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American Hegemony, Guarantor of Legitimate National Sovereignty

US Flags on display
US Flags on display
Lisa DeJong / The Plain Dealer

On this Labor Day let us remember that it is free labor that is to be honored. How is that to come about? By having a government that is “instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,” That ideal of legitimate consent and government can only be maintained by a clear and vigorous defense of its principles.

America is the hegemon in today’s world, the acknowledged superpower. That rankles some, causes others to apologize, some others to fear, still others to breathe a sigh of relief. Commentators speak of America‘s disproportionate power, its global reach, its pervasive pop culture. Its detractors say America paternalistically tells other countries how to live, that she even violates other nation’s sovereignty. In Obama’s speech in Egypt in March, 2009 he said the Middle East’s problems can be attributed to Colonialism, the Cold War, and Western decadence, coincidentally all products of the West. This was the ideological pretext for Obama’s “apology” tour, and remains his position and that of the cultural Left.

But on the contrary, Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional, an “empire of liberty” in Jefferson’s words. But others, in a less congratulatory tone, will say that we are self-absorbed, even infamous, and have run amuck in the world. That our sins are so egregious that we are actually dangerous, i.e. more a threat to the world than the likes of Saddam Hussein, Kim Jung Il, or even Hugo Chavez? Such were the sentiments of many on the eve of the liberation of Iraq and the years following it.

But the liberation of Iraq is exactly what the Iraq War accomplished. Sovereignty is no longer a guarantee in the modern globalized world. Even Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Anan proclaimed that several policies of a nation like genocide, use of WMD, repeated aggression, and violations of the NPT will not insure that nation’s sovereignty, but in fact endanger it. In other words, such violations of international norms can be used as a pretext to intervene militarily. However, ironically enough, the UN had little to do with the liberation of Iraq in 2003 and restoration of legitimate sovereignty. That role was left to the US and its allies. Thus Operation Iraqi Freedom was undertaken to restore legitimate sovereignty to Iraq and assert America’s hegemony in the region.

America is the world’s hegemon, that is clear, and though she stands heads and tails above all others, she shares a situation common to all; for we are all in the same boat – on the same ship of the international system, on the same sea of anarchy. It would do well for the “blame-America-firsters” to remember that. Anarchy is the defining condition of international relations – no clear over-arching authority to govern international politics. That state of affairs existed long before America came on the scene. To invoke a cliché: “the world is what it is”. To paraphrase President Bartlett (a la the TV show The West Wing), “we live in a .357 magnum world”.

But this is a reality that Obama seems unaware of. In June 2009 he said “No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons”. Really? So should anybody have a personal sidearm? No. Children should not, nor felons and mentally disturbed people. So it is legitimate to discriminate between those who are responsible enough for the responsibility to possess guns as well as nuclear weapons. This is what maturity and leadership is supposed to help us figure out. In other words, what hegemony is supposed to mean in the international system. If America was to abnegate its leadership position in the world, then more instability arises, not less. What we don’t want, but have in the White House, is “a .22 caliber mind in a .357 magnum world.”

Now of course America is not without faults and has made mistakes. That doesn’t make us especially egregious. It does, however, make us rather like everyone else in a sense. But one significant difference, among others, is that America’s foibles are pretty much open to view. There is transparency -- look at Abu Ghraib and the election 2000 controversy. There is still respect for the rule of law, sanctity of a free press and freedom of speech.

However, if we are looking for naked, unrepentant violations of sovereignty, that do not meet the criteria stated by the UN, we need look no further than the former USSR, its usurpation of Eastern European countries after WWII and their constant subjugation until the USSR’s demise in 1991. We need look no further than China with its invasion and occupation of Tibet. Is there any question that China would violate Taiwan’s sovereignty without the presence in the Pacific of the US Seventh Fleet? Is there any question that North Korea would violate South Korea’s sovereignty if the DMZ were not an armed camp backed up by the US Eighth Army? This is what “violation of sovereignty” really means and hegemonic leadership against it.

Could anyone call the post-WWII Marshal Plan and the rebuilding of Japan and Germany violations of sovereignty; or the allied zones of occupation in those countries, or the numerous reconstruction projects throughout the world in the last few decades?

From the “blame-America-firsters” perspective, what missed opportunities America had in its grasp at that time; a chance to show the world how to really violate sovereignty and gobble up vast swaths of territory. But we didn’t. We must have been asleep at the wheel. But we weren’t. Territorial aggrandizement is antithetical to liberal democracy. But the nay-sayers are unyielding. They say we are bungling fools undeserving of our global might and incompetent to wield hegemonic leadership. If America has an attention deficit disorder, as Niall Ferguson has said, it is the shallow memory of that which should make it proud.

After all, never mind the leadership shown in WWII, the leadership of the UN forces in the Korean War, the guidance and support during the Cold War, the leadership in resolving the Balkan crises, brokering a formal peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and the leadership in coalition building in the first and second Gulf wars. America is the guarantor of the sovereignty of South Korea, of Taiwan, and even Japan. It is the nation that keeps the sea lanes open. Throughout the Cold War, NATO with America at its head guaranteed the sovereignty of Western Europe and Check-Point Charlie in Berlin was the tip of the spear.

Yes, America’s influence is profound, but it is vastly inaccurate to say that its foreign policy violates other countries sovereignty or is a threat to world peace. Have there been abuses? Yes. Are they corrected? Yes. Should this conduct and transparency serve as an example for the world? It already does, but it rankles some; so let them be rankled.

Lawrence S. Harris


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