Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

The Hawkish Cult of “Leadership” (II)

If the world is actually mostly stable and at peace, U.S. "leadership" as the hawks define it isn't really necessary or indispensable after all.
Joe Lieberman

Joe Lieberman wrote a predictably tedious op-ed calling for American “leadership.” One interesting thing about it is that he repeated a claim that Sens. Sasse and Ernst made in their own appeal for hawkish “leadership” last week:

In a conversation with the leader of a European ally, some of us asked what the United States could do to be most helpful to him and his country. His answer was direct: “Elect a president who understands the importance of American leadership in the world.”

So now we know that this quote comes from the leader of a “European ally,” which still isn’t very helpful, but it makes it a little easier to interpret. European pleading for U.S. “leadership” usually takes one of two forms: some European governments use this line to guilt the U.S. into doing things that they could or should do for themselves, and some use it to lure the U.S. into pursuing risky policies that they favor but don’t have the means to carry out. Some eastern European governments want to take a hard line with Russia, and so they will frame U.S. reluctance to pursue this risky course as a lack of “leadership” that needs to be remedied. If that’s what the allied leader meant, Americans should ignore what he says. Some other European governments define U.S. “leadership” as taking on the burden of defending Europe when European governments have more than enough resources to provide for their own security. This is nothing less than asking the U.S. to assume the responsibilities that European governments should already have taken up over the last twenty-five years.

As Lieberman makes clear in the rest of his argument, his definition of “leadership” is to have the U.S. meddle and take sides in foreign conflicts. Specifically, he wants the U.S. to be more activist and provocative in Ukraine and Syria. That’s not surprising, since that is the sort of thing Lieberman argued for throughout his career in the Senate. It is notable that Lieberman has to rely on at least one very false claim Lieberman needs to make to support his case for more “leadership.”

For instance, Lieberman wrongly asserts that “there is more instability in the world today than at any time since the end of World War II.” That would surely come as news to nations in South and Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, eastern Europe, Latin America, and across most of Africa. Lieberman is hardly the only one to spread this falsehood in the service of pushing for more intervention and meddling overseas. Sasse and Ernst said something similar, and they were also wrong. The belief that there is more instability than at any time in the past seventy (or even the last thirty) years is simply a lie, and it is a remarkably transparent one.

It’s important to appreciate how central this lie is to the larger argument for increased “leadership.” If the world is actually mostly stable and at peace, and if it is suffering from far fewer conflicts than it has in generations (and it is), U.S. “leadership” as the hawks define it isn’t really necessary or indispensable after all. Unless they can con the public into believing that the world is falling to pieces, hawkish interventionists can’t make the case that the constant meddling overseas that they want is in the American interest, because it clearly isn’t.



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