American Imperialism

I am rarely utterly without hope when it comes to the American government. There has hardly ever been a time when I couldn’t find a sensible position being espoused by a major candidate for office. While no candidate is ever perfect, somewhere in the union of their opinions and those of their opponents there lies a combination of opinions that I find, if not favorable, not entirely objectionable. Monday’s debate marked an exception to this norm.

Truly, I was appalled by the displays of bravado and imperialist posturing put on by both President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, neither of them taking truly different perspectives on any significant issue. No matter who is elected, it is clear that our foreign policy will continue as it is: to further American interests in countries that are weaker than us by use of force. Drone strikes? Check. Leaving the possibility of bombing Iran on the table? Check. Defending Israel to the end? Check. When did American policy become entirely about where we are prepared to use force? And, more importantly, why is the answer seemingly “anywhere?”

For a country based on republicanism and certain democratic principles, it is odd that we seem to ignore the fact that no one elected us as the world’s policeman. We carry out many of our operations under the auspices of NATO, or (though increasingly rarely) with the permission of the UN Security Council, but neither is a globally representative organization, neither is elected democratically. We have endowed ourselves with universal jurisdiction in ‘liberation’ where we see fit and the right to decide how other nations should be ruled. Democracy is important in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Egypt, in Libya, and in Syria, but only if they elect people we approve of, and it certainly isn’t important in Saudi Arabia. It isn’t our job to dictate democracy to other countries, and it certainly shouldn’t be our job to bomb.

What troubles me most, though, is how our tactics have changed. We have been in the policeman business since the Second World War, but only recently have we turned to assassination. The war in Afghanistan was, in political rhetoric at least, a massive assassination plot. We went in to get bin Laden, we went in to kill him, and we did. This is what we hear from the President every time he touches on foreign policy. Last year the President ordered the death of Anwar al-Aulaqi, an al-Qaeda commander and an American citizen. It is now our policy to use drones to assassinate those who we have deemed to be terrorists worldwide without trial, without the rule of law, by order of the President alone.
America has carried out assassinations before, but we have never reveled in them so. President Roosevelt didn’t run on his assassination of Isoroku Yamamoto, but President Obama is running on his assassination of bin Laden. We may have abandoned the rule of law in these instances long ago, but when did we start gloating in it?

We have taken up the battle cry of national security, that extraordinary measures can be taken in its name so long as we are in a time of war. But when will we not be at war? We have wars on terror, on drugs, on crime, and these aren’t going away anytime soon. When do we cross the line from global policeman to global mobster, offering protection to our friends and offing our enemies? If we’re not dangerously close to that line, it’s only because we’ve crossed it already.

Our espoused motive is always peace, but what peace has come from our “War on Terror?”

We are preparing to leave Afghanistan, our assassination being done, but the nation is still in turmoil. Our drone strikes seem not to have dissuaded the killing of our ambassador to Libya, nor have they persuaded anyone to lay down arms. Our bombings don’t actually create any peace, they just slowly eliminate everyone who disagrees with us. But boy, is that a long list. We can’t kill our way to peace, so let’s get out of the business. Let’s work to fight oppression as we did Apartheid, with sanctions and diplomacy. Overthrowing governments should not be our privilege, let alone our job. Peace cannot come by force of arms; a Pax Americana won’t be built by drones.

Soon, I hope we will recognize that our own tactics are the tactics of terror: dropping bombs from above on the unsuspecting, on those we hate, in the hopes that we scare them enough into surrendering. Soon, I hope we recognize that our rhetoric about liberty, freedom, and democracy is blunted with every bomb we drop, with every leader we depose. Soon, I hope we remember the immortal words of George Carlin, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”

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