American Interventionism from 2001:
The Trouble in Securing Peace Through War

by sekicho

As John Ikenberry so aptly stated, the United States is at the center of a world of its own making. It has always considered itself to be the central power of the Free World, and the world's foremost opponent of authoritarianism. Indeed, when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, and the age-old Cold War was finally over, it seemed to many as though America was the "city on a hill" it had always wanted to become, and that it would lead Western liberal democracy into an eon of Pax Americana. National defense became a peripheral issue in politics, and the military became a tool for protecting energy supplies and humanitarian concerns. However, since the events of September 11, when twenty men in four civil airliners shattered the national security of a state boasting the planet's most capable military force, the administration of George W. Bush has taken to heart the idea that "the best defense is a good offense," and its interventionist policy today is cause for alarm.

Samuel Huntington argues that the United States sees itself as a "benevolent hegemon," bringing the light of American virtue to the darkest corners of the earth, but that this idea is contradictory to reality. Many Americans forget that only a few days before September 11, the US delegation had walked out of a United Nations conference on racism, in opposition to an international call for an examination of Israel's record vis a vis the Palestinians. Before that, they had supported regimes obviously in conflict with American values, backing communist China's admission into the WTO and supporting dictatorships in Latin America and Africa. In short, the United States has only supported egalitarianism and liberal democracy when it has been in the United States' best interest: it has bent other states' well-being to suit its own needs. This oft-malignant "benevolent hegemony" does not endear the United States to other states, and it was, indeed, one of the principal causes of the 9/11 attacks that claimed so many American lives.

According to Josef Joffe, international power does not have to come at the expense of international standing. Britain between 1588 and 1914 had a role in Europe similar to America's role in the modern world: a strong industrial base, a powerful and versatile military force, and a penchant for isolationism when no clear external threat presented itself. When Britain mustered its power against a growing hegemon on the Continent, it would do so through swift diplomacy, saving its military might for its most dangerous enemies—the Napoleons and Hitlers. Yet British forces would deploy, fight, and go home, which kept them from inciting extended grudges with other countries. The United States, on the other hand, has its men and women on the ground in Britain, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and a long list of other locales that haven't seen a serious war in years. These bases and personnel largely exist to project America's unilateral decisions across the globe, not to defend against any specific external threat. While Britain was seen as an interstatal balancer, America is seen as an international conquistador: as Huntington noted, two-thirds of the world sees the United States as the single greatest threat to its many societies.

Huntington also noted that the societies feeling this threat from American hegemony are all outside of "the West," the core of Ikenberry's peaceful "liberal democratic order" that emerged in the wake of World War II and continued after the end of the Cold War. Ever since the mujaheddin's war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Islamic world has been mobilized to the same extent as the Western liberal democratic world: they have stood behind their brethren from Indonesia to Bosnia, and have defended Saddam Hussein as "our bloody tyrant" in the face of American intervention. Indeed, al-Qaeda, who fired the first shots of the War on Terror and continue to be America's biggest enemy in the shadows, describe themselves as "holy warriors" against a "Judeo-Christian alliance" that threatens their well-being.

The United States has justified its policies in Afghanistan and Iraq by stating that intervention is necessary to avert potential attacks on the American homeland—yet America's policymakers neglect to notice that it was global intervention that led to attacks on the American homeland. Joffe compares pre-World War I Germany to the modern United States: Otto von Bismarck sought to ensure Germany's security by keeping it allied with the rest of Europe against its natural enemy in the balance of power, France—but his alliance network eventually sparked a continent-wide war when it was attacked in the Balkans, and led to Germany's defeat at the hands of the Allies. America, too, attempts to keep order through its alliances, and specifically through its troop deployments: indeed, President Bush defends an invasion of Iraq by stating that "Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work." When America is engaged on such an extensive global scale in the name of "securing the peace," it only creates more chances to attack and be attacked.

Huntington says that, because of its "global unilateralism," the United States is more likely to become out of step with the rest of the world than withdrawn from the rest of the world. Joffe says that Europe's hegemonists enjoyed "endless war and, finally, defeat," and that "great powers remain great if they promote their interests by serving those of others." America has been stepping on other peoples' interests for too long, and continuing this policy will only result in more, and more violent, attacks on the American people and the American ideal.

international relations
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