Tell Bernie: Just Say No to Playing Global Cop
25 July 16
ake up, America!” cried retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn, addressing Donald Trump’s Republican convention last week. “There is no substitute for American leadership and exceptionalism.”
“This is a time for American leadership,” Hillary Clinton told the Council on Foreign Relations in November, just after she launched her campaign for president. “No other country can rally the world to defeat ISIS and win the generational struggle against radical jihadism. Only the United States can mobilize common action on a global scale, and that’s exactly what we need. The entire world must be part of this fight, but we must lead it.”
“I believe America is exceptional,” President Barack Obama told the United Nations in 2013. “In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interest of all.”
Caught up in their self-justifying praise of America as the indispensable nation, those in power have long taken as gospel that they should police the world, whether under the banner of a crusading war on terror or an anti-communist crusade. Their urge to intervene as the top global cop is deep-seated. During America’s war in Vietnam, a young radical named Bernie Sanders and his generation of student activists fought to root it out. We failed. Today, the same call for the US to do constabulary duty worldwide has become the go-to maxim for almost every pol, pundit, and savant who wants to be “taken seriously.”
“There are always going to be parts of the world that are in turmoil, and some of those will export their instability in various ways — terror and refugees being the most obvious today,” writes Fareed Zakaria, an elite pundit who knows precisely what serious policy-makers think. “When there has been a global superpower able to limit the chaos, it has often proved useful.”
Zakaria brings a telltale bit of history to bear: “Britain played that role in the 19th century, when, as the historian Max Boot pointed out to me, ‘there was a British military intervention somewhere in the world every year of Queen Victoria's reign.’ America has had its own tradition of limited interventions. ‘Between 1800 and 1934,’ Boot has written, ‘the U.S. Marines staged 180 landings abroad.’”
Boot still defends George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, while Zakaria shows far greater caution. History, he reminds us, “is replete with examples of ill-chosen interventions in support of nasty regimes, with unintended consequences and creeping escalations that produced greater instability and weakened the superpower, lessening its ability to act in central parts of the global system.”
Zakaria favors more limited, more carefully chosen interventions. “Were the United States bogged down in another major war in the Middle East,” he warns, “it would have less capacity to help its Asian allies deter Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea – which could threaten peace in the world’s most dynamic region.”
Much less gung-ho than Hillary Clinton, Zakaria is more in tune with Barack Obama and his whack-a-mole approach to fighting Islamist terrorism. But, no less than Obama, Zakaria epitomizes a liberal imperialism which – he insists ‒ “reflects the realities of being the world’s leading power.” It also offers a rational-sounding strategy for playing global cop.
The flaw is obvious, though apparently not to liberal imperialists, who live in a mental construct of their own making. What is realistic about using even limited military power in Iraq and Syria to stop terror attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, not to mention Brussels, Paris, Nice, Bamako, and Istanbul? What is rational about pursuing endless wars in Islamic lands that only encourage American and European jihadis – whether on their own or directed by al-Qaeda or Islamic State – to act out their murderous fantasies?
From Osama bin Laden’s founding of al-Qaeda in the 1990s to today’s Islamic State, the terrorist masterminds have openly declared their intention to provoke the US and Europe into a global military confrontation, a weaponized clash of civilizations. Geared up to play global cop, American leaders and their European allies have given the Islamist provocateurs precisely what they want. This has helped the Islamists to recruit far more people to their side. And, on the home front, it has fueled anti-Muslim rage that demagogues like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen can use to gain power.
How stupid can the liberal imperialists be? I would rank them right up there with the neocons who surrounded George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld.
This week in Philadelphia the Democratic Party will elect the country’s leading liberal imperialist as its candidate for President. It’s too late to stop that. But it’s not too late for Bernie Sanders to raise his prophetic voice and urge America not to let her or anyone else play global cop. And it’s not too late for those of us who continue his revolution to make anti-imperialism an explicit part of our playbook.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold.
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