Prager University appears to be a fairly well-funded YouTube channel that, while outwardly expressing a faux dedication to free thought, is essentially a neoconservative propaganda machine. Consider the following video, “Should America be the World’s Policeman?”
I find this video almost comedic, as if the goal was to create a satirical piece a la Team America. The narrator of this video, Bret Stephens, at one point asks, “What stopped the Soviet Union?” The answer: ‘Merica! No further explanation is necessary. (Ironically, this seems to belie their other videos that pay lip service to the importance of free markets. According to Stephens, it wasn’t the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism that rendered the Soviet Union a basket case, but America simply being America.)
In trying to seriously consider and evaluate the points made in this video, one cannot come to any other conclusion than that it is an incredibly shallow presentation of a complex subject meant to appeal to individuals who have a severe lack of critical thinking skills. After all, flash animation accompanying narration of baseless claims draws more attention than serious study.
Admittedly, I was surprised at how Stephens began the video, asking “What’s the alternative?” to the United States being the policeman of the world. In another Prager University video defending the US’s dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the speaker was a reverend (!) attempting to justify this mass killing of civilians by favorably comparing it to only one alternative – the US infantry invading Japan – as if there were no other option. In that video, the non-interventionist position was entirely ignored. In this video, Stephens does briefly consider the idea that, perhaps, the US does not have to get involved in conflicts that have no direct bearing on the security of Americans. Such silliness is quickly brushed aside however, because “great powers…don’t get to take themselves off the terrorist target list.” Unfortunately, Stephens fails to consider other important questions:
- Why is the US on such a list in the first place?
- What do the bulk of US interventions (intervening in Ukraine, for example) have to do with being on the terrorist’s watch list?
- Even if the US is on such a list, why does that preclude the US defending Americans from foreign attack?
Rather than addressing any of these questions, Stephens quickly concludes that the US must be the world’s policeman because THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE! It is simply amazing to me that he believes this is anything akin to an argument. Indeed, it is difficult to discern any actual argument being made (that is, one that begins with premises and from them draws a conclusion). Stephens simply conjures a conclusion that is in no way implied from his earlier insertions and fails to seriously evaluate alternatives.
His attempt to defend his conclusion is nothing short of laughable. Things go bad when the US leaves, says Stephens, just consider the rise of the Islamic State! If one’s goal were to create a video satirizing the incredible myopia of warmongers, they would have no need to do anything further, as Stephens has already accomplished it. Does Stephens believe that ISIS simply arose as a force of nature, and would have done so regardless of whether the US attempted to replace the previous government of Iraq? It is difficult to know what to think, as Stephens then acknowledges the ill-advised interventions in Vietnam and…the first few years in Iraq.
The other cited successes of US foreign interventionism (besides the aforementioned stopping of the Soviet Union) include the 1991 intervention in Kuwait (though Stephens seems to contradict himself here; apparently the UN’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Rwandans is worse than the US’s role in the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis) and that in the Balkans. Keep in mind: these are his examples of successful interventions.
Near the conclusion of this video, Stephens attempts to demonstrate how this “Pax Americana” has benefited the world since the fall of the Soviet Union by showing how much Gross World Product had increased from 1990 to 2012. No theory of causation is provided. The Soviet Union collapsed and Gross World Product increased, therefore one caused the other. I doubt Stephens would accept such a flimsy and fallacious argument from someone with whom he disagrees. But, then again, based on the quality of the pseudo-arguments made in this video, it is difficult to say.
But if this video is so silly, why is it worth talking about? Bret Stephens happens to be an award-winning journalist and works for the Wall Street Journal. There are people who actually take him and these types of arguments seriously. And, based on the current state of US foreign policy, there is a sufficient number of people who believe these things. And this has important implications for localism.
Simply put, a bellicose foreign policy requires nationalism to feed upon. It requires that individuals think of themselves less as members of families or communities, but as citizens of nation-states; it is citizenship with the nation-state that is the critical (yet illusory) link between an individual in Idaho and events occurring thousands of miles away. They would otherwise have no relationship with one another, but we are told that serving our country is synonymous with obeying the whims of those in Washington, D.C., whatever those whims may be. Washington, D.C. does not care about Idaho or Oregon or Colorado or Utah. Washington, D.C. cares about Washington, D.C.
Furthermore, a bellicose foreign policy comes at the expense of localism because war results in centralization of political power and administration. Even though the vast majority of Idahoans were not directly affected by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, these events are used as a justification for federal agents to grope Idahoans or view their nude bodies whenever they fly. Same reasoning applies to federal agents viewing our emails and listening to our phone calls, although domestic spying programs have mostly been used for domestic law enforcement rather than to protect Americans from foreigners. And, ironically, with the militarization of the police, we are seeing first-hand what it means for “America” to be the world’s policeman.
The only foreign policy consistent with localism is one of peace and non-interventionism. Otherwise, we become further subject to political decision-making in DC, further taxes to pay for their wars, and further deaths of family members and neighbors who never had anything personal at stake.