The False Promise of Promoting American Values Abroad

In response to a recent article condemning the United States government’s latest attempt to get America involved in a pointless and destructive foreign war, I got mostly hostile responses. I know this because I broke my general rule of not reading the comments section.

One reply, however, got me thinking. “The author’s view,” a reader wrote, “is not one that I share. American foreign policy is a tool to promote American values.” The reader went on to identify a list of nations allegedly lacking these values, particularly “individual liberty.”

But is the United States really a freer country than, say, Russia? I don’t believe the answer to that question is as simple as it may seem. But I do think my critic is mistaken to assume that the “American values” we promote around the world are inherently good. The ideologies we seek to impose on foreign nations through military and diplomatic pressure, and the causes that our tax dollars fund, are often completely at odds with the traditional principles and restrained governance that every American should support.

The Biden Administration’s push to make social engineering a key component of American foreign policy should surprise no one. But the U.S. government has been trying to force the world into the mold of liberal universalism for decades. 

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton deployed race hustler Jesse Jackson as an unofficial ambassador to Yugoslavia as part of a pressure campaign to make the region follow America’s directives—all while the U.S. military waged a vicious bombing campaign there. In the next decade, the Bush Administration attempted to impose democracy in Iraq after invading the country, toppling its government, and unleashing a wave of ethnic and religious violence. In both cases, America’s leaders unleashed mass chaos and death while they lectured their victims on complying with the liberal world order.

President Trump didn’t do much better. Despite his “America First” rhetoric and marginal successes in reducing the United States’ overseas entanglements, Trump actually advanced the cause of liberal imperialism. Trump-appointed diplomats initiated a bizarre push to impose radical-Left gender ideology in some of Europe’s most conservative nations, notably Serbia and Poland. So much for the dramatic speech Trump delivered in Poland at the start of his presidency on the survival of the Western world and its values.

Perhaps there are those who will argue that despite this poor track record, our global diplomatic and military presence still promotes some nebulous sort of “American-ness” and that this is a net positive. Such defenders of the American empire should consider a practical concern—the immense cost to taxpayers—and a moral concern: In whose hands do those taxpayer dollars end up?

One of the ways that America projects force is by deploying military aircraft in close proximity to rival powers, using them to intercept their own air patrols, conduct electronic surveillance, and enforce no-fly zones. This requires not only large numbers of fighter aircraft but the infrastructure necessary to sustain them. Tankers, or in-flight refueling aircraft, are one component of this logistical chain—and it’s one that has drawn America into a massive international corruption scandal. The U.S. Air Force is considering Airbus, a major European defense contractor, as a candidate to build its next-generation tanker. It’s not clear how much the program will ultimately cost, but the Air Force’s previous tanker contract cost taxpayers nearly $5 billion. 

Should the U.S. government choose Airbus, it will be handing further billions of taxpayer dollars to a corporation with a track record of corruption since at least the 1980s. Airbus is currently facing a $340 million lawsuit from its own investors due to a bribery scandal involving multiple Latin American and Asian countries, including authoritarian regimes with poor human rights records. This is the practical result of insisting on a global military presence: dealings with corrupt foreign corporations at enormous expense to American taxpayers.

America not only acquires military hardware from questionable sources, it also hands out weapons to unethical allies—most recently, the government of Ukraine. Though U.S. politicians have been singing Ukraine’s praises for its supposedly vibrant democracy, the country’s president has recently had both his leading political rival and the previous president arrested. Nonetheless, the U.S. government has donated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “lethal aid” to the Ukrainian military, which formally incorporates militias that embrace neo-Nazism and commit war crimes. Do the actions of these extremist warbands and the government that enables them represent the “positive values” that America supposedly promotes?

It’s time to acknowledge reality: The U.S. government’s dealings with foreign nations and foreign interests do nothing to defend and advance traditional American principles. Our leaders are fixated on subverting nations with values they find inconvenient, but are willing to tolerate bad actors they find useful. To truly be a defender of foundational American values today, one must be willing to call out our foreign policy establishment’s worst impulses.

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About Chris Nagavonski

Chris Nagavonski is a writer and translator from Washington, D.C. who specializes in Eastern European affairs.

Photo: The entrance to the U.S. Consulate General in Krakow, Poland (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto/Getty Images)