The United States is the greatest threat to its own national security

by Kristian Davis Bailey, ’14

This post originally published at Kristian’s personal website, “With a ‘K.’”

After yesterday’s presidential debate on foreign policy, can we talk about how the United States is its own greatest threat to national security?

This might have something to do with the fact that America’s been “cheating” the past hundred years or so and manipulating the economic and military affairs of the world to its favor–and often to the detriment of all but a few allies, who also benefit from standing on the rest of the world.

Iran is not a threat to the security of the people of the United States, even if it obtains nuclear weapons.  Iran’s major threat is becoming a nation that can defend its own sovereignty without posturing to American hegemony. It is part of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which features the majority of the countries in our world and which are not part of any major power blocs. The countries in NAM are struggling for a new world order* that is not dictated and/or dominated by the aforementioned “cheating” Western policies. Look at how large this movement is (to reiterate, it’s essentially the entire non Anglo-American world) and look at what their goals are (the right to sovereignty and peaceful co-existence–Puerto Rico’s self-determination and reforming the UN so that individual countries cannot dictate international policy) and tell me Iran (which currently leads this movement through Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) is a more of a threat to the world than the United States. To continue to antagonize and demonize Iran symbolically trivializes the completely justified desires of the Non-Aligned Movement, which–by virtue of the sheer numbers of its members–could ultimately pose a threat to American security.

“Terrorism” is also a relative phrase that is especially dubious when you live in a country that the US has not declared war with and are constantly terrorized by the threat (and actuality) of American drone strikes (aka Pakistan). Such attacks on innocent life fuel the same anti-Western sentiments that drive “terrorism.” “Terrorism” is also a curious label to use when a lot of the regimes the US now labels as ‘combatants’ were funded or orchestrated by American/Western corporate and/or political actors–either surreptitiously or with full disclosure. That so many Westerners erupted with concern for Malala** who was shot by the “big bad Taliban” – over whom they have very little control, and whose roots originated in resistance to Western colonialism – yet demonstrated stunningly silent apathy to a report demonstrating that the United States government, through its tax-funded military, is terrorizing an entire population of innocent civilians with unmanned drone attacks – speaks volumes to what’s problematic about what we label ‘evil’ and ‘combatant’ and how we apply our energy against these forces.

America’s unbridled economic and military support for Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank is a primary source of antagonism between the Arab world and Israel. Because these antagonisms and tensions have wide-reaching geopolitical implications, the United States and its “biggest ally” do not serve to make the world any more peaceful by the continuation of their current policies.

This cycle of unrest likely won’t end until the United States stops its military and economic imperialism. If we can’t hold our “biggest ally” to following international law and upholding fundamental standards of human rights, how can we demand the rest of the world to “play by the rules” with respect to trade and human rights?

All of this is not to say that the aforementioned groups are faultless. My ultimate point is that the capacity for wrongdoing and injustice exists equally everywhere, and that the United States seems to have historical amnesia about its own complicity (historically and currently) in systems of oppression.

Just as the Taliban and other militant fundamentalist groups kill citizens of their own countries, so too did fundamentalist groups in the United States bombbeatlynch and brutally torture and kill American citizens – often at the permission of state and federal actors. Nor can we forget the violence that Americans have perpetrated against civilians for simply demanding labor rights, especially violent resistance backed by federal or nationalized troops.

Just as the United States criticizes other nations for inadequate human and civil rights, it has to acknowledge its own history of propagating a caste of second class citizens through slavery and Jim Crow, the gender disparities (politically and with respect to sexual violence and reproductive rights) that exist with women having been part of the electorate for only 90 years, the discrimination against queer people that it sanctions by not actively granting them the same rights as heterosexual couples, and its violation of human and civil rights through torture and detainment techniques, and the already-discussed drone strikes.

And just as Palestinians occasionally offer violent resistance to the much stronger forces of Israeli and American imperialism, these United States are predicated on a war that violently resisted a colonizing force.

The United States cannot have its cake and eat it too. After over a century of manipulating world politics by its own set of rules (with the help of Britain, which had its own go at making up the rules for centuries before the US rose to dominance), it cannot simply expect the rest of the world not to have a similar desire to establish its sovereignty and to look for similar military and economic advantages. It is time for the rest of the world to have a shot–they can’t possibly screw things up any more than Anglo-American capitalism and imperialism have so far.

The United States is fighting an uphill battle and it’s losing. It’s greatest defense mechanism at this time would be to apologize for carrying on the legacy of Western colonialism, imperialism and militarism that has dogged political and economic development within the country and around the world, to get off its high-horse of promoting neoliberal democracy***, and to start acting relative to its people’s proportion in the world population.

Obama and Romney each fall within a small range of these obfuscated and limited views and policies towards international politics. Our question right now shouldn’t be who won the debate, but instead: who will win in the long-run with either of these policies?

Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior from New York studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. He’s interested in how to use media to discuss identity, privilege and power.   

Please read the English translation of Ahmadinejad’s prepared speech to the UN last month. Poetic and hopeful, it beautifully articulates what this new world order might look like and imagines a world that isn’t predicated on hegemonic domination.
** It is sad when anyone is shot, especially children, but my point remains that the United States does far more and worse (Malala didn’t die) damage than this one incident, which garnered so much Western attention.
*** I was uncomfortable with the term ‘neoliberal’ before today, but Robert McChesney does an excellent job defining neoliberalism and how free-market ideology are antithetical to the existence of democracy.  Joseph Beaudreau and Patrick Clairzier then do a similarly excellent job detailing how neoliberalism is used to grant corporations and extranational financial institutions  (OECD, WTO, IMF, etc)  increasing power that cannot be checked by sovereign states or their citizens. These are each must-reads.
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One thought on “The United States is the greatest threat to its own national security

  1. I’d like to post the following addition to this piece, which I did not consider until after publication, but which I think is pivotal to my argument about the hypocritical nature of American foreign policy. I’d love to hear back from people on this point in particular:

    Saudi Arabia is one of (if not the) biggest ally we have in the Middle East and its also one of the most repressive. Just as Iran is misogynistic, so too is Saudi Arabia–and to a more extreme degree (women can’t even drive). Just as Iran, Saudi does not acknowledge the existence of Israel (I won’t say that Saudi or Iran hate all Jews). Finally, just as Iran, Saudi also punishes homosexuals with death.

    Additionally, Saudi Arabia effectively has no elections and the dominant religion in the state is inextricably fundamentalist. Osama bin Laden was born, educated and radicalized in Saudi. 15 out of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.

    Yet, because of Saudi’s strategic importance to American interests, we allow them to propagate the same human rights violations that we criticize Iran for–even though Saudi commits them to worse degrees. If American interests were truly about combatting terrorism and/or injustice, we’d have to hold this ally accountable. Because we don’t, all sorts of questions are raised about the motivations behind where and how this country decides to fight terrorism and where it’s interests actually lie.

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