reactionary ideology. We defeated one; we will defeat the other.
  • And by “we,” I mean all of us in this House and in this modern world who cherish democracy, open societies, the liberty of the individual, modernity, and political and intellectual and cultural and religious freedom.
  • Radical Islamists, like the Communists, despise America because we have been one of the main barriers to their imposing their doctrines by force.
  • They despise America not for what we do wrong but for what we do right.
  • That is the choice presented here tonight. It’s not even really a debate about America. It’s a debate about what you in this House most value, what kind of future you want for yourselves.
  • The values of the West are under siege again, from some of these forces of extremism. You saw it on 7 July. Never has the West more needed to stay together.
  • Nor is the debate about so-called neo-conservatism. We’ve heard some rubbish on this subject. But the idea that the United States stands for some ideals in this world beyond its own selfish national interest is a very old idea. It’s not the invention of Leo Strauss. It’s the idea of Thomas Jefferson, of Woodrow Wilson, of Franklin Roosevelt, of John Kennedy, of Ronald Reagan.
  • For 100 years, America has spent its blood and treasure: to liberate Europe and Asia in two World Wars; to rally the West against Soviet imperialism; to protect small nations around the world which fear domination by larger neighbors, or brutal tyrants.
  • In Darfur, as we speak, it’s the U.S. that’s in the lead organizing a UN/African Union peacekeeping force. And 65% of the world’s food aid to Sudan is American.
  • People call us “imperialists”? Well, if America is an empire, it’s the first empire in history that’s always looking for an exit strategy. How many times have we been criticized not for intervening, but for not intervening when there is some crisis or some disaster?
  • [A few points in response to several criticisms of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo:]
  • Remember that the abuses of Abu Ghraib were not uncovered by journalists but by an internal investigation by the U.S. Army.
  • The 385 detainees at GTMO are people you wouldn’t want released: They’re the hard-core; they’re the ones sworn to kill again if they get out, that their own governments wouldn’t know what to do with if they were released.
  • But we are a nation of law. Our Supreme Court and Congress wanted the procedures changed, and we complied.
  • The International Committee of the Red Cross has access 24/7. They are visited regularly by diplomats from their own countries, members of our Congress, etc.
  • I opened by quoting a Frenchman, and I’ll close with another – Charles de Gaulle himself. He said, of France, that a country has to believe in itself before it can mean something to others. That is our original sin, if you will. But it is no sin.
  • We have faults, but in a system of law and freedom we correct them.
  • We dare great things. Sometimes we stumble, but we have done much good – helping defend the freedoms we are exercising in this House tonight.
  • This evening has been great fun, great sport. But I ask you for one moment of seriousness as you pass through those division doors [to vote]. Consider that the values of the free nations are under siege once again, in this century, in another great struggle in which our two nations are allies.