Like both Presidents Bush and Obama, Clinton cannot imagine a world in which the United States is not a global policeman. “If the United States does not lead,” she announced during a discussion about ISIS, Syria, and Iraq. “There is not another leader. There is a vacuum.” Quick question, not just for Clinton but for virtually all the Republican candidates other than Rand Paul: Are the conflicts in the Middle East mostly attributable to a lack of American involvement in the region over the past 10, 20, and 30 years? ~ Nick Gillespie in Reason
Gillespie’s question at the end does raise this point: starting wars and helping them spread is not a mark of leadership, nor is it a sign of good policing. When a militarized Germany caused a Balkan war to spread in 1914, and started another one in 1939, no one called that leadership. War making does not enhance your empire, either, when you take on powers you cannot defeat. The United States disbanded the Iraqi military in 2003, and has demonstrated for almost thirteen years that it has not the means, knowledge, or will to defeat the armies that rose from the one it disbanded.
Our war against Saddam Hussein, which was neither a police action nor an act of leadership, did create a vacuum. No matter how much the United States pretended to return sovereignty to purple-fingered voters in Baghdad, the war against Baghdad shattered Iraq. It quickly broke into three pieces: Sunni west, Kurdish north, and Shiite southeast. It has not seen a day of unity since U. S. soldiers pulled Hussein’s statue off its pedestal. No one in all of Iraq pretends otherwise. It underwent a horrible bloodbath in 2006, and has not seen a day of peace in the last twelve years. Syria’s civil war coalesced with Iraq’s. Then – with the arrival of ISIS – one became an extension of the other.
Vacuums fill quickly. Trying to rule from the Green Zone, the United States actually took over Hussein’s palace in Baghdad, apparently unaware or careless about how the Iraqi people would perceive a move like that. Imagine an Iraqi advisor speaking to an American general: “You want to locate your headquarters where?” American soldiers sat in Saddam’s swimming pool while helicopters and gunships patrolled the countryside.
Outside the Green Zone, Sunni and Shia militias grew in number and size, as Iran’s power in the east and south increased. By the time the United States departed the Green Zone and other bases in 2011, no one outside of Washington even pretended that it left behind an actual country. The pretense of a country that could still somehow repair itself even tried to outlive the fall of Mosul to ISIS in 2014. A year and a half after that disaster, even Washington has dropped that amazing bit of dishonesty.
How, after all of these events, can Hillary Clinton call for more U. S. ‘leadership’ in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter? Where does she think the king’s writ, or rather the global policeman’s authority is still good? Perhaps she and her State Department advisors equate leadership with conquest, which would show how truly corrupt our foreign policy has become. U. S. leadership – so evident, beneficial and necessary after World War II – started to become a strong-arm policy of coercion under Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam. We have not seen much leadership since. Washington may talk about how dearly the world needs its leadership, but no one wants it.
More and more, campaign talk about U. S. leadership begins to sound like claptrap. So do arguments about use of military force against ISIS. Washington’s warlords thought they had a plan for the West’s response to 9/11, but the plan quickly crumbled. Germany’s refusal to support the U. S. attack on Baghdad became the first of many demurrals. Now the United States watches Russia support Iran, and of course Russia’s own interests in Syria. It also observes Russian armed forces with high quality equipment, and morale far superior to that on display in during the Afghan war thirty years ago.
Meantime, the United States supports Iran’s rising power in Iraq, cuts a nuclear deal with Tehran, provokes Moscow’s move into Crimea, alienates its allies, and cannot stop its own evolution toward a closed, untrustworthy police state. Washington deploys its air forces to battle ISIS, reverses its resolution to replace Assad in Damascus, and watches as World War III develops throughout a region it sought to dominate. After Moscow deploys its forces to Syria, Washington sends Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia, where to all appearances, he ask Putin if there’s anything the United States can do to help.
If you observed a leader who acts this way, would you want to follow? Does the United States fulfill an essential role in the world when it blows people up with drone-launched missiles, and keeps doing so with no end in sight? If blowing up families at weddings and funerals in Afghanistan is not enough, we’ll massacre wounded soldiers and staff at a Doctors Without Borders hospital as well. It’s all part of the global war on terror, war without end.
The U. S. delivers the same kind of aerial policing globally that policeman deliver on the streets of its cities: shoot first, take questions later only if someone forces you to. Policies with no rationale beyond coercion and self-protection also have no endpoint. Who detects a strategy or even a general world view to explain why the United States undertakes these actions? Power projection and the propaganda that supports it are not strategies. They are simply demonstrations of U. S. power, on the theory that if people fear you, they will do what you tell them to do.
We’ve all seen how well that principle works. Without an outward looking rationale for anything that it does, Washington operates on one first principle: power justifies itself. That is not leadership. That is intimidation and coercion, which is the way criminal gangs have exercised power whenever they could acquire it. U. S. foreign policy appears incoherent, because it pretends to legitimate moral leadership when in fact it has no ethical underpinning at all. If leaders in the rest of the world, or in the United States doubt that assessment, listen to Donald Trump. The Donald claims he will make America great again, though no one knows what U. S. greatness means anymore. Trump’s last word – again – is lost on no one, as no one believes the United States is great now.
The disturbing thing is, this incoherence extends well beyond campaign claptrap. The United States has demonstrated no elemental competence in world leadership since 9/11. That should not surprise any observer who understands how leaders in Washington wanted to use the 9/11 attacks to begin with. Significantly, the war party in Washington harped on 9/11 repeatedly to justify conquest and empire extension in the Middle East. They openly declared: in light of 9/11, we have to attack any country that threatens us. The goal, they added, is a friendly, democratic state in Iraq. That means the war party wanted to create a client state, where once an unfriendlly dictatorship stood. Perhaps thankfully, Cheney and his cynical brethren did not pretend that empire extension counts as an act of leadership.
When candidates like Hillary Clinton say they want to inflict the United States and its armed forces on other parts of the world, other parts of the world know what to expect now. As the United States becomes more involved with your corner of the globe, you’ll see more surveillance, more drones, more supply depots, more ordnance dropped from the sky, more ordnance detonated everywhere, more helicopters and jet aircraft, more prison camps, more payola, more stooges in the capital, more futile training of your national armies. As detritus from the bottom of the pot boils to the top, torture, executions, and civil war follow.
The United States has no diplomatic or leadership credits left in the bank. It has only bombs and missiles, with plenty of aircraft to drop them. If Clinton, Trump, or any other person wants to advocate for U. S. leadership, let the individual propose a plan that accounts for the country’s behavior during the last twelve years. If any candidate for leadership did that, the person would talk about forgiveness and repentance, not power projection and conquest.