“US Leadership”—and Other Euphemisms for War

By Gregory Shupak – Dec 11, 2020

CNBC: How Biden can restore U.S. global leadership after Trump’s retreat from international institutions
Frederick Kempe (CNBC, 11/21/20) calls on Biden to restore “US global leadership” to “counter the growing influence of China.”

Joe Biden doesn’t become president for a month and a half, but already sections of the corporate media are calling on him to use US power to dominate the world.

Typically these calls are couched in benign-sounding euphemisms. For instance, CNBC(11/21/20) ran an article headlined, “How Biden Can Restore US Global Leadership After Trump’s Retreat From International Institutions,” which of course presumes that America ought to be planetary chief, despite the vast majority of those who live on Earth not being consulted.

Fred Kaplan of Slate (11/12/20) asserted that Biden’s “main goal is to restore American leadership in a world that’s keen to follow it.” The evidence suggests the opposite, as polling in countries closely allied with the United States like the UK, France, Germany, Japan, Canada and Australia finds majorities—strong ones, in many cases—have a negative view of America. That doesn’t matter, though, because the point of Kaplan’s assertion is to provide an ideological smokescreen: The world wants “American leadership,” goes the lie, so the American population should support their government’s overseas adventures.

Other corners of the commentariat offer clearer insight into what that “leadership” means in practice–namely violent US supremacy.

Peter Bergen of CNN (11/7/20) advocated Biden “restor[ing] America’s place in the world as the first among equals in a rules-based international order that has served American interests so well since World War II.” For Bergen, this “rules-based international order” includes militarily occupying countries for indefinite periods. He writes that Biden “should retain a light Special Operations Forces footprint for counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, and he should say publicly that the US commitment to Afghanistan is a durable one,” lest the US “give comfort to her enemies.”

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This “commitment to Afghanistan” has been “durable” for at least 40 years, since the US (with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan) began arming far-right forces there. For almost half that time, the US and its partners have been occupying and bombing the country, with murderous US airstrikes falling on such sites as hospitalsmosquesweddings and an MSF trauma center (In These Times8/1/18). These brutal crimes have contributed to the 43,000 Afghan civilianswho are dead because of a war that the US started: None of these atrocities, it would seem, violate the “rules” that Bergen championed.

For the Economist (11/8/20), Biden’s pursuit of “the new art of world leadership” will see him “insist that Iran move back into strict compliance with the” Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal. “Persuading it to do so, without prematurely rewarding its regime with the lifting of sanctions, will be a big diplomatic challenge.” Part of the “art of world leadership,” then, is being careful not to jump the gun on “rewarding [Iran’s] regime” by taking reckless actions like letting Iranian civilians access medicine amid a global pandemic (FAIR.org4/8/20).

Atlantic: The Fraught Politics Facing Biden’s Foreign Policy
It’s not exactly clear what Thomas Wright (Atlantic, 11/22/20) means by “liberal internationalism,” but he seems to think that Barack Obama’s eight years of constant warfare weren’t hawkish enough.

In the Atlantic (11/22/20), Thomas Wright said that Biden “must . . . be cognizant of the precariousness of his liberal-internationalist worldview,” another anodyne phrase. “Liberalism is under siege at home and abroad,” he wrote, and “it will not automatically endure.” Wright provided no specific definition of the “liberal-internationalist worldview,” but hinted at its contours when he said that he hoped the Biden administration’s approach to the world would be similar to that of his former boss: “Biden,” Wright contended, “should certainly entrust senior positions to people who tend toward the Obamian worldview.”

That worldview included carrying out more than 500 drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen in the name of fighting Al Qaeda, an endeavor that killed hundreds of civilians. It included partnering with Saudi Arabia to attack Yemen under the flimsy pretext of curbing Iranian influence in the country. That war has caused the country to be ravaged by cholera and hunger, and has added to Obama’s Yemeni body count by killing untold thousands of civilians in a US/Saudi bombing campaign (Middle East Eye11/17/17). It included making sure Israel was fully stocked with ammunition (Al Jazeera7/31/14) as it carried out an assault on Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians. It included supporting a coup in Honduras (Jacobin12/12/18). This is the “Obamian worldview” that Wright recommends to bolster the “liberal-internationalist worldview.”

