The World’s Policeman?

 

Prager University has a new video up by Rico-friend Bret Stephens, appropriately titled “Should America be the World’s Policeman?” As one might expect, Stephens offers a lot of intelligent and sharp analysis about the benefits of an interventionist American foreign policy — much of which I agree with — but I can’t help shake the feeling that it’s all in service of a deeply flawed analogy.

Should America be the world’s policeman? Whenever this question is asked, and it has been asked for nearly 100 years, the answer is usually no. Progressives will say that it suggests American arrogance. Who made America the boss of the world? Many conservatives, especially those with Libertarian leanings, will answer that what other countries do to their neighbors or even to their own people is no concern of ours.

With respect, those are hardly the only available alternatives, nor is the list fleshed-out — as Stephens suggests — by offering the United Nations as a replacement cop or “dividing the world into spheres of influence” with such countries as Iran and Russia.

Moreover, the responsibilities Stephens identifies as producing the Pax Americana don’t map well onto police powers:

Perhaps that explains why, in recent years, the United States has adopted a foreign policy that neglects to do the things that have made that orderly world possible: Commitments to global security, military forces adequate to meet those commitments, a willingness to intervene in regional crises to protect allies [keep international trade-routes open,] and to confront or deter aggressive regimes.

The first and most obvious objection is that police officers and warriors have very different tool kits: most soldiers don’t carry handcuffs and no police department uses belt-fed machine guns (at least I hope not). The similarities don’t quite end at wearing uniforms, carrying firearms, and sharing some terminology of rank, but it’s close. Soldiers are, rightly, unencumbered by standards of proof and identifying breaches of law; police — as we understand them — can keep and perhaps restore the peace, but they can’t create it.

Second, and more importantly, police officers have a duty to serve their entire community and aren’t expected to show great discretion in whom they go after and for what. They aren’t supposed to play favorites or have alliances with only some of their constituents. When we call 9-11, they are expected to respond, not ask what we’ve done for them lately that justifies the risk to their officers. After all, they’re not really “their” officers; they’re ours.

If America is going to continue to be the world’s superpower, we should have very clear ideas about the responsibilities that entails. Topping that list should be protecting our citizens and their property by killing those who mean us harm, followed by coming to the aid of those countries with whom we enter into mutual alliance, and keeping global trade open.

Those are serious and difficult responsibilities and we should be immensely proud if we can meet them with some competence. They are not, however the same as being that of being global police; the world isn’t civilized enough to warrant it.

There are 33 comments.

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  1. user_189393 Inactive
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    Does the world need a police force?

    Was there a “police” that helped the US become a super power?  How about USSR?  How about NATO?

    • #1
  2. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Nobody on the planet wants America to be the world’s policeman… until they need a cop.

    “Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    But to say that militaries are “unencumbered by standards of proof and identifying breaches of law,” has never tried to conduct an operation under the wary eye of some JAG officer. I wish our Marines and soldiers were that unencumbered.

    • #2
  3. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    EJHill:“Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    You mean other than the inhabitants of Nazi Death Camps liberated by the Red Army?

    • #3
  4. Ricochet Moderator
    Ricochet
    @OldBathos

    The world does currently look like Baltimore would if there were a police strike/walkout so there is something to Stephens’ analysis. But Americans tire quickly of that burden and of the carping, foreign and domestic that is piled uon our efforts. It is true the UN is a joke and not a viable alternative but what about something new, a League of Nations That Don’t Suck (LNTDS). Countries who respect law and trade should have their our WTO, their own UN not to infringe on sovreignty but to better facilitate the natural, peaceful exchange among stable democracies.

    As for intervention in countries that do suck (CTDS), (a) all members in LNTDS would have to contribute to security forces and (b) the LNTDS as a whole would decide whether to intervene or let conflicts within or between CTDS play out. Free trade and other courtesies and treaties could be extended to countries that suck but are stable and improving (CTSSI) as an intermediate status but the days of pretending that we are all equal in the UN General assembly need to be over. Pirate regimes need to be reated as such.

    • #4
  5. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Jamie Lockett:

    EJHill:“Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    You mean other than the inhabitants of Nazi Death Camps liberated by the Red Army?

    And that didn’t go very well

    • #5
  6. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Vance Richards:

    Jamie Lockett:

    EJHill:“Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    You mean other than the inhabitants of Nazi Death Camps liberated by the Red Army?

    And that didn’t go very well

    Not saying it did. Just pointing out that there was a time when the Red Army were seen as liberators.

    The world is rarely as simple as ideology dictates.

    • #6
  7. Inwar Resolution Inactive
    Inwar Resolution
    @InwarResolution

    I can’t help but imagine that we (all Americans) are going to face our Creator one day and have to explain why we did nothing to help 20 million starving children of God who had the misfortune to be born in the DPRK.

