Putting the boot in
Nimitz lecturer asserts U.S. claim to ‘Globo-Cop’ role
Preparations for “the war we are about to embark on” are going pretty well, conservative pundit Max Boot — a stand-in for first-choice speaker Condoleeza Rice — told the audience at the first of two Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz Memorial Lectures he presented last week.
“Our troops are massing on the border,” noted Boot, a senior fellow in national-security studies for the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to the conservative Weekly Standard. “We’re getting support from important allies like Britain, Spain, and Italy. I’m fairly confident that within a few weeks’ time the enemy’s capital will be occupied. I know there are concerns about what happens after the capital falls, but I’m not worried about it: I think occupying Paris will be a very pleasant assignment.”
Raising his voice in a mock show of fervor, Boot continued: “I want to assure everyone in this room that, just because we’re going to war with France, doesn’t mean this is a war about cheese. I say, ‘No blood for cheese!’”
Though derisory references to France popped up throughout the course of his 45-minute address on March 12 (entitled “Does America Need an Empire?”), Boot soon assumed a more serious tone. “The notion that the war we are undertaking is a war for oil is only slightly more silly than the notion that we might fight a war for cheese,” he said. It’s been U.S. sanctions against Iraq that have kept Saddam Hussein from selling America “all [the oil] we wanted,” he said. That the U.S. has refused to lift those sanctions “suggests that our primary concern has been the threat he poses, not the oil he possesses.”
“I hate to disappoint all the conspiracy-mongers out there,” the Berkeley alum (B.A., ’91) continued, “but we are going into Iraq for precisely the reasons stated by President Bush: to destroy weapons of mass destruction, to bring down an evil dictator with links to terrorism, and to enforce international law.”
Boot focused his talk on U.S. rationales for undertaking the “thankless task” of serving as a “global policeman,” a role that is worrisome to many.
Not the U.N. not NATO, not the E.U.
One by one, Boot dismissed existing alternatives to the U.S. assuming this role. He said that, with no current means of enforcing them, the body of international laws prohibiting genocide, land mines, and biological weapons are “as meaningless as the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, which outlawed war as an instrument of national policy 11 years before the Wehrmacht marched into Poland.” The United Nations, he said, “provides a useful forum for palaver, but as [a] police force, it is a joke.” NATO, though the best multilateral alternative, is “too large and unwieldy to take effective military action.” The only other multilateral option, the European Union, is “even less potent” than NATO, he said, since it can “neither field an effective military force nor agree on a common foreign policy” and is “completely reliant on [U.S.] military protection.”
A full transcript of Boot's lecture is online.
So who does that leave to be the world’s “Globo-Cop”? The answer is obvious, Boot said: “It’s the country with the most vibrant economy, the most fervent devotion to liberty, and the most powerful military.” The United States has “more power than any other nation in history in either relative or absolute terms,” and while it still needs allies, it is, in Madeleine Albright’s famous phrase, “the indispensable nation.”
“Without a benevolent hegemon to guarantee order,” Boot said, “the international scene can quickly degenerate into chaos and worse. The 1930s turned out as badly as they did because Britain abdicated its international role, and Uncle Sam refused to pick up the mantle. The post 1945-era, by contrast, turned out as well as it did in large measure because America has been willing to underwrite the security of the global economy, to our benefit and the benefit of the rest of the world.”
Countering the assumed objections of skeptics who might maintain that America’s long tradition of isolationism argues against its “desire to play world policeman,” Boot asserted that “rumors of American isolationism are much exaggerated.” To support this idea he cited research he conducted in writing The Savage Wars of Peace (Basic Books), the work cited by faculty in the campus Military Affairs Program in inviting Boot to give this year’s Nimitz Lectures.
In that book he documents 180 landings of U.S Marines abroad between 1800 and 1934. By the turn of the last century, he said in his lecture, the U.S. was “staying longer in places like the Philippines, Cuba, and Panama in order to shape the security environment more to our liking.” In this it was conforming to the 1904 “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine, in which Theodore Roosevelt stated that “chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may…ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation. And in the western hemisphere, the adherence of [the U.S.] to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”
By Roosevelt’s logic, Boot said, “the U.S. is obliged to stop chronic wrongdoing for the simple reason that if we don’t, nobody else will.” Nation-building (Boot prefers the term state-formation) is part of this mission, and is nothing new for the U.S. “It is something we have done before, not only in Italy, Germany, and Japan, but before that in the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, and that we’re now undertaking in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.”
Another name for what we’re doing, he said, is “liberal imperialism … and it’s not a name that we should necessarily shy away from.” Talk of American empire has become respectable in the last few years, he said, and has been endorsed by several intellectuals of the left who understand “that in a world full of murderous tyrants, the only protection...will come from the United States.”
Boot acknowledged the “superficial plausibility” of warnings of “blowback” — the idea that by strongly asserting our power “we will bring greater grief to our shores.” But he insisted that “the risks of being weak are much greater than the risks of being strong.”
“We hoped in the 1990s that by not confronting terrorists and their sponsors we might be able to appease them, to avoid incurring their wrath,” he continued. “But it turned out that there is no appeasing these fanatics. They hate everything we stand for: sexual, political, and intellectual freedom; democracy; female emancipation; secularism — the whole bundle of things known as modernity....Our very existence poses a threat to [their] worldview. There is nothing we can do to appease them. Instead, by trying we only convince them that we could be attacked with impunity.
“When it comes to our implacable enemies, we will never be loved. I hope that we will at least be feared.”