ISIS may be evil, but America's preemptive war against them is just another chapter in American Hegemony
The greatest burden of great power is self-justification. Now that the United States is to become embroiled in another Middle-East war, a familiar pattern is rearing it’s ugly head to justify American actions and reactions. Empires always have a reason to fight a war.
The newest boogeyman America has to fight in the Middle East is ISIS (ISIL). President Obama recent gave a speech categorized as his war manifesto. Obama basically declared America’s greatness and nobility, and why therefore we must again fight a war to defeat a threat that isn’t even confirmed a threat yet. I’ll get to that point in a minute.
The so-called “threat” from ISIS has stirred Obama into a fervor that plagues the leaders of many great powers. In fact, these great powers actively seek out these threats. Without threats and enemies, then it becomes hard to justify the maintenance and possible expansion of world power.
Ever since the end of World War II, the United States has always needed a great enemy in the world. The old Soviet Union proved a worthy one during the Cold War, and for decades the United States was able to expand its global power at the expense of smaller nations. All interventions and covert actions were justified under the need to deal with the Soviet “threat.”
Remember, the US sponsored some of the most brutal coups and dictatorships in the developing world from 1945-1991. All was necessary and well justified to deal with “threats” to democracy and security. America’s growing dominance in world affairs was only an “added” bonus.
After the collapse of communism and the Eastern Bloc, America went a decade without a great enemy or threat it could label dire enough for mass war making and armament. Milosevic in Serbia served a brief niche, but was in no way a figure of global fear. We never considered the Serbian army a personal threat to us per-say. Then 9/11 comes along. With Osama Bin-Laden and Al Qaeda, at last there arose America’s need for an enemy again.
Whether or not Al Qaeda (much like ISIS now) actually poses a great threat to America is irrelevant. Anyone who follows American politics and foreign policy knows that perception, rather than reality, is key. It doesn’t matter how real the threat is, as long as you make the people believe it is a real threat. In the case of ISIS, we are starting a war against a threat that hasn’t even been confirmed yet.
Essentially, the new war against ISIS is yet another example in America’s preemptive war doctrine. Obama (without approval from Congress or any International Organization) is engaging in a de-facto war against ISIS in both Iraq and now Syria. The reason the war is preemptive is because the Obama Administration has not even stated any evidence of an ISIS intent to attack American targets. Obama theoretically said in his speech: We have to attack ISIS before they become a threat because they aren’t right now, but they are still a big enough threat to go to war… err… America!
The mindset America’s foreign policy makers are trapped in is reminiscent of the same problems faced by a great empire in the past: Rome. You see, Rome’s expansion happened over hundreds of years, and more often than not, the excuse for Roman wars and expansion was to eliminate “threats” to its peace. This could be interpreted many ways. Threats to Roman peace (dominance) could be threats to an ally/client state, direct threats to Roman territory, or merely perceived threats that could arise in the future.
Many episodes of Rome’s history saw wars fought over threats that did not spell life or death for Rome itself, but gave it a great excuse to fight a war and expand its power. Other nations of similar power in history have had similar ideas.
Today, America follows a similar mindset. A threat can be found around any corner, and without one, it becomes hard to justify global hegemony. Obama is falling into a deadly problem. By engaging in further war in Iraq and Syria, he has demonstrated America can self-justify any action, and use whatever standard it needs to appeal to this justification.
When Russia uses its forces to aid rebels in Ukraine or China positions its forces against islands in the Pacific, the US always rants and goes on about “respecting international law” or “international norms.” Does the US respect these laws and norms as much as it says others should? No, and the point is it doesn’t have to. These norms are rules to be imposed on other nations, not the US. The rational is simple: American Hegemony needs no check or balance, where rules are only guidelines, and any action taken is by definition a just one.
So Russia attacks Ukraine = Horrible Aggressor. US attacks Iraq, Syria, Libya = Defending Democracy.
I have said before, ISIS is a terrible group. But, we only care about this due to the niche ISIS fits for us. Remember, ISIS arose out of American wars and actions in the Middle East. Our invasion of Iraq in 2003 and support for Syrian rebels against Bashar Assad created ISIS, and now we can use our Frankenstein monster to our expansionist advantage.
The issue is that the United States only pretends to care about the rights of nations when it fits the goal. The goal is self-perpetuation. The empire must always have an enemy to exist. Without an enemy, there can be no hegemony. If you can’t find one, make one. This is at least my analysis, of course.
For any great power, the trap of self-justifying hegemony arises often. The United States now falls into this pattern. ISIS is merely a ruse to a larger endgame. As the global hegemon, the United States must perpetuate its need to maintain its global dominance. Some threats are real, while others useful. The Burden of Empire is Self-perpetuating power.