    How do we live with ourselves knowing that we tolerate the dehumanization of innocent people by the tens of millions in this day and age of abundance and communication miracles?

    • #7
  8. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Tom,

    Of course, it’s a deeply flawed analogy. However, it’s an analogy that won’t go away. Sometimes you must face a defamer head on. Brett is doing just that. I think I can take his take with some poetic licence. He is pushing us to a conclusion that really is inevitable.

    Damn the flawed analogies full speed ahead.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #8
  9. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    EJHill:Nobody on the planet wants America to be the world’s policeman… until they need a cop.

    But, again, is that really the best analogy for an activist foreign policy? I’m hard pressed for a good one, but that one just seems terribly off.

    EJHill:But to say that militaries are “unencumbered by standards of proof and identifying breaches of law,” has never tried to conduct an operation under the wary eye of some JAG officer. I wish our Marines and soldiers were that unencumbered.

    A relatively recent and particularly stupid development, agreed (it’s apparently bad that way in Iraq right now). I don’t want cops acting like soldiers and I don’t want soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors acting like cops; bad outcomes all around.

    • #9
  10. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Inwar Resolution:I can’t help but imagine that we (all Americans) are going to face our Creator one day and have to explain why we did nothing to help 20 million starving children of God who had the misfortune to be born in the DPRK.

    Well, the combination of nukes and Seoul being within range of some Nork artillery pieces makes it… fraught.

    • #10
  11. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor
    Herbert E. Meyer
    @HerbertEMeyer

    This piece brings to the surface an issue that’s been lurking below the surface for too long: In the 21st century, what should be America’s role in the world?

    We’ve all fallen into a kind of shorthand to argue about this.  Those who believe the US should play a big role talk about us being the world’s policeman.  Those who think what happens beyond our borders shouldn’t be of concern to us come across as not being willing to act until, say, Buffalo becomes a pile of radioactive rubble.

    All of us need to re-boot on this issue, and to take a shot at re-thinking it from the beginning. Tom’s given us a fast start by suggesting that

    …we should have very clear ideas about…our responsibilities.  Topping that list should be protecting our citizens and their properties by killing those who means us harm,  followed by coming to the aid of those countries  with whom we enter into mutual alliance, and keeping global trade open.

    I’d add that we have a strong interest in helping countries to become “modern” because modern countries are less likely to start wars — or to be our adversaries.  Moreover, as Americans we’re generally willing to lend a hand, for instance when a country like Nepal suffers a horrific earthquake.

    Honorable people will always disagree about whether to intervene here or to stay out of it but perhaps to intervene there.  What’s been missing is an updated set of criteria for sorting this out.  Tom’s kicked up the door, and we ought to start pushing through it.  Candidates for president — in both parties — ought to be asked about this; we should hold them to answers that are more than boilerplate.

    By the way, does anyone know who came up with the phrase “world’s policeman”? I’d never even thought to ask until now….

    • #11
  12. zepplinmike Inactive
    zepplinmike
    @zepplinmike

    Perhaps a better analogy would be the World’s Vigilantes, like Batman or the Man With No Name. Vigilantes dole out (their own sense of) justice, punishing evil-doers, and aren’t typically associated with sticking around and maintaining the peace when they’re done. Similarly, I think that the US and its military are pretty darn good at taking out international bad actors when we want to, but have a mixed record at best when it comes to helping those countries rebuild afterwards (at least to an ultimately good result). If this is a role that someone needs to play in the world, (and if it is, I personally would rather the US do it than anyone else) then I think it might be best to let us handle the justice-delivering, while either leaving what’s left of the “bad” country to its own devices after or spreading the responsibility for rebuilding to a more international body that is better than the UN.

    • #12
  13. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Let’s assume that it’s true that the US is the “world’s policeman” because there is no alternative.

    Even if true, it does not follow that the US is responsible for intervening and/or preventing every conflict or act of aggression around the planet.

    I do not demand that police step in to adjudicate every single disagreement or fight that happens in my city. When police inject themselves into every single civil disagreement it results in tyranny. Sometimes, it’s better to let people hash things out for themselves.

    Furthermore, would we want the federal government to intervene in every case where it doesn’t think local police are doing a good job? That’s exactly what folk like Al Sharpton are currently demanding.

    The USA has a duty to intervene when an ally is attacked. If other countries want the protection of the USA, they can sign on to mutual-defense treaties or, better yet, apply to officially become US protectorates (or even apply for US statehood).

    The USA has a duty to defend Iraq because it was the USA who changed the regime by force in the first place. The USA has a duty to defend Ukraine because that was the deal when Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons. The USA has a duty to defend the Baltic NATO members.

