In recent decades, both the moral injury of the Iraq War and the turbulent state of public discourse has shaped an anti-American narrative strongly held by a minority of Americans themselves. By “anti-American,” I don’t just mean opposition to contentious aspects of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. I am talking about actual oikophobia, aversion to one’s own homeland, which manifests on both the far left and the far right.
People as diverse as Tucker Carlson and Noam Chomsky have embraced this twisted narrative. After Iraq, their logic goes, and after decades of growing political division, the United States can do no right. This is why the United States shouldn’t aid Ukraine, they argue—we are failing as a country and have no authority to intervene. Whatever other countries might be doing, the United States is doing worse.
It’s gotten to the point that U.S. President Joe Biden’s bold surprise visit to an embattled Kyiv earlier this week was met with such howls of consternation at home that I got the impression that some of our extremists would outright cheer if Russia had, in the words of its own propagandists, tried to “whack Biden” in Ukraine.
There is a defeatism in the words and actions of these U.S. supporters of foreign dictators. They believe there is no hope for the United States. No matter how much they may hem and haw, the logical conclusion of this narrative is: “Americans should give up and let people like Russian President Vladimir Putin run the world.”
“Stick a shovel into the ground almost anywhere and some horrible thing or other will come to light,” the Canadian author Margaret Atwood wrote in The Blind Assassin, an extraordinary book published a year before the events of 9/11. As the decade wore on and I became a journalist who worked in a number of countries, I kept coming back to this line. They are not an absolution, but they are a practical way of thinking about the world: There are no utopias.
The call to give up, simply because we are not a utopia, plays on fears about our global standing after decades of the war on terror. Consider Seymour Hersh. As an already-seasoned and celebrated investigative journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, Hersh followed up by reporting on the inhumane torture at Abu Ghraib prison.
Yet years later, Hersh has devolved into a writer who will carry water for a number of war-crime enthusiasts—as long as they are not American. Now, he is an apologist for the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Most recently, he has been celebrated by Russian war propagandists for alleging that the United States blew up the Nord Stream pipelines. It’s an explosive allegation – based on a single anonymous source. . Not to mention the fact that when one turns to open-source intelligence, glaring holes emerge in Hersh’s detailed narrative.
I understand why some people have been electrified by Hersh’s recent writing, even if it’s bad. Today, the most committed Americans are internationalists, but careful ones—as a 2021 survey by the Eurasia Group Foundation points out, the majority of Americans want the United States to have a greater international role, but not one in which Washington commits our troops at the drop of a hat. Americans are rightfully wary about interventionism, and Hersh’s allegations play into that wariness.
Yet being careful is not the same as projecting our fears and doubts onto the rest of the world. Americans have baggage as a nation—as every nation does—but forcing others to carry it is immature and self-indulgent.
When I was a young person during the George W. Bush years, for example, I began to balk at manipulative and melodramatic rhetoric on freedom, how it cheapened the very idea. Does this give me the right to laugh at Ukrainians who are dying in the thousands because they want to be free of a murderous dictator next door? No, that would be selfish and cowardly.
The devastation of 9/11, the confusion and pain of the wars that followed, the hollowing of our institutions, the increase in bitter divisions—all of these things are real, part of the scar tissue that grows on society. But Americans have choices about how to see those scars and what to do about them.
It’s not my intention to diminish the brutality of some of the United States’ most hotly debated foreign wars, from the Philippines to Iraq. What I do believe is that you can’t effectively reckon with the past if you don’t believe in the future. People who implicitly argue that the failures of Iraq justify a lack of response to Russia’s genocidal invasion of Ukraine have stopped believing in the future. If you rightly think that Abu Ghraib was horrible, you should have something to say about the countless Abu Ghraibs that Russia has created, not turn away and shrug.
Americans should engage with the world, not turn away from it in a spasm of self-hatred. After decades of costly interventionism, the United States is now being practical, using a small fraction of its defense budget to degrade and destroy a significant fraction of Russia’s war machine without putting U.S. troops on the ground. Even a cursory look at Russian propaganda will tell you that this war machine had plans even bigger than taking Ukraine and that this spending is justified in light of the threat Russian fascism has posed. It’s not just 40 million Ukrainians whose lives are on the line here—though they should be enough.
That Americans are tired of war is understandable. In fact, Russians gambled on that in the beginning. Americans proved them wrong. We can, and should, continue to prove them wrong. As a nation, we are greater than our fears.
Source : Foreignpolicy