I wrote this for the National Interest’s blog last week and though it might be of interest to readers of this site.
In Promised Land, Crusader State, perhaps the most brilliant, erudite, and lastingly relevant book on U.S. foreign policy, Professor Walter A. McDougall writes:
“American Exceptionalism as our Founders conceived it was defined by what America was, at home. Foreign policy existed to defend, not define, what America was. In given circumstances all sorts of tactics might be expedient save only one that defeated its purpose by eroding domestic liberty and unity.”
Today, sadly, it is a commonplace verging on truism to say U.S. foreign policy in the Muslim world under President Obama and his three predecessors is “eroding domestic liberty and unity.” As this is written, for example, we are seeing the impact of “National Opt Out Day,” as Americans react to treatment at airports usually reserved for visits to gynecologists and proctologists. Their anger is real and apparently durable, but their understanding of the main factor reducing their “domestic liberty and unity“ is uncertain at best. They seem unaware that TSA’s inspection regime is not only the result of al-Qaeda’s actions but also of the Muslim world’s negative reaction to the prolonged and unbridled interventionism of their own government.
The invasive — a new synonym for both “absurd” and “prurient”? — TSA doctrine deployed since the failed suicide attack on a U.S. airliner last Christmas and the recent al-Qaeda operation to bomb cargo aircraft are only the most recent examples of the hatred America earns when U.S. political leaders — contra the Founders — attempt to define America by what we do abroad. Messrs Obama, G.W. Bush, Clinton, and G.H.W. Bush have each been advocates, in form if not in name, of what the elder Mr. Bush called the “New World Order,” an effort to impose Western, capitalist, and secular values and structures on non-Westerners as part of what Mr. Kipling would have aptly described as the “white man’s burden” of making “our little brown brothers” just like us.
In the Muslim world, Washington’s four-president-long campaign of making good Americans out of Muslims has seen a variety of interesting programs, among them Mr. G.H.W. Bush’s positing and advocacy of America’s right to re-order the world, including Muslim countries; Mr. Clinton‘s attempt to force Afghanistan’s Mullah Omar to install Western-style women’s rights; Mr. G.W. Bush’s wars to impose secular democracy on Islamic states; Mr. Obama’s lying definition of jihad as solely an agenda for personal improvement, like Alcoholics Anonymous; and urgings by all four that it would be wise to edit Allah’s revelations in the Koran so as to delete all that troublesome, archaic stuff about a Muslim’s responsibility to defend his faith and brethren.
What this amounts to, of course, is a Muslim-world perception — and one not limited to al-Qaeda and other Islamists — that Washington is waging a rather intense cultural war on the Islamic civilization, as well as an anti-Islamic, military/foreign-policy war in the form of the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq; unqualified support for Israel; and the protection of multiple Muslim tyrants and police states.
Obviously, all these presidential initiatives amount to an intentional use of U.S. foreign policy to define America’s worth by what we do abroad. More women voting, more secular democracies, and a defanged Koran that more resembles the mamby-pamby substance of modern Christian doctrine would all be good things in the American mind and would allow Americans — or at least their governing elite — to feel good about what they have accomplished. And it must be stressed that there is nothing inherently evil in these presidential initiatives, though their inherent ignorance of non-Western cultures merits deep worry. The problem is simply that they have caused our present war with Islam, and so have led to the defensive attacks by al-Qaeda and other Islamists which, in turn, have led to government actions that have prompted “National Opt Out Day” and are reducing “domestic liberty and unity.”
As Professor McDougall proves in his timeless book, the Founders always yield wisdom, liberty, and safety for Americans when we take time to pat them down. Indeed, the Founders’ work suggests the current anger of everyday Americans should actually be directed at themselves. They, after all, have elected the last four interventionist presidents who have waged what most Muslims perceive as a cultural, military, and foreign-policy war against Islam meant to remake Muslims in contemporary America’s militantly secular image. McDougall cites a sane Arkansan named Fulbright as follows:
“Americans must always doubt the ability of the United States or any other Western country … to create stability where there is chaos, the will to fight where there is defeatism, democracy where there is no tradition of it, and honest government where corruption is almost a way of life.”
Today’s angry Americans, then, ought to look in the mirror and see that they are responsible for electing interventionist presidents who are reducing domestic liberty and unity, and that the simple and correct antidote for that deterioration is to stop voting for interventionists who define America’s worth by interfering in foreign cultures they deem odious but do not understand. Patting down the Founders, as McDougall says, will show Americans that the Founders “flatly denied that the United States ought to be in the business of changing the world, lest it only change itself, for the worse.”