Tom McTague praises America’s “necessary myth”:
The dumb simplicity of America’s interventions is often infuriating and obtuse, or even disastrously naive and destructive. It exists in people like Neal and Holbrooke, Bush and Biden. And yet if America stops believing in its myth, if it scurries back into the safety of its continental bunker, having decided it is now just another normal nation, then a cold wind might start to blow in places that have become complacent in their security. When the dumb simplicity is removed, the complexities of the world start growing back.
This is what Ukraine fears and others in Europe expect. In the end, though, what really matters is which story America believes, and for how long.
The myth that McTague is referring to is essentially the belief that U.S. dominance is good for the world, and that the US acts for the good of the world as it acts in its own interests. As he puts it, “America believes that it is a superpower, but an anti-imperial one, founded in opposition to arbitrary force, monarchy, foreign domination, and the like. Its supremacy, unlike other imperial powers, is good for everyone.” Like every other self-flattering story that empires tell about themselves, this one is also a lie. Whatever else one wants to say about US foreign policy over the last seventy-seven years, one cannot call it anti-imperial. It has certainly not been good for everyone, and one can argue that the pursuit of what Stephen Wertheim calls “armed primacy” has frequently been very bad for the United States and the rest of the world.
The US should absolutely reject the “idea that convinces US leaders that they never oppress, only liberate, and that their interventions can never be a threat to nearby powers.” We should all reject it because that idea is false and dangerous, and ultimately nothing good can come from something so much at odds with reality. As McTague acknowledges, this bad idea “lies at the core of its most costly foreign-policy miscalculations” when the US projects its own desires and interests onto other nations and then acts surprised when they have their own very different preferences and interests. It isn’t possible to conduct a competent and constructive foreign policy if our policymakers keep making these errors, and they make these errors at least in part because they believe in this false idea. The myth may keep the US actively meddling in the world, but that isn’t doing our country or the world any favors.
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Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.