America may be morally bankrupt after decades of overdrafts, but Greg Camp hopes that once Trump has gone the US can be treated like many a banking institution as too big to fail.
First published in October 2019.
Donald Trump’s bumbling betrayal of the Kurds by pulling back American forces from the border between Turkey and Syria where Recep Tayyip Erdoğan supposedly wants to set up a security zone and then threatening Turkey with economic destruction for doing so has once again brought America’s credibility into question. We have a long history of saying one thing and doing another – more on that in a moment – but in the past, there was at least an argument to be made that we were acting in what we perceived to be our national interests, rather than for the president’s private benefit. Or, what is worse, out of gross incompetence.
Anyone who doubts my assertion about America’s betrayals is invited to put “Native American” and “treaty” into any search engine. Residents of the twentieth century would tell us that our fine talk about supporting democracy was hard to listen to over the noise of American ordnance shipped in to aid tyrants. And the Kurds can supply their own list of grievances against us, though the United States is sadly not unique in treating them as pawns.
One problem, of course, is the reality that we are allies of both sides in this conflict, nor is this anything new. Turkey’s presence in NATO – along with their rival, Greece – comes out of the early days of the Cold War when we divided the world into communist and capitalist – the latter defined as doing what the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell considered good for their clients. We used Turkey as a base for nuclear missiles, one of the incitements that led Nikita Khrushchev to send similar weapons to Cuba, and while we removed the Jupiters in a deal to pull back from that particular crisis, we still have tactical nukes stored at our İncirlik base.
Our relationship with the Kurds has its own lengthy history. They were, in fact, fighting on the side of the Allies in World War II, and they have aided American forces in our conflicts with Iraq and lately against ISIS. We have relied on the Kurds to act as prison guards in addition to asking them to fight battles, and Donald Trump is now complaining that the Kurds are having to take some of their people off warden duty to defend against the invasion that he bears some responsibility for.
Again and again and again, the United States has made promises, only to prove our faithlessness. I have left out various trade agreements, which arguably are more flexible deals of convenience, but I cannot ignore Trump’s decision to reject the Paris Agreement. Wars in the Middle East endanger tens of thousands, a sum that apparently is trifling from the perspective of the Republican Party, while climate change puts human civilization as a whole at risk.
Our current pattern of betrayal, fitting into our long history of betrayals, makes valid the impression that the United States has no credibility either in the great or in the small. For what reason would anyone make a deal with my country? We cannot even be trusted to act in our own best interests, and we have demonstrated that whenever things become difficult, we will run.
Some might see this as a good outcome, a decolonization from the last imperial power. But global problems require equally broad solutions, and if the continuing power of the United States is not used for good, we will end up doing harm – whether by inaction in the face of dangers or by seeing ourselves as free to carry on floundering about on a fragile planet.
China is taking a leading role in developing green energy generation, but we remain one of the primary consumers of electricity, and if we decide only to consume and not to create, we will be handing an authoritarian government control of the market. If Steven Pinker is right in his argument that we live in the most peaceful time in human history, thanks in part to international structures for reducing conflict, it is clear that a nation with our ability to project force can contribute to or can detract from this trend. The choice not to participate creates a space into which bad actors will leap, and we will be drawn in eventually at much greater cost. We can sit back, ignoring the crises of refugees around the world, ducking our treaty responsibilities in that regard, but as numbers rise, the force of movement will break down any wall we have built.
America may be morally bankrupt after decades of overdrafts, but I do hope that once we correct our error of electing a toddler fascist, we can be treated like many a banking institution as too big to fail. The world may not be joyous about our presence, but we are stuck with each other. At this point, it is the duty of my nation to refinance our moral loans and create new credit, both for our own benefit and for that of humanity.🔷
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