Does America Need Enemies To Feel Powerful?

When peaceful negotiations were reached with the Iran nuclear deal, why was the US government accused of "surrendering"? Are peace and diplomacy lower priorities than power?

In the latest installment of his satirical column “The Borowitz Report,” Andy Borowitz writes of a fictional GOP institute that claimed Obama is “squandering America’s precious supply of enemies”

 “Our adversarial relationships with Cuba and Iran took years of frostiness and saber-rattling to maintain,” Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Infinite Conflict, said. “Thanks to the President, decades of well-crafted hostility have been thrown out the window.”

It’s hyperbolic, of course, but is the reality so far off? Many are displeased with the Iran nuclear deal—a negotiation reached without violence, and one that curbs Iran’s nuclear threat—because it is an act of capitulation to an enemy state.

iran nuclear program

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the deal 

“a historic surrender by the West to the axis of evil headed by Iran.”

And American Republicans appear to agree.

Recommended: Guess Who’s Not Happy About The Historic Iran Nuclear Deal?

The key word here is “surrender.” Even if the outcome is prudent, peaceful, and in the long run, prosperous, America is not allowed to “surrender.” “Surrender” is un-American. The implication is that any concession the US makes to a smaller, weaker country will render it less than utterly omnipotent.


As The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart puts it, the new deal:

"codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism."

American power

American exceptionalism holds that America is inherently different from all other countries, but has so often been used by conservatives and neoconservatives to suggest that different here means better. After such logic, it’s easy to end up with thoughts such as “America is never wrong,” “the American way is ideal,” and “any compromise America makes is a move away from the ideal, the right, the good.”

American exceptionalism

Politicians like to boast that America has the most powerful military of all existing nations. In 2015, our government spent more on the military budget than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, UK, India, and Germany…combined.

military budget of united states

Because America has taken on the role of adjudicator, even though we can’t hope to know what’s right for all countries. We don’t even know what’s right for ourselves so much of the time. 

“If [Obama's] shameful record is any guide, he’ll probably try to disarm North Korea,” Dorrinson said. “That’s the doomsday scenario.”

More enemies allows the US to rationalize the money it spends on it military, on this image of power and righteousness.

united states armed forces

But making friends of our enemies when possible, and finding actionable compromises that benefit all parties, is the righteous thing to do.

If we’re going to keep clinging to this notion of America being exceptional, maybe we should try and be exceptional in our peacemaking and not in our pugnacity. "Perpetual war for perpetual peace” should not be our national legacy.

Read more: US Defense Boss Seeks To Put Diplomacy Ahead Of Military Might

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