If you've ever had the privilege of watching the 1980s cartoon G.I. JOE, you know all about COBRA, a cold-blooded terrorist organization bent on world domination. Why world domination? Well, the series never did go into much detail — but it was clear that they were enemies of freedom and under no circumstances could we have COBRA running around uncontested. Enter G.I. JOE, these guys were Real American Heroes and they always saved the day. Every scheme that COBRA hatched was foiled by our American good guys, such as a sadistic attempt to rain down alien spores onto Earth. G.I. JOE was always ready to defend world freedom and did so every Saturday morning, with little to no cost.
Regrettably, the United States government currently employs a naïve foreign policy not at all different from the archetypal G.I. JOE narrative. Our interventionist modus operandi shares two critical assumptions with the cartoon that makes for classic boyhood television but destructive foreign policy.
Assumption #1 — They hate us because we are free. Why did al-Qaeda attack the United States? The answer given by Rudy Giuliani, Sean Hannity, and other neoconservatives is disturbingly similar to the reason for COBRA's attacks given by the cartoon — they hate freedom, period. It simply isn't possible that invasive U.S. imperialism and poor foreign policy throughout the past fifty years has elicited anger and motivated violent retaliation. They would have us believe that military occupation in the Middle East, the starvation of Iraqi children through economic sanctions, the destruction of water treatment plants and the unqualified support of Israel cannot possibly have any connection to Middle Eastern hatred of the United States. Thankfully, former head of the CIA's Osama bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer is willing to shed some light on the conversation, "We’re being attacked for what we do in the Islamic world, not for who we are or what we believe in or how we live." Be aware, assumption #1 can change in its specifics but the principle always remains the same: the United States government can do no wrong and any country that harbors ill-will towards the United States is either evil, irrational or both.
Assumption #2 — Military interventions have no unintended consequences. When the JOES storm the COBRA compound, lazers ablazin', explosions all around and the American flag waving boldly in the background, the last thought swirling around a viewer's mind is the possibility that such an foray could have unintended consequences. After all, in cartoon-world the mission is always accomplished and done so with minimal losses. However, there exists a very real difference between the cartoon-world G.I. JOE/COBRA scenario and the reality of international relations. The G.I. JOE foreign policy is epitomized by the Iraq War and the notion that U.S. military force can somehow bring peace and stability to the world and do so without repercussions. The current mess in Iraq is proof-positive that a serious and overarching change in foreign policy is needed
After several seasons of warfare, the G.I. JOES finally destroyed COBRA's headquarters by use of a nuclear warhead. I'm afraid to say that if our G.I. JOE foreign policy continues we can expect an identical outcome. With nearly every presidential candidate (the exception being Ron Paul) refusing to take pre-emptive nuclear war off the table, what other conclusion could I possibly come to?
September 17, 2007