FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Nationalist Illusions

After thousands of years of bloody wars among contending tribes, regions, and nations, is it finally possible to dispense with the chauvinist ideas of the past?

To judge by President Barack Obama’s televised address on the evening of September 10, it is not.  Discussing his plan to “take out” ISIS, the extremist group that has seized control of portions of Syria and Iraq, the president slathered on the high-flying, nationalist rhetoric.  “America is better positioned today to seize the future than any other nation on Earth,” he proclaimed.  “Our technology companies and universities are unmatched; our manufacturing and auto industries are thriving. Energy independence is closer than it’s been in decades. . . .  Our businesses are in the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. . . . I see the grit and determination and common goodness of the American people every single day — and that makes me more confident than ever about our country’s future.”

This rhetoric, of course, is the lead-in to yet another American-led war in the Middle East.  “American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world,” he stated.  “It is America that has the capacity and the will to mobilize the world against terrorists. It is America that has rallied the world against Russian aggression. . . .  It is America that helped remove and destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons so they cannot pose a threat to the Syrian people — or the world — again. And it is America that is helping Muslim communities around the world not just in the fight against terrorism, but in the fight for opportunity, tolerance, and a more hopeful future.”

America’s greatness, he added, carries “an enduring burden.  But as Americans, we welcome our responsibility to lead. From Europe to Asia — from the far reaches of Africa to war-torn capitals of the Middle East — we stand for freedom, for justice, for dignity.  These are values that have guided our nation since its founding.  Tonight, I ask for your support in carrying that leadership forward.  I do so as a Commander-in-Chief who could not be prouder of our men and women in uniform.”

Can anyone acquainted with American history really take this nationalist drivel seriously?  When contemplating the “freedom,” “justice,” and “dignity” that “have guided our nation since its founding,” is there no recollection of slavery, the seizure of a continent from its native people, lynching, child labor, the flouting of civil liberties, the exploitation of workers, legalized racial discrimination, and the war crimes committed by U.S. troops, most recently in Iraq?

Furthermore, all of this forgotten history is topped off with the ritualized “May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.”  God, apparently, is supposed to ride shotgun for the U.S. military.  Or is it really that the U.S. military and the nation are the emissaries of God?

In fairness to the president, it could be argued that he doesn’t actually believe this claptrap, but — like so many of his predecessors — simply dons a star-spangled uniform to sell his foreign policy to the American public.

But, in fact, the policy outlined in Obama’s speech is almost as nationalist as the rhetoric.  Although the president promised that the United States would participate in a “broad coalition to roll back” ISIS, this would be a coalition that “America will lead.”  Yes, there would be “partners” in American efforts “to address broader challenges to international order,” but not all the time — only “wherever possible.”  In short, Americans should get ready for another Coalition of the Willing, led by the United States and, sometimes, limited to it alone.

Ironically, American “leadership” of military operations in the Islamic world has not only done much to spark the creation of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups, but has destabilized and inflamed the entire region.  American-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya — coupled with U.S. military meddling in Syria, confrontations with Iran, arming of Israel, and drone strikes in many nations — have left the region awash with anti-Americanism, religious strife, and weapons (many now directed against the United States).

Against this backdrop, the U.S. government would be well-advised to adopt a very low profile in the Middle East — and certainly not “lead” yet another war, particularly one against Muslims.  This restraint would mesh nicely with the U.S. government’s signature on the UN charter, which prohibits the use of force by any nation except in self-defense.

The current situation provides a particularly appropriate time for the U.S. government to back off from yet another military crusade in the region.  After all, ISIS is heartily disliked by a large number of nations.  At the moment, it seems likely that the governments of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, and other lands would welcome the demise of ISIS and support UN action against it.  Furthermore, this action need not be military.  The United Nations could play an important role in halting the flow of financing and weapons to this terrorist group.  The United Nations could restrict the movement of militias and foreign fighters across borders.  The United Nations could resume negotiations to end the civil war in Syria.  And, particularly in light of the hostility toward the United States that has developed in recent years among many Muslims, the United Nations could demand the disarmament and dismantling of ISIS with far greater effect that would similar action by the U.S. government.

But can a nation shed its belief that it is uniquely qualified to “lead” the world?  It can, if its citizens are ready to cast aside their nationalist illusions and recognize their interdependence with the people of other nations.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner  is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.  His latest book is a satirical novel about university corporatization and rebellion, What’s Going On at UAardvark?

 

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail