A Perfect Distillation of Neocon Boosterism and Its Dangers

Yes, America has done lots of wonderful things. No, that doesn't mean it is incapable of doing very bad things.
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Don Rumsfeld shakes hands with Saddam Hussein, back when we were cool with his war-making and repression. (Screenshot)

Taking to the pages of Commentary to criticize Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, Max Boot offers a paragraph that may be the quintessential example of neoconservative boosterism and its dangers. Writes Boot of Snowden:

He claims he is willing to sacrifice a comfortable lifestyle in Hawaii "because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building." In reality, of course, the United States is the greatest champion of liberty the world has ever seen -- this is, after all, the nation that defeated Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and has championed democracy from Libya to the Philippines, freeing untold millions from oppression.

A satirist couldn't have crafted this better.

Yes, of course, America has a proud place in the annals of countries that have contributed to human liberty. Like most Americans, I am proud of our founding values, many of the causes for which our nation has fought, and much of what we contribute to the world today. Unlike Boot, I recognize, along with other students of reality, that having championed liberty -- even having championed it more, in aggregate, than any other nation -- does not make that nation incapable of tyrannical things. That ought to be obvious to anyone aware of, say, American slavery.

A fourth grader could explain why "America is building an illiberal surveillance machine" is not rebutted by, "in fact, America is the nation that did these three really awesome things for freedom." Boot's counter to Snowden would be silly enough even if it merely took that general form. But what really killed me are his particular examples:

...this is, after all, the nation that defeated Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and has championed democracy from Libya to the Philippines, freeing untold millions from oppression.

Yes, America defeated Nazi Germany -- along with, er, the Soviet Union. (Stalin a tyrant? Why, he's one of the leaders that defeated Nazi Germany!) Yes, America played a role in the defeat of the Soviet Union, helped preserve the liberty of Western Europe, and emerged as the winner at the end of the Cold War ... which doesn't mean we were a champion of liberty in Latin America during that era. In Libya, George W. Bush was cutting deals with Moammar Gaddafi -- over the objections of virtually zero Americans -- before Obama was backing those trying to oust him from power. As for the Philippines, Boot would do well to read up on the Anti-Imperialist League.

Yes, America has done lots of wonderful things. No, that doesn't mean it is incapable of doing very bad things.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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