Over at The Dish, Zack Beauchamp writes:
It’s better to think of the U.S. as the global police chief rather than sole policeman. We may be the strongest of our allies, but by no means do we take lead role in solving every problem. American allies work like detectives: they conduct crucial operations in support of the general task of keeping the global peace and creating a better world […]
Ultimately, that’s why neoconservative critics of Obama’s “weakness” and realist critics of American “empire” both get it wrong. “Leading from behind” isn’t about abandoning American leadership – it’s about exercising in a manner that’s not completely self-defeating. Being a global policeman doesn’t mean “wars all the time everywhere!” – it means enlisting allies to help us with global governance. Yes, that occasionally means military intervention by the U.S. and/or allies when the intervention in question passes basic just war theory tests, but doesn’t mean the hallmark of the international order is perpetual use of military force. And our allies aren’t limited to Old Europe – the U.S. can, with skillful diplomacy, work with rising states like India, which has demonstrated its commitment to global governance through its significant contributions to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
International police work is important. Not only is it morally required for rich, powerful states, but it’s good for them in the long run by limiting dangerous instability. Luckily, Americans don’t have to conduct every patrol on their own.
I write about the policequite a lot, so maybe Beauchamp’s analogy isn’t meant for someone like me. I find it a bit…frightening, honestly.
But I do so love clever little sound bite phrases like “leading from behind” (at once used to critique the president and to justify a new sort of American exceptionalism). I’m similarly fond of the glib way that pundits can talk about bombing the hell out of poor brown people half a world away almost as if they were discussing cooking tips.
Now you just add a dash of “soft power” diplomacy, toss in a few predator drone strikes, spread some democracy all over it, then turn the oven up to 450 degrees and bake for an hour and a half, and oh doesn’t that just look delicious!
Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive to a bunch of bloggers who have never fought in a war before, or had their homes blown to pieces by American drones, or had some far-off superpower come drop a bunch of bombs down on their village in order to liberate them, clapping so loudly about how well Obama has “led from behind” in our overseas contingency operations as if we know a damn thing about what’s actually going on in these places or what our involvement there really means for that will’o’the’wisp that is ‘global stability’ or ‘global governance’ or whatever we call it now.
Beauchamp’s dystopian metaphor of America as the global police chief – one global policeman among many – is just madness. It’s a comfortable, comforting sort of madness, the invisible lunacy of the status quo, but it’s much more troubling than anything I’ve heard “crazy Ron Paul” say.
People say that anarchy is crazy and untenable, that we need governments like we need global police. Like we need a bullet in the head. I’m starting to think that the opposite is true. Government is chaos. Power flows like blood, just as thick. Just as fast.
Yeah, so that’s me being a little dramatic. I’m not an anarchist, though I do admire anarchists and have learned a great deal from them. Government is, I think, a violent institution and thus needs to be kept as limited as possible – especially in those areas where violence is its mission such as war and police work. When people talk about the US state as an international police force, it worries me. It strikes me as a huge, terrifying overreach. Preventing genocide sounds awfully nice, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We have a hard enough time understanding our own politics, our own culture, and the long and short-term effects of our own domestic policy. Understanding what will work in foreign countries, with alien cultures and different civil institutions is almost impossible. Erring on the side of extreme caution, and hewing to a defensive set of policies (some might call that realism) is, in my opinion, the safest, wisest course of action (or non-action, as it were).
So government is a force of chaos when it’s let too far out of the box. War almost inevitably lets government out on too long of a leash. So I’m not an anarchist, true, but I see where they’re coming from. More on that here.