    The USA has no duty to defend every other country from foreign aggression.

    • #13
  14. user_86050 Inactive
    user_86050
    @KCMulville

    No need to push the analogy too far.

    The policeman analogy is stretched, because while policemen are defenders of the public order, they are also regulators of public behavior. While America is a defender, we don’t regulate behavior. Bad as North Korea is, we don’t currently see them as threats that require a military defense. The fact that they’re a heinous criminal state might tempt us to regulate their behavior, but that’s not our role.

    Our role is based on an unusual post-WWII history that left us as defenders, but neither as a national army nor a police force. Given that every other western power was either decimated or defeated, we stepped up to defend them, especially since we could afford to do that with the threat of nuclear deterrence. We did not need a million soldiers in each country we wanted to defend; the nuke was defense enough.

    Instead, we tried to collectively create an international military, NATO, but that quickly fell back into the WWII pattern of the “Allies” with which we had successfully won the war.

    The pressing question is a state like ISIS. Like North Korea, they’re a heinous criminal state. But are they a military threat to us?  More importantly, can we loiter around and wait until they become one?

    • #14
  15. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    Old Bathos:The world does currently look like Baltimore would if there were a police strike/walkout so there is something to Stephens’ analysis.

    The difference is that the people of Baltimore pay for police protection with their taxes. The “world” shouldn’t expect the protection of the US military if it isn’t also willing to help cover the costs of that protection.

    • #15
  16. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    KC Mulville:The pressing question is a state like ISIS. Like North Korea, they’re a heinous criminal state. But are they a military threat to us? More importantly, can we loiter around and wait until they become one?

    Syria is Russia’s client state, so why isn’t Russia kicking ISIS out of Syria?

    The US can offer its assistance kicking ISIS out of non-allied countries, in exchange for those countries agreeing to the US’ terms and conditions. Recognizing the State of Israel, for example.

    • #16
  17. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @RobertMcReynolds

    The video sets up two false straw-men.  First, a multipolar world, which is what Mr. Stephens in talking about when he mentioned spheres of influence, does not necessarily have to mean that it is Russia or Iran or any other bad guy country you want to name that holds all the cards in their respective spheres.  For instance, we could attempt to convince Europe as a whole to embrace their responsibilities regarding their security and be the counter-balance to Russia.  Or we could do the same with the GCC states visa vie Iran.  The problem then becomes the nay-sayers who will claim that it can never be done and thus never tried, which in my view is the biggest problem.  The message should be sent that we will provide back-up to our friendly powers in the various regions, but we will not be the primary security blanket for them when their security is threatened.  It is the ultimate Conservative philosophy regarding foreign policy.  We advocate that folks seeking public assistance be given the opportunity to first attempt to stand on their own two feet before we just start handing out the bank notes from the Treasury.  Why can’t our foreign policy be somewhat similar when it comes to our interventionist actions?

    Second, not wanting to be the world’s police man does not equal us not wanting to maintain our own security.  That is just ridiculous to claim on its face.

    • #17
  18. user_989419 Inactive
    user_989419
    @ProbableCause

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:With respect, those are hardly the only available alternatives, nor is the list fleshed-out — as Stephens suggests — by offering the United Nations as a replacement cop or “dividing the world into spheres of influence” with such countries as Iran and Russia.

    The list is about as fleshed out as a five and a half minute video can do.

    Tom, what is your preferred alternative?

    • #18
  19. Ricochet Member
    Ricochet
    @Manny

    I completely agree.  The policeman analogy is off.  I’ve never liked it.  We maintain stability in the world so that prosperity can flourish.  We are called to lead because we can and the other “good guys” can’t.  And stability is in our national interest.

    • #19
  20. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    The issue with the policeman analogy is that it leaves one to wonder: what of all the police actions we don’t take?

    • #20
  21. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Herbert E. Meyer:I’d add that we have a strong interest in helping countries to become “modern” because modern countries are less likely to start wars — or to be our adversaries. Moreover, as Americans we’re generally willing to lend a hand, for instance when a country like Nepal suffers a horrific earthquake.

    Can one force modernism with arms? I would say that the track record of this is extremely spotty.

    The answer to modernizing the world is trade, not force of arms. Japan may have been defeated in a war, but what turned them into a modern nation was trade with the west.

    • #21
  22. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The reason the answer to the question whether the United States should be the world’s police is “no” is because it’s framed in a way to elicit that answer.

    As has been noted, cops do all kinds of tasks from very serious crimes to directing traffic and more minor things.  It doesn’t so much suggest arrogance as over-extension.  As resourceful as Americans are, our resources are still finite.

