For a generation, the U.S. government, public figures, and the press have been affixing the label “terrorist” or “dangerous extremist” to their least favorite people and causes. Setting subjective preferences over reality has been detrimental to our safety as well as politically divisive. It is past time for our body politic to make such designations in a democratically responsible way.
The New York Times’ account of Washington’s embarrassed secrecy about the U.S. military’s encounter with several thousand chemical weapons in Iraq, and the often callous medical treatment provided to the troops who dealt with them during the 2003-20011 occupation, is incomplete.
Not mentioned by the Times is that our special operations forces had run into these weapons in 2002 during secret, pre-invasion reconnaissance missions under CIA operational command. At least one U.S. officer suffered kidney failure after coming upon a suspect site, ordering his men to stand back as he entered to check it out and collapsing upon exiting. Discharged on medical disability, he has been on dialysis awaiting a kidney transplant since 2004. He and other special forces were warned—more categorically than the occupying troops discussed by the Times—that divulging what happened to them would be treated as a serious breach of “top secret” security.
Acting in the manner of sorcerers’ apprentices over several decades, the makers of U.S. foreign policy have contributed to turning many of the tensions among the world’s peoples into disasters. These American-caused disasters diminish the respect for America upon which our own peace depends. The trouble comes not from any errors of detail, but rather from disregarding the fundamentals of statecraft. The remedy lies in paying attention to them. Herewith, a glance at the U.S. government’s responsibility for the disasters now unfolding along the Islamic State’s bloody edges.
“There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to fourscore years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.” Thus wrote John Quincy Adams in his diary in October 1846, sixteen months before his death. That diary is a principal reason why Fred Kaplan’s biography is so big, thorough, and so rich in quotes from the most primary of sources. Since the rest of the folks who mattered in Adams’ life also wrote copiously about matters personal, social, political, and intellectual, Kaplan was able to present…
With the Islamic State’s invitation to sympathizers everywhere to join in murdering Americans, U.S. public opinion favors destroying this nefarious force. Accordingly, politicians of both parties—especially those up for election—are competing to see who can issue the most bellicose statements.
But popular sentiment notwithstanding, there is no reason to believe that our ruling class has learned anything new, that it is shedding the ways that have opened hunting season on Americans, or that it is setting about destroying America’s enemies.
In response to: How to Secure America’s Peace
Walter McDougall writes: “Congress and the American people…want to believe their ‘indispensable nation’ can be a ‘benevolent hegemon’ doing good on the cheap and doing well by doing good.” As a description of how Americans view our role among nations, this is arguable. But it is a fair summation of our foreign policy establishment‘s view of America’s proper role among nations, of which liberal internationalists, neoconservatives, and realists give particular versions. The terms “indispensable nation” and “benevolent hegemon” characterize Mackubin Owens’ thesis as well. The part of McDougall’s exemplary career as a historian that has dealt with international affairs has been…
Ruling class pundits make much of the fact that Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan have joined the Obama administration’s campaign of bombing the Islamic State. Also noted by the same talking heads is that some 5,000 so-called moderate Syrians are being trained to fight against Islamic State next year. Most admit the obvious: no one can imagine how these air strikes—few, against structures, mostly when these are unoccupied—can inconvenience the Islamic State seriously, never mind destroy. Yes, Sunni Arab counties have decided to take military action against the Sunni Arab Islamic State. But what is consequential about actions that have illusory consequences? What explains our government’s pretense that an alliance to accomplish un-consequential things is itself consequential?
President Obama told the nation that he, on his own presidential authority, has committed the American people to actions in the Middle East that common sense calls war. But he did not call it war. He directed those actions against persons who call themselves Islamic but who he said were not Islamic, who rule a state with the (often enthusiastic) consent of its people but who Obama said were not a state. He said that allies largely would carry this campaign’s weight. But the countries he mentioned have made clear that they will do no such thing. This makes no sense, and augurs further disasters abroad.
President Barack Obama drew criticism from our ruling class for acknowledging that “we don’t have a strategy yet” for putting an end to the Islamic State that calls for American blood by internetting the beheading of American captives, as well as for his complaisance with China’s harassment of an American aircraft over international waters and with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Sooner or later, Obama is sure to order some actions with regard to each of these situations. But even more surely, these will worsen problems rather than fix them because Obama, like the ruling class he represents, does not connect means with ends, wishes with actions.