Not that Wright wants Biden’s foreign policy to be a carbon copy of Obama’s; he praises Vice President Biden for breaking with his boss in his willingness to “send lethal assistance to Ukraine” and his greater stress on “competition with China and Russia.”

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One of Wright’s recommendations for responding to the apparent “siege” on liberalism is to “codify” support for NATO “by introducing legislation that requires congressional approval if the United States is to leave NATO,” so that a future US president cannot easily withdraw from the alliance. Similarly, Bergen said that “Biden should reaffirm American commitments to NATO.” In the Washington Post (11/8/20), Jackson Diehl described it as “positive” that, in his estimation, Biden “will reaffirm US support for NATO.”

History of NATO enlargement
Since 1999, NATO has added Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Albania, Montenegro and North Macedonia as members (Wikipedia).

NATO is a war-making institution. It is through this alliance that the US and its partners shredded Libya, where NATO—in the process of allegedly protecting Libyan people—carried out serious crimes against the Libyan population, including a missile attack on a crowd of civilians that killed 47. The invasion empowered racists who have subjected Black Libyans and African migrants to slavery, rape, torture and ethnic cleansing, as NATO set in motion nearly ten years of proxy war for Libyan resources that has killed thousands of civilians (In These Times8/18/20).

NATO is also the instrument that has carried out much of the war in Afghanistan, repeatedly partnering with the US to kill civilians, including children: A US/NATO bombing in Helmand province, to pick one of many horrific examples, may have killed more than 100 civilians (Washington Post7/1/07).

All the while NATO has—despite assurances Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton made to Russian leaders Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin—expanded ever-closer to the Russian border, adding 14 member states in Central and Eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War, a major driver of US/Russian tensions in recent years (Jacobin7/16/18).

When the corporate media gushes over NATO, this is what they’re praising.

Anti-China demagoguery also splatters the pleas for Biden to shore up American imperialism. For Slate’s Kaplan (11/12/20), “American leadership” entails the US “getting serious about competing with China.” through a combination of “diplomacy and confrontation.”  The Post’s Diehl (11/8/20) was enthusiastic about the prospect of Biden “standing up to…Xi,” and about

Biden’s plan to forge a coalition of democracies to confront the surging global wave of autocracy. The 21st century has reopened the contest of the 20th over the nature of human governance: China is propagating a model of high-tech totalitarianism.

NBC:Biden's win may disappoint Trump supporters. But there is some hope for our future.
“If the president-elect rejects domestic radicals—including the so-called democratic socialists—and fights against our foreign communist enemies, we must all support him,” says Yuri Pérez (NBC, 11/7/20)—suggesting that democratic socialists aren’t part of “we” Americans.

An NBC op-ed (11/7/20), which didn’t bother with the liberal pieties of many of the above-mentioned pieces, argued that

during the campaign, [Biden] did seem to realize that the United States is facing a second Cold War with China. And so, if the president-elect rejects domestic radicals—including the so-called democratic socialists—and fights against our foreign communist enemies, we must all support him, whether or not we voted for him.

We’re already seeing quite a lot of “confrontation” with China and “standing up to Xi,” and it looks like this: Two US Navy carrier groups holding exercises in the South China Sea, where China and several of its neighbors have a territorial dispute, as the US surrounds China with military bases while threatening to engage the country in a new nuclear arms race and spend them ​“into oblivion” (In These Times8/17/20). It looks like the US sending a nuclear-capable B-52 to the South China Sea, along with cruisers, destroyers and submarines, on top of flying over the area with two B-1B supersonic bombers that were designed to carry nuclear weapons, and sailing a guided missile destroyer within 12 nautical miles of Chinese military bases (The Nation7/30/20). These steps bring America perilously closer to war with China, over territory thousands of miles from the continental United States, yet these commentators feel no need to disavow such tactics as they insist on the supposed need for America to “fight…against” China.

If the pundits get their way, Biden could secure “US global leadership” by flattening large parts of the planet.


Featured image: File Photo.


Gregory Shupak
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Gregory Shupak teaches media studies at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto. His book, The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel and the Media, is published by OR Books.

Gregory Shupak

Gregory Shupak teaches media studies at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto. His book, The Wrong Story: Palestine, Israel and the Media, is published by OR Books.