Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

World’s Policeman or Bully?


In the debate about a U.S. war against Iraq, the question often pops up: Should the United States be the world’s policeman?

This is a case where the answer doesn’t matter, because it is the wrong question. The United States isn’t offering to be the world’s cop; U.S. officials are acting as the world’s bully.

The role of police is to uphold the law. We all know that police officers sometimes fail to do so and that those who should hold them accountable sometimes look the other way. But police don’t boast that they will respect only those laws they decide to respect. When officers are nailed for disregarding the law, they become rogues.

All this talk about being the world’s policeman helps obscure a simple reality: U.S. policy-makers routinely ignore international law and act as rogues.

Was the United States acting as a police officer in 1989 when President George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama to depose Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian dictator and former CIA asset? The attack was denounced all over the world as an illegal act of aggression, not because other countries particularly liked Mr. Noriega but because the U.S. attack was unlawful.

Such contempt for international law is a bipartisan affair. In 1998, after passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution on weapons inspections in Iraq, diplomats came out of the meeting and told reporters that the resolution didn’t give any nation the right to move unilaterally against Iraq. Bill Richardson, then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, simply shrugged and said, “We think it does.” By the end of the year, President Bill Clinton had ordered an illegal strike on Iraq.

Now, as the Bush administration is lauded for going the extra mile for diplomacy by ramming through a new U.N. Security Council resolution on Iraq, administration officials are announcing their intention to ignore the law. The resolution calls for the Security Council — not any individual member state –to consider possible responses if Iraq doesn’t comply. But the United States simply declares its intention to ignore the law.

White House chief of staff Andrew Card said, “The U.N. can meet and discuss, but we don’t need their permission.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell, the administration’s official “dove,” repeatedly has made it clear that the United States won’t be “handcuffed” by the United Nations.

U.S. officials don’t try to hide their contempt for the law or the intelligence of others. John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reassured the other nations on the Security Council that the resolution the United States had drafted included no “hidden triggers” for a U.S. strike. Yet he also contended the resolution “does not constrain any member state from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq or to enforce relevant U.N. resolutions and protect world peace and security.”

That is what President Bush meant in September when he challenged the United Nations to be “relevant”: If you do what we say, we will give you some minor role in executing our policy. If you don’t, we will do what we please.

Administration officials seem to think that simply repeating the phrase “Iraq is a threat to America” will make it so and somehow justify a war. But it is clear that the latest Security Council resolution doesn’t authorize a U.S. war on Iraq, nor does the U.N. Charter, the ultimate legal authority.

That means that if Mr. Bush takes the country to war, we won’t be the world’s policeman but simply the world’s bully with the power to ignore the law.

ROBERT JENSEN is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, a member of the Nowar Collective, and author of the book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream and the pamphlet “Citizens of the Empire.”

He can be reached at

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). Robert Jensen can be reached at and his articles can be found online at To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?