The Delusions of Interventionists
Damon Linker comments on the “war madness” in D.C.:
The past week has been an immensely clarifying — and profoundly demoralizing — one in American politics. It has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the country’s foreign policy establishment, along with its leading center-right and center-left politicians and pundits, are hopelessly, perhaps irredeemably, deluded about the role of the United States in the world.
Linker is right that many of these people are hopelessly deluded about America’s role in the world, and this has been confirmed once again, but I don’t know how there could have been any doubts about this, especially after the last four years. When Obama ultimately decided not to bomb the Syrian government in September 2013, many foreign policy professionals and pundits excoriated him then and later for making a supposedly unforgivable error, and some of them wove elaborate, nonsensical theories to explain how that one decision was responsible for myriad evils in the years that followed. Meanwhile, many of the same people were pleased with or indifferent to other more consequential decisions that Obama made to launch illegal wars or to aid the Saudis in their atrocious campaign in Yemen. Initiating and joining wars are considered the default, “normal” response in Washington, and refusing to start one is treated as the weird, monstrous aberration. That has been on almost constant display for at least fifteen years and arguably much longer than that.
The conceit that Syria was Obama’s biggest foreign policy failure captured everything wrong with the way these people view America’s role in the world. They took for granted that the U.S. had “allowed” the war in Syria to progress, because they assumed that it was within our government’s power to stop it and Obama just lacked the will to do it, and they blamed him not for the things he did to make the war worse but instead faulted him for refusing to do more. These are people that seem to value meddling for its own sake, and they are also bizarrely confident that U.S. interventions make things in a given country better despite multiple examples and decades of experience that say otherwise. Interventionists of various stripes not only believe in inherent benevolence of our government when it “acts” (i.e., kills people and destroys things in other countries), but they credit it with competence for stabilizing other countries and halting foreign wars that it plainly lacks.
Linker goes on to express his amazement that many pundits and professionals won’t call acts of war what they are, but it is typical for interventionists to minimize the costs and risks of their preferred policies. They naturally shy away from admitting that they are demanding war against other countries, and prefer to use the more generic “action” or “muscular response” language that many news outlets are only too willing to echo. Linker says “their thinking is really a form of ideological propaganda that places the United States in a different category from every other country in the world,” and he’s right about that, too. Of course, that arrogance is baked into the self-serving idea that the U.S. should act as an enforcer of “world order.” The rules that limit the behavior of other states aren’t applied to the U.S. (and only rarely to states aligned with us), and when our government brazenly violates them as it has in Kosovo, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria the response from interventionists is to cheer because our government is “leading.”