The USA: Last Stop in Western Civilization

"[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."  These are the words of former President John Quincy Adams.

How far we have strayed from that sound maxim?  Intervention has become the hallmark of American foreign policy.  As indicated by nascent American intervention in Libya, America has made spreading the ballot box to distant lands and less fortunate peoples its raison d'être, often with disastrous results and in every case damaging America's ability to project military and economic power when vital to our own national security.

It can even be argued that our efforts to advance democracy have had the exact opposite effect, as demonstrated by the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt.  That worked so well that we're now "helping" Libya and Syria.

At the heart of this new presumption of global responsibility is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes democracy or republican government possible.

Americans have replaced democratic values with the worship of the democratic process.  It is within this paradigm that policy wonks think that imposition of our democratic system on ancient civilizations with a long history of attitudes contrary to democratic culture, will result in democratic values analogous to our own. 

This widely shared view is flawed, for this one simple reason: It is the underlying values that make democracy work, not the process itself, e.g. the Palestinian election of Hamas.  The success of the American democratic republic is rooted in the peculiar nature of its founding, conditions particular to America, such as an Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, common culture, religious beliefs, and the moral fortitude of the framers.

As people living in the most powerful nation on Earth, Americans are constantly saturated by a barrage of media proclaiming it the inherent responsibility of the United States to police the world.  After all, "With great power comes great responsibility."  But while helping those who cannot help themselves is a noble goal, it is not rational to drown our military in endless conflicts and wars which only bring our own people suffering and loss. 

What about our own people?  Does being American disqualify us from the same protection we so lavishly afford other nations? 

Whatever is said about the Bush Administration, one thing is certain: the policies pursued under his Administration saddled the United States with burdens greater than any empire in history.  The Roman Empire collapsed with less strain.  This is not to ignore the successes of the Bush years: Not one more terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, al Qaeda's base of operations destroyed, and an unprecedented economic recovery following a traumatic national shock culminating in a 4 percent unemployment rate. 

But, in his 2002 West Point Address, just one year after 9/11, the President made a startling pledge:

All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price.  We will not leave...the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants.  We will lift this dark threat from our country and our world.

Since when is the US responsible for the "peace of the planet"?  Also, when did our enemy become every "tyrant" and "terrorist" on earth?  As any thinking person can see, our enemies are not "terrorists," which are simply employers of a method, but Islamic radicals.  This proclamation was a stunning departure from historical US policy.  President Bush had just placed America under the weight of empire.  And for what was America now laboring?  

According to Bush, the men and women of the US Armed Forces would now die, not so that Americans could remain free, but so that the world could become democratic.  This is the crux of the now infamous Paul Wolfowitz memorandum, announcing that the US would now act to address "those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations."  The desire to blow things up could also be theoretical justification under this broad construction of American power.

In essence, our leaders have signaled the world that America will intervene in anything and everything that might "unsettle" some arbitrary notion of international balance.  We have just made the world our enemies, and for no reason.  Take President Bush's arrogant and potentially suicidal statement at his second inaugural:

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. [1]

It is not wrong to acknowledge that democracy, when adopted under the right conditions, and in the right cultural setting, can be a very beautiful thing for its participants.  But, the United States simply does not have the strength to coerce democratic governance the world over, and to believe that we can is folly.

And yet, this is the mindset of former President George Bush, who once said, "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and nation.  The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right ... We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people." [2]  But since when does Saudi Arabia's brutal regime affect our security, or Burma's bloodbath?  

It is President Bush's philosophically problematic view that, "Islam ... is consistent with democratic rule."  Islamic Sharia, the legal code followed by many Muslim countries, commands death for those who convert to another religion, such as Christianity.  Under such a model, fifty-one percent of an electorate can pursue genocide against the political minority.  Democratic institutions must be supported with democratic values.

More importantly, while spreading democracy is a noble goal, America cannot sustain the level of economic and military commitment required to achieve such a goal.  Are we really to believe that America can coerce democratic reform in every regime, in every nation, when we can't even eliminate the enemy in a cakewalk scenario like Iraq?  Before America puts an end to the genocide in the Sudan, we have to make sure our own people are safe.  We can't help anybody if we're dead.  And with an army with half its former strength after a decade of cuts, American readiness to face asymmetric threats, e.g. Chinese ascendancy, has diminished considerably.

Despite the vast reduction in military power, America is asked to take on even more commitments, exposing Americans to attack.  But who else will answer the call of oppressed peoples?  Will the European Union, a gaggle of weak and emasculated states more concerned with gender equality and homosexual rights in the military than military lethality?  America is the last stop in Western Civilization.  Looking out for number one is not selfish; it is essential.

It is not the responsibility of the US to settle the squabbles in Bosnia or the Sudan.  It is the constitutional responsibility of our government to defend our people.  The world should be thankful that there is an America to liberate distant peoples from oppression.  But American patronage is not a "right."  It is a privilege, one that could easily evaporate in the event America takes on too much.  Suicide is not a righteous act; it's suicide.  Nobody benefits in the event America collapses from overstretch.

Notes

[1] Bush Second Inaugural, Jan. 20, 2005, transcript, p. 2
[2] Ibid., pp. 2-3

"[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."  These are the words of former President John Quincy Adams.

