Once again, East is East and West is confused. While the Soviet Union pursues its objectives in the Persian Gulf with a free hand, the United States and its allies find discord and differences as they join to force Iraq out of Kuwait.
In one important aspect, nothing has changed for the Soviet Union. Moscow did not bother to consult and coordinate with its "allies" when it claimed to have some. Now the Soviets do not even go through the motions.
Americans meanwhile are muttering into their gasoline tanks about the rest of the world sponging off U.S. might and treasure. The call rises for the Europeans and Japanese to do more. Congressmen returning here from summer recess and reporters out interviewing folks in the Midwest about the Mideast find concern soaring about faithless foreigners taking advantage of America's trusting nature and natural riches.
This intense reaction, while understandable, misses two essential points. The first is that America's allies in Europe and the Middle East are making significant contributions to the international campaign to rescue Kuwait from physical and political annihilation. The notable and unfortunate exception is West Germany, which is preoccupied with reunification and the December elections. (For Helmut Kohl and Hans-Dietrich Genscher, it is still reelection uber alles.) Japan, after a faltering start, is chipping in.
Americans feel more imposed upon than ever, despite this better-than-usual response in the politics of burden sharing. President Bush's proposal to write off $7 billion in Egyptian debts that would never have been repaid anyway is a clever accounting maneuver to clear the books at an opportune moment. But the write-off stirs anger among American taxpayers who get no such relief at home.
The misunderstanding about burden sharing is rooted in the fundamentally different images of each other held by America and its allies. The arrival of the Persian Gulf crisis, as the Cold War ends, should bring a less emotional sorting out of respective responsibilities and rights in the global political and economic system that took form after World War II.
Americans complain that they should not be expected to shoulder the world's problems at a time when their own domestic problems are so serious. The complaint implies that our international involvement is a net drain on American resources and the rest of the world contributes nothing or little to American well-being.
But for many abroad, the leading role America plays in this and other international crises is a natural consequence of the rights that America asserts in a global political and economic system that has been shaped and run by American values -- and needs more than any other single nation.
The Financial Times of London -- no radical anti-American sheet by anyone's measure -- questions periodically why the United States should be allowed to go on "hogging the surplus capital of the world" to finance its budget and trade deficits. The willingness of Japanese, German and other foreign investors and lenders to help Americans live $150 billion a year beyond their means is perhaps the most immediate measure of how America benefits (in the short run, and at a price) from the international system it leads.
But the British newspaper's point is one that is too rarely considered by Americans. Dollars, Deutsche marks and yen sent to the United States are not available to pay for consumer goods or infrastructure investment in other countries that also need to import foreign capital.
While we focus on the reality that the Europeans and Japanese are more dependent on the energy resources Americans are protecting in the Persian Gulf, many abroad see another compelling reality: Americans, who make up 5 percent of the world's population, consume 24.1 percent of the world's energy supplies.
Americans reject high gasoline taxes and other forms of discipline that Europeans and Japanese use to cut petroleum consumption by industry, government and individuals. Lacking the room to maneuver that the United States felt it had, West Germany and Japan rode out the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979 and made their industries even more energy-efficient.
Because the dollar is the international reserve currency, the United States has been able to run budget and trade deficits that no other country has ever been allowed to accumulate without being disciplined, and to reap other special benefits of the global financial system the United States dominates. If allowed to spread, the Persian Gulf crisis would present a direct challenge to that system and thus to international stability.
The American stake in global stability is clear. It has acted to protect its interests. So have most of its allies, although on a much smaller scale. The Europeans and Japanese need to up their ante in this particular crisis, while the Americans need to lower the resentment index in their dealings with foreigners.
The enemy is Saddam Hussein, not each other.