Avoiding hubris

Daniel Larison writes on the “hawkish cult of ‘leadership’”:

It is very questionable whether U.S. “leadership” in the abstract is needed in many parts of the world, and it is even more debatable whether it is desirable for us to exercise that “leadership” in certain regions. The U.S. has frittered away trillions of dollars and thousands of lives on ill-conceived attempts to show “leadership” in the Near East, and in the process inflicted enormous harm on the region with virtually nothing to show for the effort. A lot depends on what the senators mean by “leadership,” and their statements earlier in the op-ed confirm the suspicion that they equate “leadership” with meddling in foreign conflicts, interfering in the affairs of other nations, and generally having the U.S. make unnecessary and unwise commitments overseas.

We’re fortunate to play a central role in international affairs, largely borne out of our role in the defining World Wars of the 20th century and the international infrastructure we created afterwards that places us at the center of things. An enormous amount of good has resulted from this—most notably, a more stable, peaceful, and connected planet with a better shot to resolve disputes through diplomacy than with war.

Our important role comes with the threat of hubris, too. What do I mean by this? I think we have a tendency to consecrate any international action we take as if it were of a sacred nature. We do this both on the left and the right, in acting like our own often non traditional and rapidly evolving attitudes translate by-right into universal values on everything from covert wars and military adventurism to unaccountable drone wars and foreign aid tied to American social policy preferences, particularly on abortion and marriage. 

Why do I struggle with these things? Because they look an awful lot like freshly dressed colonialism.