The Iraq War is a testament to the great damage a foreign policy based on myths, lies and distortions can do to our nation’s security and well-being. As the election draws near, a new set of myths and fallacies as misleading as those that led the Senate to support George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq have become embedded in our foreign policy discourse. Many of them are being perpetuated by the very same political forces that peddled the myth of mushroom clouds coming from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Others are the product of muddled thinking on the part of both Republicans and Democrats. If left unchallenged, these myths and fallacies could influence the outcome of the election and shape policy in the next administration. In this special feature, put together by Nation editors with Sherle Schwenninger, a frequent Nation contributor and director of the Global Economic Policy Program at the New America Foundation, we dissect ten of them and offer what we believe is a more accurate depiction of what is at stake for the United States and the world.
Myth 1. It’s a dangerous world. We face an array of serious national security threats that require an experienced Commander in Chief.
John McCain’s supporters have repeated this refrain over and over, replete with 3 am imagery, to call attention to his presumed national security credentials and to cast doubt on Barack Obama’s readiness to be Commander in Chief. Obama has on occasion challenged the politics of fear, but many of his supporters have too readily conceded that it is a dangerous world.
The world is more dangerous than it would have been had the Bush administration not invaded Iraq, spurned Iran’s diplomatic overtures in 2003 and unnecessarily antagonized Russia by expanding NATO and withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. But the world is far less dangerous than it has been in previous election years–certainly less dangerous than in 1960, when John F. Kennedy was elected, or in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was voted into office. Seven years after the 9/11 attacks, it is evident that Al Qaeda lacks the capacity to pose a systemic threat to America. Since 9/11 there have been no major terrorist attacks against US targets outside the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.
As for “great power” conflict, China, India, Brazil and Russia are all stakeholders in the current international system and would prefer to work with the United States rather than challenge it militarily. Iran is too weak economically and militarily to pose a threat to the United States or to US allies in the Middle East and is years away from obtaining nuclear weapons. The stability of nuclear Pakistan and oil-rich Saudi Arabia remains a concern, but both countries have proved to be more resilient–and, in the case of Saudi Arabia, more capable of reform–than their critics have allowed.
This is not to say that the United States does not face major international challenges. These challenges relate to the economic rise of China and India, the transfer of huge amounts of our wealth to petrodollar states, the vulnerabilities that come with the complex interdependence of industrial production and financial systems created by globalization, and the incipient struggle over resources, particularly oil and water. But the skills and resources needed to meet these challenges are not the warrior instincts highlighted in McCain’s Commander in Chief ads. When the phone rings at 3 am, it will more likely be a call warning that an international deal to rescue an American bank that is “too big to fail” has collapsed, and that the Treasury and Fed will have to step in, than a call about a terrorist attack on American soil or missiles being fired on an American ship. The nerves and judgment of a good crisis-management team may indeed be in high demand in the next administration, but not those that the catchphrase “It’s a dangerous world” brings to mind.