Feb 22, 2007

Manifest Destiny is alive... and not so well

The New York Review of Books has one of the best articles on American foreign policy I've ever read. William Pfaff deconstructs America's interventionist policies and turns them into a kind of neo-Manifest Destiny. It's a brilliant essay that explains many of the country's missteps, particularly since the Cold War and including the war in Iraq.

Pfaff argues that we inherited a fondness for a kind of messianic belief in our own superiority -- a god-given mission for America to save the world. But that has resulted in us being embroiled in wars and occupations that never should have happened:

Today's major democracies are all advanced societies; in some ways, in social standards, distribution of wealth and opportunity, the provision of universal health care and free or affordable education, and certain technologies and industries, many are more advanced than the United States. They are willing to cooperate with the United States in matters of common concern, as they have for a half-century, but not to subordinate themselves to Washington. They are aware that this administration's effort to establish a system of Central Asian and Middle Eastern client states (the "Greater Middle East") has already produced two ruinous and continuing wars, and worsened situations in Lebanon, Gaza and the Palestinian territories, and Israel.

Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins recently asked why, if other nations really objected to an American effort to establish a new international hegemony, there has been no effort to build a military coalition to oppose it. He describes the United States as already dominating the world, much as the elephant (in his genial comparison) dominates the African savanna: the calm herbivorous goliath that keeps the carnivores at a respectful distance, while supporting "a wide variety of other creatures—smaller mammals, birds and insects—by generating nourishment for them as it goes about the business of feeding itself."[6] Everyone knows the United States is not a predatory power, he says, so everyone profits from the stability the elephant provides, at American taxpayer expense.

Elephants are also known to trample people, uproot crops and gardens, topple trees and houses, and occasionally go mad (hence, "rogue nations"). Americans, moreover, are carnivores. The administration has attacked the existing international order by renouncing inconvenient treaties and conventions and reintroducing torture, and arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, into advanced civilization. Where is the stability that Mandelbaum tells us has been provided by this American military and political deployment? The doomed and destructive war of choice in Iraq, continuing and mounting disorder in Afghanistan following another such war, war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as well as between Hamas and Fatah, accompanied by continuing crisis in Palestine, with rumbles of new American wars of choice with Iran or Syria, and the emergence of a nuclear North Korea —all demonstrate deep international instability.

No comments: