Over at Foreign Policy, Will Marshall laments the fact that America’s position of “global leader” is being “strained” by a GOP that is “increasingly in thrall to libertarian ideas.”
If only this renewed skepticism towards unwarranted, unpopular, and illegal wars – he calls it “neo-isolationism” – would go away, Marshall argues, America could be free to pillage the Earth unencumbered, as it has since WWII. The U.S.’s seeming decline in some ways mirrors the end of the British empire, says Marshall, and London’s decision to withdraw from major military bases east of the Suez Canal.
Marshall is the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, “the original ‘idea mill’ for President Bill Clinton’s New Democrats,” their website boasts, and seems upset that Obama wasn’t able to get the coalition of the willing Clinton got for his illegal war of choice in Kosovo. His piece is one of those that I could spend hours dissecting and rebutting (for example, he says “the United States isn’t [an empire] despite the tendentious polemics of inveterate anti-Americans, from Noam Chomsky to Glenn Greenwald”), but I won’t because that’s boring.
The important point is that Marshall is a liberal internationalist frustrated by the fact that America may be bidding farewell to her unipolar moment. He hates that new political tendencies in Congress make it harder for the all-powerful executive branch to wage unnecessary wars by divine right. Here is the choice excerpt:
Since the folly of isolationism was exposed in the 1940s, Republicans have rarely been reticent about projecting American power. On the contrary, they have advertised themselves as the party of military strength and unapologetic nationalism, especially after the Vietnam War provoked a schism within the Democratic Party over U.S. military intervention.
But that was then, when the Soviet bear lurked in the woods. Today’s Tea Party Republicans are more concerned about the threat from Big Government. They’ve allowed the budget sequester to gouge big holes in U.S. defense spending — cuts that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns “are weakening the United States’ ability to respond effectively to a major crisis in the world beyond the war zone in Afghanistan.” Meanwhile, the view that the United States should quit wasting money and lives trying to provide collective security, uphold liberal values, or sustain a parasitical international system has migrated from the libertarian fringe to the Republican mainstream.
While the anti-war left mostly avoids the barricades, it’s arch-libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) who are leading the charge against Obama’s proposed strike on Syria. “War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened,” Paul wrote recently in Time. Ethnic cleansing? Genocide? Sarin gas attacks on civilians? Sorry, that’s not our problem.
Again, there’s just too much in here to rebut. But if I had to boil it down to the two most substantive points…
- The growing reluctance towards “wasting money and lives” on U.S. interventionism isn’t about any particular hostility towards “provid[ing] collective security, uphold[ing] liberal values, or sustain[ing] a parasitical international system.” Rather, it’s the belief America does none of these things. What kind of “collective security” is provided by a military behemoth that has bombed at least seven impoverished Muslim countries in the course of 12 years, sometimes covertly, mostly unilaterally? How is America upholding “liberal values” with its history of overthrowing democratically elected governments and putting in place brutal dictatorships of the kind we continue to support to this very day? And how are we sustaining the international system by repeatedly violating the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, and virtually every other convention governing the use of force and coercion by states?
- Whatever hesitation there is to go to war as a reaction to “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” and “sarin gas attacks” isn’t about some cold-hearted libertarian fringe that doesn’t care about human suffering. Instead, people question America’s moral and legal legitimacy on such problems. As the United States geared up to bomb Serbia in 1999 without Congressional or Security Council approval under the pretext of preventing ethnic cleansing, our allies in Turkey and Indonesia were committing atrocities against ethnic minorities on a scale that far surpassed anything we saw in Kosovo. That pattern of flagrant hypocrisy repeats itself throughout America’s innumerable military interventions, which, according to people like Marshall, are always about freedom and democracy. And in Kosovo, like in Iraq and elsewhere, U.S. intervention precipitated humanitarian catastrophes instead of preventing them.
In the end, Marshall’s “libertarian” “neo-isolationists” in the Republican Party are just a scape goat for his dissatisfaction with the slow dissolution of America’s global hegemony.
Other forces beyond anybody’s control are contributing to this. As a recent CSIS report warned, the U.S. needs to cut back lest bankruptcy and collapse do us in first. The report focuses on five trends that necessitate American decline and roll-back: “disappearing finances; rising alternative power centers; declining US military predominance; lack of efficacy of key non-military instruments of power; and reduced domestic patience for global adventures.”
In this sense, the resurgent non-interventionism in the GOP is less “peacenik” and more realist. As CSIS explained,
The very definition of grand strategy is holding ends and means in balance to promote the security and interests of the state. Yet, the post-war US approach to strategy is rapidly becoming insolvent and unsustainable – not only because Washington can no longer afford it but also, crucially, because it presumes an American relationship with friends, allies, and rivals that is the hallmark of a bygone era. If Washington continues to cling to its existing role on the premise that the international order depends upon it, the result will be increasing resistance, economic ruin, and strategic failure.
American Empire is weakening. If that means we can avoid unnecessary wars, all the better.