by Kevin Tillman
Part 3 - End the Tradition
To be sure, this has been a bipartisan pattern, as the administrations of president after president, Democrat and Republican, engaged in it.
Even if we were to take the position that some of those interventions were somehow legal, moral, or necessary, the behavior itself has become completely normalized as a crucial go-to option for any president. It’s also worth noting just what types of nations have typically been targeted for such interventions — usually vulnerable states with weak economies and frail institutions. Whether democracies or dictatorships hasn’t seemed to matter. The populations of such countries have, however, almost invariably been nonwhite. Putting aside the obvious illegality, immorality, and even cowardice of picking on vulnerable nations, such acts historically have probably exacerbated the role of jingoism and xenophobia, as well as cultural and racial superiority in this country, just the sort of thinking so evident on January 6th. This behavior breeds disunity and hate.
When it came to overthrowing other governments, our presidents regularly peddled obvious and verifiable lies, broke or disregarded laws (domestic and international), and freely used violence and intimidation to gain power and profit, seldom being held accountable in any fashion for any of it. However such methods were to come home someday, what happened on January 6th should still be a wake-up call, forcing us all to see what it means when this signature American approach to foreign policy is used against our own democracy.
The Capitol insurrection should be (but hasn’t yet been) treated as a vivid reminder of the way this country’s foreign policy has undermined the American system, too. I see it as a form of “blowback,” to use the CIA term popularized long ago by Chalmers Johnson.
In some fashion, at least, it undoubtedly influenced the behavior of former president Trump and his followers, explaining why they believed it was a viable option to use force at the Capitol to stop democracy in its tracks. Based on our history, it was a strategy long deployed elsewhere without remorse or fear of repercussions in order to get what American leaders wanted.
What once might have seemed improbable for our democracy to suffer suddenly became a reality, one that had long been experienced by so many other peoples at our hands. And if changes aren’t made, it won’t be the last time either.
In his Inaugural Address, President Biden appeared willing to tackle many of the big challenges that our country now faces. He spoke with a kind of clarity, kindness, inclusion, and sanity that had been missing of late. Specifically, he addressed the needs of this nation:
“Much to repair. Much to restore. Much to heal. Much to build. And much to gain…. To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity… Uniting to fight the common foes we face: Anger, resentment, hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence. Disease, joblessness, hopelessness.”
President Biden also talked about the dangers of big lies and “alternative facts,” saying:
“There is truth and there are lies. Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders — leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation — to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
No doubt President Biden’s concerns do need to be addressed in this time of troubles for us all and I believe he genuinely meant what he said. From the pandemic to inequality, there are obviously domestic issues, driven by developments inside our own borders that need serious attention.
However, any efforts to achieve such goals domestically will ultimately fail if those unsustainable contradictions outside our borders persist. If President Biden’s calls for unity are to produce tangible and lasting results, what’s needed is a holistic approach that extends to America’s behavior abroad.
In the past, even when President Trump spoke of calling a halt to our endless wars and interventions, the pattern continued. There always seemed to be some reason that made the next act of pillaging “necessary and appropriate.” This time, of course, I hope that the president and his staff will indeed have the courage to break with tradition, but based on the recent airstrike Biden ordered in Syria, a country his boss helped to ravage while he was vice president, what’s probably needed is an organized and vocal demand from the American people.
Since it’s clear that our executive branch has the unchecked power to illegally command insurrections here at home, invade and destroy vulnerable nations at will, relentlessly slaughter and displace families, starve foreign peoples through economic sanctions, foment coups abroad, handpick leaders for other countries with impunity, and send American troops to die for “lies told for power and profit” against manufactured “foes,” then it’s also legally within its power not to do any of that.
Perhaps exercising the power, authority, and responsibility to stop the illegal, unlawful, and immoral behavior around the globe could prove a major first step toward the president’s goals of unifying both our nation and a shared global community.