Are Americans wimps?

Is there anything more absurd than the U.S. Congress’s decision to deny funds to close Guantanamo, on the grounds that this might result in detainees being held on American soil? Excuse me, but isn’t this taking the “not-in-my-backyard” principle to absurd lengths? We’re not talking about letting a suspected terrorist walk around free in your ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
585653_090521_walt_gitmob2.jpg
585653_090521_walt_gitmob2.jpg

Is there anything more absurd than the U.S. Congress's decision to deny funds to close Guantanamo, on the grounds that this might result in detainees being held on American soil? Excuse me, but isn't this taking the "not-in-my-backyard" principle to absurd lengths? We're not talking about letting a suspected terrorist walk around free in your hometown while he awaits trial; we talking about putting them in jail while they are tried (and by a military tribunal). If convicted, they'd end up in prison (along with over 200,000 other federal prisoners already incarcerated and the more than 3,000 convicted murderers now on death row). If acquitted, they could still be deported.  

This episode betrays a certain schizophrenia about America's role as a world power. On the one hand, the foreign policy elite continually tells Americans that the United States is the "leader of the free world," and that they have a long list of global responsibilities. As a result, the United States spends a lot of money on its national security apparatus, tells lots of countries how to run their own affairs, maintain an extensive array of military bases, and send its armed forces into harm’s way in various faraway lands. Indeed, William Pfaff is not far off in saying that the United States has become "addicted to war."

Is there anything more absurd than the U.S. Congress’s decision to deny funds to close Guantanamo, on the grounds that this might result in detainees being held on American soil? Excuse me, but isn’t this taking the “not-in-my-backyard” principle to absurd lengths? We’re not talking about letting a suspected terrorist walk around free in your hometown while he awaits trial; we talking about putting them in jail while they are tried (and by a military tribunal). If convicted, they’d end up in prison (along with over 200,000 other federal prisoners already incarcerated and the more than 3,000 convicted murderers now on death row). If acquitted, they could still be deported.  

This episode betrays a certain schizophrenia about America’s role as a world power. On the one hand, the foreign policy elite continually tells Americans that the United States is the “leader of the free world,” and that they have a long list of global responsibilities. As a result, the United States spends a lot of money on its national security apparatus, tells lots of countries how to run their own affairs, maintain an extensive array of military bases, and send its armed forces into harm’s way in various faraway lands. Indeed, William Pfaff is not far off in saying that the United States has become “addicted to war.”

But on the other hand, U.S politicians somehow believe that all this overseas activity shouldn’t have any impact here at home, apart from making us stand in long security lines at the airport. So President Bush didn’t raise taxes to pay for the war on terror or the war in Iraq, and now Congress doesn’t think the American people would tolerate having a couple of hundred suspected terrorists in prison somewhere in the United States.  

Frankly, if Americans are that skittish and self-absorbed, the country has no business exercising any sort of “global leadership” and the various Congresspersons who voted to deny the funds should immediately demand the abrogation of all existing alliances, the termination of all military activities overseas, and a return to a strict policy of isolationism. I don’t think that’s a good idea, by the way, but at least our Congressional representatives would be being consistent.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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