In the wake of disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, the American public has come to broadly question the neoconservative ideals that American power is limitless and that war can be a positive instrument of social change.
Bernie Sanders greatly bolstered his popularity when he called out Hillary Clinton for taking advice from Henry Kissinger, the architect of repeated foreign policy horrors like the carpet bombing of Cambodia and 1973 coup in Chile ("Chile's 9/11").
Unfortunately, America's newspaper of record, The New York Times, continues to give us a lineup of columnists whose worldview is not too different from Kissinger and who have repeatedly shown poor judgment.
Consider Nicholas Kristof, a charter member of what Edward S. Herman called the "cruise missile left." Liberal in domestic policy, he travels the globe uncovering atrocities by sex-traffickers and rogue regimes most often allied with American geopolitical rivals. Kristof all-the-while champions military intervention for "humanitarian purposes," claiming in September 2001 that "troops can advance humanitarian goals just as much as doctors or aid workers," and that our invasion of Afghanistan may "end up saving one million lives over the next decade."
Kristof's poor judgment was again apparent when his August 31, 2011 column "Thank You America!" extolled President Barack Obama for toppling Libya's "odious regime" and claimed the U.S.-NATO war was a "rare military intervention for humanitarian reasons which had succeeded."
Today, this reads as a sick joke in light of Libya's disintegration.
Kristof's writing generally present world conflicts in simplistic good versus evil terms. Functioning in this respect as a propagandist, he does not seems to fathom that the U.S. government might hold geopolitical motives for undertaking regime change and play up the human rights abuses of its enemies while seeking to minimize those of its allies.
The Times' other key foreign policy analyst, Thomas L. Friedman, has referred to Palestinians collectively as "Ahmed" and is best known for extolling the virtues of free-trade and corporate driven globalization. His reporting style, as Belen Fernandez points out in The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work has been to spotlight the views of Fortune 500 and other corporate executives while ignoring the plight of the working class and poor.
Believing "the hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Friedman long supported the ouster of Saddam Hussein, whom he said was "the reason God invented cruise missiles." During the Kosovo war, one of his columns was titled "Give War a Chance," and another "Stop the Music" in which he called for bombing Serbia back to the Middle Ages. He wrote "every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."
Adopting a more sober tone recently, Friedman's April 6th column, "Impossible Missions," acknowledges many of the interventions he once supported have been a failure. Quoting John Hopkins political scientist Michael Mandelbaum's new book, Mission Failure, he considers this a historical "aberration" caused by the U.S. becoming "overwhelmingly powerful" compared to any rival, which led it to become "geopolitically drunk" and to "decide that it didn't want to just be a cop on the beat protecting our nation, but also a social worker, architect and carpenter doing nation building abroad."
While the point about being "geopolitically drunk" is accurate, Friedman's remarks suggest that the United States neglected its security concerns by embarking on fruitlessly quixotic nation building crusades. The reality, however, is that the U.S. has carried out major military interventions and fought dirty wars in dozens of countries in which over-zealous night raids and torture as well as drone strikes have fueled a backlash that has made the country more vulnerable.
These policies have not actually been an aberration if we consider the history of American military intervention dating to the Indian Wars. The U.S. previously over-reached in Vietnam and helped create failed states from which terrorists have emerged while serving as "cop on the beat" in the Cold War.
The deployment of social workers, architects and carpenters is also nothing new. The U.S. undertook nation building in Vietnam and in many other countries, including in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century where engineers, teachers, and police and agricultural advisers were sent to fortify a U.S. military occupation, just like in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Friedman at the end of his column suggests that whatever its shortcomings, American foreign policy has always been guided by the "best of intentions." This sentimental viewpoint, promoted by mandarins in all world powers through history, neglects that the U.S. has hundreds of overseas military bases and that military contractors donate huge sums of money to political candidate who ensure the perpetuation of misguided wars from which they profit.
As the Sanders-led political revolution continues apace, The New York Times should follow suit by hiring a columnist to address foreign policy with sound judgment who can genuinely educate his or her readers and promote new ideas. The humanitarian interventionists, free-trade enthusiasts, imperial apologists, and anti-Arab militarists have had their time in the sun and for too long led us astray.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) which Friedman and his successor ought to read!