The US Obligation to Its Overwhelming Power


It’s
great to be the most powerful nation in the world, but certain obligations come
along with the gun-belt and six-shooters. That fact is most clearly evident in
the recent terrorist acts in Paris and the ongoing migrant catastrophe in
Europe.

A pretty good
definition of obligation is “the social
force that binds you to the courses of action demanded by that force
.”
Military primacy qualifies, as it’s about as powerful a ‘social force’ as you
can imagine. Both the Paris attacks and migration chaos are social forces writ
large. Both trace their origins to the long trail of pandemonium in the Middle
East and Africa and neither France nor the EU are major players on that stage.
It has been and remains primarily a US show.
But the
blow-back has been far from equally shared. Europe struggles with millions
arriving on their shores, while America’s president can’t find the political
means to accept even a scanty ten thousand. Meanwhile, millions more will be
coming to Europe because it is the
nearest refuge
. Geography is trumping all else, while President Obama
chastises Europe for not doing enough.

So
let’s go back a bit in history for context—forgive me, it’s what old people do
(because we were there). Most of our Middle East policy was deal-making and the
deals were made for immediate and future access to oil. It’s not a pretty
story:
During
the 2nd World War we secured North African and Middle East oil for
the allies, replaced the Brit influence in that area and, like a bull terrier, never
let go.
And
then came the CIA, an organization Harry Truman declared to have “diverted from its original assignment,
becoming an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government, compounding
our difficulties in several explosive areas
.”
Well, I guess
and explode they did. Truman made
that comment a half-century ago in 1963 and wrote a great deal about his
concerns over a CIA gone rogue. Put that alongside his successor, Dwight
Eisenhower, warning to beware the military industrial complex (whose complexity
now swallows 52% of our national budget).
The combination amounts to a shadow government and we never set out
to be a nation of shadow governments.
Off and running, the CIA troublemakers and
military industrial dudes pursued policies of destabilizing governments, arming
despots and never dreamed up a war they didn’t love. Across South and Central
America, Africa, the Middle and Far East—dictators were supported, democracies
extinguished and insurgents armed to meet whatever the hell served their
purposes above those of America.
Vietnam, Sandinistas, Iraq against Iran,
Russia in Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Israel, Syria and Saudi—no stone or grain
of sand was left unmolested in their warped vision of freedom.
Tongue-in-cheek,
George Carlin once asked, “If
crime-fighters fight crime and fire-fighters fight fire, what do
freedom-fighters fight
?”
We armed the world to the teeth (at an
obscene profit) and then stood back amazed when they began to shoot at one
another. In war after war we fought a new enemy–armed with our military
leftovers–and never won a single one of them. ISIS now bounces around Iraq,
raising hell and cutting off heads on-board US military vehicles.
I conclude from this that the current
migration from the hell that North Africa and the Middle East have become is entirely the consequence of American
misappropriation of its strength
. That’s too mild a term, but it will have
to do.
In decade after decade and nation after
nation, we brutalized populations, destroyed infrastructures and existing
governments. Then we left and set to work making our own nation increasingly
fearful. A nation in fear is a nation willing to pay any price and the price
was unending war. Meanwhile, our arms-producers counted their money and the CIA
planned their next move. Ukraine? Why the hell not? Syria? Sounds good to them.
If that is true (and many will argue the
point), then we have failed in our obligation to clean up our messes in any
remote proportion to our national tendency to shit-the-bed.
It is not
Europe’s responsibility to handle the migrants headed their way—it is ours, America’s. Europe merely has the
misfortune to be the closest refuge for those we have caused to flee. Millions
are in line and millions yet to come. Those
millions
should be rightfully assigned to fulfilling America’s moral obligation.
Yet where are the John McCains and Lindsey
Grahams when that call comes?
Hiding in the cloakroom between blustery
statements of ever-increased warfare, I presume. Neither of them ever faced a
war they didn’t love or failed to proclaim we would have won had we only escalated the terms. Neither of them
(and the many who join their point of view) would take in a refugee or free a
Guantanamo inmate. Neither have an apology for their continuing wrongheadedness
in the face of history.
We are a better nation than our recent history
would indicate. Time now—way past time—to step up and take responsibility for
our errors of judgment. If America continues to fail test after test of
responsibility for its actions, then it has nothing but raw power to sustain it.
We will then have passed from international Beacon
of Hope
to World’s Most Feared nation
in the course of but a few short decades.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *