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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.