How far we have strayed from that sound maxim?  Intervention has become the hallmark of American foreign policy.  As indicated by nascent American intervention in Libya, America has made spreading the ballot box to distant lands and less fortunate peoples its raison d'être, often with disastrous results and in every case damaging America's ability to project military and economic power when vital to our own national security.

It can even be argued that our efforts to advance democracy have had the exact opposite effect, as demonstrated by the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power in Egypt.  That worked so well that we're now "helping" Libya and Syria.

At the heart of this new presumption of global responsibility is a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes democracy or republican government possible.

Americans have replaced democratic values with the worship of the democratic process.  It is within this paradigm that policy wonks think that imposition of our democratic system on ancient civilizations with a long history of attitudes contrary to democratic culture, will result in democratic values analogous to our own. 

This widely shared view is flawed, for this one simple reason: It is the underlying values that make democracy work, not the process itself, e.g. the Palestinian election of Hamas.  The success of the American democratic republic is rooted in the peculiar nature of its founding, conditions particular to America, such as an Anglo-Saxon legal tradition, common culture, religious beliefs, and the moral fortitude of the framers.

As people living in the most powerful nation on Earth, Americans are constantly saturated by a barrage of media proclaiming it the inherent responsibility of the United States to police the world.  After all, "With great power comes great responsibility."  But while helping those who cannot help themselves is a noble goal, it is not rational to drown our military in endless conflicts and wars which only bring our own people suffering and loss. 

What about our own people?  Does being American disqualify us from the same protection we so lavishly afford other nations? 

Whatever is said about the Bush Administration, one thing is certain: the policies pursued under his Administration saddled the United States with burdens greater than any empire in history.  The Roman Empire collapsed with less strain.  This is not to ignore the successes of the Bush years: Not one more terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11, al Qaeda's base of operations destroyed, and an unprecedented economic recovery following a traumatic national shock culminating in a 4 percent unemployment rate. 

But, in his 2002 West Point Address, just one year after 9/11, the President made a startling pledge:

All nations that decide for aggression and terror will pay a price.  We will not leave...the peace of the planet at the mercy of a few mad terrorists and tyrants.  We will lift this dark threat from our country and our world.

Since when is the US responsible for the "peace of the planet"?  Also, when did our enemy become every "tyrant" and "terrorist" on earth?  As any thinking person can see, our enemies are not "terrorists," which are simply employers of a method, but Islamic radicals.  This proclamation was a stunning departure from historical US policy.  President Bush had just placed America under the weight of empire.  And for what was America now laboring?  

According to Bush, the men and women of the US Armed Forces would now die, not so that Americans could remain free, but so that the world could become democratic.  This is the crux of the now infamous Paul Wolfowitz memorandum, announcing that the US would now act to address "those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations."  The desire to blow things up could also be theoretical justification under this broad construction of American power.

In essence, our leaders have signaled the world that America will intervene in anything and everything that might "unsettle" some arbitrary notion of international balance.  We have just made the world our enemies, and for no reason.  Take President Bush's arrogant and potentially suicidal statement at his second inaugural:

So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world. [1]

It is not wrong to acknowledge that democracy, when adopted under the right conditions, and in the right cultural setting, can be a very beautiful thing for its participants.  But, the United States simply does not have the strength to coerce democratic governance the world over, and to believe that we can is folly.

And yet, this is the mindset of former President George Bush, who once said, "We will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and nation.  The moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right ... We will encourage reform in other governments by making clear that success in our relations will require the decent treatment of their own people." [2]  But since when does Saudi Arabia's brutal regime affect our security, or Burma's bloodbath?  

It is President Bush's philosophically problematic view that, "Islam ... is consistent with democratic rule."  Islamic Sharia, the legal code followed by many Muslim countries, commands death for those who convert to another religion, such as Christianity.  Under such a model, fifty-one percent of an electorate can pursue genocide against the political minority.  Democratic institutions must be supported with democratic values.

More importantly, while spreading democracy is a noble goal, America cannot sustain the level of economic and military commitment required to achieve such a goal.  Are we really to believe that America can coerce democratic reform in every regime, in every nation, when we can't even eliminate the enemy in a cakewalk scenario like Iraq?  Before America puts an end to the genocide in the Sudan, we have to make sure our own people are safe.  We can't help anybody if we're dead.  And with an army with half its former strength after a decade of cuts, American readiness to face asymmetric threats, e.g. Chinese ascendancy, has diminished considerably.

Despite the vast reduction in military power, America is asked to take on even more commitments, exposing Americans to attack.  But who else will answer the call of oppressed peoples?  Will the European Union, a gaggle of weak and emasculated states more concerned with gender equality and homosexual rights in the military than military lethality?  America is the last stop in Western Civilization.  Looking out for number one is not selfish; it is essential.

It is not the responsibility of the US to settle the squabbles in Bosnia or the Sudan.  It is the constitutional responsibility of our government to defend our people.  The world should be thankful that there is an America to liberate distant peoples from oppression.  But American patronage is not a "right."  It is a privilege, one that could easily evaporate in the event America takes on too much.  Suicide is not a righteous act; it's suicide.  Nobody benefits in the event America collapses from overstretch.

Notes

[1] Bush Second Inaugural, Jan. 20, 2005, transcript, p. 2
[2] Ibid., pp. 2-3

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