Many events, stories and trends have collided in the run-up to Memorial Day 2015, which itself illuminates a common theme, and, perhaps, emerging wisdom.
In recent weeks we have seen:
1. The terrorist scourge of ISIS, as many predicted, continuing to expand its power and destructive mission while the U.S. resists actively engaging it.
2. Through the prism of the British elections, the realization that our traditional ally and the nation closest to the U.S. in values, culture and commitment to democratic ideals, has surrendered its role as a world power, with its armed forces soon to be at a diminished level last reached in the 18th Century.
3. The growing national distrust and rejection of local police forces.
4. A resurgence of the debate over the Iraq war, with its related issue of the Obama administration’s premature and disastrous withdrawal of troops from that theater,
5. Reports that the United States is no longer regarded abroad as reliable as an ally and
6. The first credible evidence of an ISIS-related attack in the U.S.
And it’s Memorial Day, which is set aside to honor the Americans who died in foreign wars, and who did so under the impression that they were protecting and strengthening our nation’s values and ideals. Obviously, a large segment of the population, and virtually an entire political party, no longer shares those ideals, nor do they honor the sacrifice this holiday was created to recognize and validate. Hence this, from the Democratic Party’s twitter feed…
What’s going on here?
The ethics issues are policing, values, responsibility, and, yes, American exceptionalism.
It has become a cliché to say that the U.S. can’t be the world’s policeman, and the Obama foreign policy is entirely based on that assertion….except that the assertion is now that we won’t be the world’s policeman, so we will make certain that we can’t. In that assertion by Obama, which I would term essentially un-American as well as unwise and unethical, is a rejection of the national ideals that formed the basis for the U.S.’s participation in World War II, the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, and the Cold War, among others. The problem with the assertion is that it ignores salient and irrefutable facts:
- The world needs a policeman, and is a chaotic and dangerous place without it.
- In the absence of a policeman, the brutal, Machiavellian, and genocidal and despotic run amuck.
- The United Nations, created with the world’s consensus that a police force was necessary, is now structured to prevent it from filling that role.
- Somebody needs to fill that role, and the role must be filled by a nation that is obligated by its values not to seek to abuse its power to impose its will on others for its own enrichment and benefit.
- The United States, as the only nation formed with the mission of recognizing and upholding basic human rights, remains the only nation qualified to fill that role.
In short, it’s a lousy, dirty, thankless job, but someone has to do it, and there is nobody else that the world, or we, can or should trust to do it This is the essence of American exceptionalism: that because of our dedication to the values set out in our founding documents, the United States is willing to use its treasure, power, prestige and lives for the benefit of the rest of the world. It is a noble and sacred responsibility entailing many underlying truths that are unpleasant and even unpalatable to many. It means that…
- “American interests” must be broadly rather than narrowly defined. It is in the interests of the United States for there to be peace, for as many world citizens as possible to be able to achieve their full potential as human beings, and for our nation’s values of reverence for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to be observed in as many nations as possible.
- The military must not only be strong, but the strongest on earth.
- Maintaining that military strength requires budgetary restraint, a limit to entitlements, control over the debt, refusal to become dependent on foreign creditors, and the determination to make national defense a high priority.
- Leaders must construct policy with the strengthening of a shared culture as a core objective.
- Our public and private education should reinforce the core values of personal responsibility, courage, sacrifice, honor, respect for human rights, and opposition to tyranny.
- The United States must be willing to commit its military and the lives of its soldiers to conflicts abroad even where the U.S. has no immediate economic or security interests, so despots and evil-doers realize that they may face American might when they pursue policies of domination, cruelty and death.
- If the U.S. does not do so, belief in American ideals around the world will diminish, making the task of despots, terrorists and dictators far easier.
- In serving as the world’s police, the United States will periodically cause harm, even great harm, abuse its power, and make mistakes, just like all police. The police power cannot exist or function if it is subjected to strict liability.
In almost every respect, the leadership of Barack Obama has been aimed at encouraging the rejection all of these truths, disparaging American exceptionalism, and making it impossible, through anti-military policies and the lack of domestic budget discipline, for the United States to play its traditional role in maintaining world order, all while encouraging the development of a counter-traditional culture in which such activities as wealth creation, self-sufficiency, cultural consensus, accountability, sanctity of property and merit-based employment are undermined.
Many factors laid the foundation for Obama’s efforts and widespread acceptance of them, including the anti-American pseudo-scholarship of cult writers like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, who argue that the United States never acted on anything but narrow self-interest; the mismanagement of the Vietnam and second Iraq wars; the unsavory greed, bigotry and dishonesty of some of the most prominent advocates for American intervention abroad; the increasing strength of pacifist, anti-violence, anti-gun and anti-male voices in government the news media, academia and politics, and the increasing popularity of socialist dogma, despite its many documented failures abroad.
I suspect, and hope, that as occurred before when the United States retreated inward and embraced isolationism, evidence of the looming disasters such a cultural turn makes inevitable will prompt a sharp change of course before all is lost. Memorial Day helps keep alive that hope, as long as we remember that we are not, as the Democratic Party would have us believe, celebrating sales and the beginning of bikinis, summer surf and lemonade, but rather honoring the Americans who gave their lives so this could be a better, safer, freer, more ethical world, and that their sacrifices, and their values, are still part of what makes the United States of America exceptional.