    The most interventionist people on the Right tend to see America more like Superman.  Superman goes after terrorists or Lex Luthor or aliens.  He doesn’t waste his time on three-card monte games or expired parking meters.

    • #22
  23. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Misthiocracy:Even if true, it does not follow that the US is responsible for intervening and/or preventing every conflict or act of aggression around the planet.

    I do not demand that police step in to adjudicate every single disagreement or fight that happens in my city. When police inject themselves into every single civil disagreement it results in tyranny. Sometimes, it’s better to let people hash things out for themselves.

    Perhaps, but calling yourself the worlds policeman while ignoring what is tantamount to a mass shooting or serial killer (North Korea) or massive fraud (Russia, China) would be a total abrogation of the duties of a police officer – not simply choosing what crimes to prosecute.

    • #23
  24. JimGoneWild Coolidge
    JimGoneWild
    @JimGoneWild

    If it keeps the world creeps from doing bad things to Americans abroad and at home, I’m for it. But we need to seek help or assistance from local or regional actors when possible.

    • #24
  25. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Jamie Lockett:

    EJHill:“Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    You mean other than the inhabitants of Nazi Death Camps liberated by the Red Army?

    Nazi Death Camp inhabitants liberated by the Red army were subsequently involuntary confined by the Red Army in Combloc Europe.

    Yeah, the Red Army saved them from being murdered.  But afterward they would be shot in their backs as they fled through the Iron Curtain.

    • #25
  26. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Jamie Lockett:

    Vance Richards:

    Jamie Lockett:

    EJHill:“Yeah! Here comes the Russian Army!” said no one. Ever.

    You mean other than the inhabitants of Nazi Death Camps liberated by the Red Army?

    And that didn’t go very well

    Not saying it did. Just pointing out that there was a time when the Red Army were seen as liberators.

    The world is rarely as simple as ideology dictates.

    Yeah. Right. The next time my friend who escaped ComBloc Poland starts hating on Russians and Leftists I will quote your “insight” to him.

    And I will take care to tell this functional adult “The world is rarely as simple as ideology dictates.”, because juvenile condescension always goes over so well.

    I’ll be lucky to get off with merely being called a moral retard for my trouble.

    • #26
  27. Freesmith Inactive
    Freesmith
    @Freesmith

    Here’s a problem that Mr. Stephens didn’t consider in his well-written book, “America In Retreat” and certainly not in the brief video:

    Any attempt in the future to forcefully defend America’s interests around the globe will trigger a vociferous anti-war movement in the US. Any attempt.

    This is because America now – unlike America during most of the twentieth century – has a domestic, mainstream Left wing political organization: the Democratic Party. That party is intrinsically anti-American, meaning its adherents react automatically in opposition to any assertion of American national interests over either universal values or the interests of preferred victim groups.

    A Republican president who committed US troops into combat would immediately be faced with widespread national opposition, criticism and nay-saying. His intentions would be suspected of the most base motivations, no matter what the provocation he was responding to or the rhetoric he employed. The police action would be a political issue from Day One. Every reversal would be seen as a disaster; every lull would be described as a quagmire.

    And should casualties mount or the police action prove to be indecisive, history now suggests that it is American conservatives who will pay the price. Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress of 2006 – 2010 were the results of an American police action.

    I don’t want that to happen again and Mr. Stephens should factor that likely end-product into his answer.

    • #27
  28. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor
    Herbert E. Meyer
    @HerbertEMeyer

    Jamie, you have a point. You cannot force modernity with arms. But if a country is struggling along the road to modernity, and they’re under threat from some radical force such as ISIS, or Boku Harum, surely we could lend a hand with arms. This doesn’t always mean an invasion. It could mean sales of arms, training, or in some cases covert action. The point is that if we want countries to modernize — and we do — it makes sense to help out when and where we can.

    I agree with you about the importance of trade. And while trade certainly help Japan to become modern after the end of World War II — let’s not forget that General Douglas MacArthur and the Armed Forces of the US ran that country for several years, even writing them a constitution and then helping to put it into place.

    As I keep saying here at Ricochet, let’s not become tribal….there’s often some truth in each point that’s made, and we ought to spend more time figuring out where we agree than finding some word or sentence we didn’t like, then going at each other like Sunis and Shi’ites….

    • #28
  29. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @Batjac

    KC Mulville:

    The pressing question is a state like ISIS. Like North Korea, they’re a heinous criminal state. But are they a military threat to us? More importantly, can we loiter around and wait until they become one?

    A rogue state that revels in separating Americans from their heads absolutely requires a military response.

    • #29
  30. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Power corrupts.  What’s to stop the global policeman from becoming a bully?

    • #30
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