Nov 3, 2023

Biden Endorses the “Indispensable Nation”

Photograph Source: The White House – Public Domain

“It is the threat of the use of force that is going to put force behind diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future….”

– Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Making the case for the use of force against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, 1998.

In his speech last month, President Joe Biden justified military support for Ukraine and Israel, arguing that “American leadership is what holds the world together.  American alliances are what keep us, America, safe” and that only U.S. involvement can prevent global chaos.  In referring to the United States as a “beacon to the world,” he even cited “my friend Madeleine Albright’s indispensable nation.”

Too many nations like to think of themselves as a chosen nation or an indispensable nation, but only the United States has the global power and the power of projection to try to enforce its will the world over.  The President of the United States should know better than to indulge in the kind of hubris and triumphalism associated with American exceptionalism.  The Biden administration is currently having great difficulty convincing the international community to support its policies toward both Ukraine and Israel because many nations have serious questions about U.S. and Israeli misuse of force in the recent past.

Nations in Europe, the Global South and elsewhere don’t necessarily share the view that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or even the Hamas massacre in Israel were “unilateral” or “unprovoked” actions.  Regarding Ukraine, they are cognizant of the impact of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and don’t want to be a part of a renewed Cold War between Moscow and Washington.  Similarly, they are aware of the “open-air prison” that Gaza has been for years, and Israel’s unwillingness to weaken its blockade of Gaza or its military policy that have led to serious fighting in 2009, 2014, and 2020.  They have been critical of Israel’s siege and its regime of apartheid, although little has been done internationally to force changes in Israel’s militarization.  An overwhelming majority of UN members voted for a cease-fire, but a U.S. veto blocked a Security Council call for a cease-fire.

Biden has correctly warned Israeli President Netanyahu not to be “blinded by rage,” but there has never been a serious U.S. effort to convince the Israelis to consider policies that would prevent additional illegal settlements on the West Bank, let alone avoid additional rounds of the killing of innocent Palestinians.  Half of the Palestinian population in Gaza are children.  Three Arab leaders refused to meet with Biden last month because of one-sided U.S. support for Israel.

The United States, moreover, acted out of rage in the wake of 9/11, engaging in two decades of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan that led to unnecessary loss of life.  Nevertheless, federal advisory commissions with the support of the Biden administration selected a site for a memorial to the Global War on Terrorism to be constructed on the National Mall.  These wars, like the Vietnam War, pointed to a fault in our nature and in our policy-making, but such faults are unlikely to be represented in any memorial.  The memorial will probably not deal with CIA’s program of torture and abuse or the U.S. drone strikes and raids in various countries, let alone the fact that over half a million civilians died in these wars.  Even President Obama unwisely endorsed the policy of “targeted assassinations,” which led to the deaths of innocent citizens in Islamic countries.

Biden’s speech, unfortunately, was laden with references to his role as commander-in-chief.  There were several references to himself as the “first president to enter a war zone in a territory without a U.S. military presence” in referring to Ukraine and his “secret flight to Poland.”  There were references to himself as the “first president to go to Israel in wartime,” which provided ample indication that the United States would not be pressing Israel to avoid unnecessary death and an expanded war.  This crisis could be more consuming for the United States than the decades of unnecessary warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, and probably represents the most serious international crisis for the United States since the Cuban missile crisis 60 years ago.

Forty-five years ago, former Senator Frank Church said the United States “must never adopt the tactics of the enemy.  Each time we do so, each time the means we use are wrong, and our inner strength, the strength that makes us free, is lessened.”  U.S. tactics thus far have already created diplomatic problems with our friends and allies, and made it easier for Russia and China to have greater influence in the Middle East.  Only the United States is in a position to convince the Israelis that there is no military solution to the problem of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.  So perhaps the United States is to a degree “indispensable.”

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