Imagine a neighbor who is constantly in everyone’s business. Perhaps you have such a person, or persons, in your own community. The neighbor complains about the paint colors of shutters, the height of lawn grass, and the number of cars parked on the street. You better hope he doesn’t find out about your backyard chicken coop if it’s prohibited in your county.
It’s bad enough to have neighbors like this, constantly on the alert, monitoring everyone’s behavior, and complaining to everyone in earshot. But imagine if an entire country was like this. Actually, you don’t have to imagine. For that is America — at least the foreign policy establishment and the powerful elite institutions like corporate media and the academy that influence it.
The United States wasted trillions of dollars, including billions of dollars worth of abandoned military equipment, in Afghanistan over a remarkable twenty-year period. Children graduating from high school this year were born when the US military had already been in Afghanistan for years. And yet corporate media is filled with articles and op-eds demanding the US government do more to combat the Taliban’s mistreatment of women and human rights violations, and the country’s egregiously high poverty rate.
In other words, say our globalist elites, we need to tell the Taliban government — who our Afghan allies surrendered to in a matter of days — that their behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences. The Taliban should be punished for its treatment of women, assert those who run the editorial pages of our newspapers. NBC recently cited anonymous Taliban leaders who are reportedly unhappy with state restrictions of girls’ education. Perhaps we have the beginnings of a new Northern Alliance to overturn the extremist Taliban regime!
But it’s not just Afghanistan. We must also intervene in Burma in defense of democracy, advocate for Palestinians fighting Israel for a homeland, and deter totalitarianism in Uganda. We must also, our elites tell us, communicate to every nation around the world that we expect them to respect LGBTQ+ rights in all its manifestations. The “Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Persons Around the World,” released in February 2021, directs American agencies abroad “to ensure that United States diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
In effect, our technocratic elites believe America must not only police the world, but serve as the equivalent to the annoying, invasive, and self-assured elementary school safety patrol. Whenever any nation transgresses against what we have unilaterally decided are inviolable political and social standards, America retains the right, nay the obligation, to intervene with economic or political pressure. Every nation and culture, sovereignty be damned, must respect what we have decided are universal norms. And, the United States, we tell ourselves, has apparently been given the divine commission to enforce these fickle, transient mores.
This is far more meddlesome than the neighbor who complains about pets or unruly children. The American managerial class is commensurate with the neighbor who not only cares about building code violations, but what you are doing inside the privacy of your home. America the neighbor wants to talk to you about what you are teaching your children, what you are feeding them, and how you are clothing them. They want to know specifics about what you were arguing about with your spouse, and if what you said to him or her is worth investigating, publicly denouncing, and even punishing.
It’s little wonder then that countries around the world tire of American posturing and virtue-signaling. We tell fellow nations, including those closest to us, that they need to address all the pet issues we care about: not only corruption and extrajudicial killings, but climate change, access to contraception and abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights. Our foreign policy establishment — aided by the media and well-funded think tanks — proactively search for new outrages that violate our own peculiar American principles and “red lines.” We should not be surprised that our credibility on the global stage is so deeply compromised and vitiated.
I know how I would react to the busybody neighbor who is more interested in managing the affairs of my family and property than his own: annoyance, disregard, and contempt. Perhaps if that neighbor had so much influence and money that he was impossible to ignore, I would make the minimal customary obeisance to his ersatz authority. But that honor would be given not from authentic respect for his virtue, but solely a realpolitik regard for his raw power. And whatever deference I demonstrated to that bully would be symbolic and contrived.
Is that really the image America should be projecting around the world? The United States in the post-Cold War era is no longer the torch bearer for liberty and self-determinism, but, effectively, the busybody neighbor fussing over that unauthorized extension to your house or how you discipline your own children. Our foreign policy establishment acts like a Karen on the global stage: entitled and condescending, demanding everyone conform to her own capricious opinion on what constitutes appropriate behavior, and complaining to the manager about every offense.
Thus do nations around the world accuse us of hubris (and hypocrisy, given we aren’t even consistent with what we seek to coerce). Our definition of what constitutes a human rights violation now encompasses what most cultures (and religions) have for centuries, if not millennia, viewed as acceptable and appropriate limitations on human behaviors deemed fundamentally antithetical to human survival and flourishing. Moreover, when these foreign policy demands have little, if anything to do with our security or economic interests, our neighbors have every reason to ask “what gives?”
Our “everywhere” elites accuse America of not understanding or appreciating the remarkable diversity of cultures and opinions around the world. That’s a tad ironic, given that they are often the ones seeking to destroy that diversity, leveling cultural distinctions for the sake of the latest racial, sexual, or gender fad. Perhaps if we were willing to circumscribe our foreign policy demands to what is actually related to the welfare of everyday American citizens, rather than the peccadilloes of our establishment technocrats, we might engender more respect, and less disdain, on the global stage.
What that would ultimately require is a foreign policy that leverages the same lessons that apply to good neighbors. As Robert Frost once noted: “Good fences make good neighbors.”
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