Empire is Evil: Caleb Rossiter's Foreign Policy Blog

January 29, 2014: "Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach" (Truer Words were Never Spoken)

ROTC stands for Reserve Officer Training Corps.  The Pentagon funds ROTC programs in schools and colleges not just to train potential members of America's armed forces, but also to present the foreign missions of those forces to the community in a favorable light.  A poster outside the ROTC office in Barton Hall at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, admits this purpose. 

Titled "Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach," the poster shows members of the Cornell ROTC contingent going out into the community in their uniforms.  This makes U.S. military interventions abroad, like supporting dictators who provide the U.S. government with military bases and American corporations with investment opportunities, seem like normal activities for nice young men and women.  This community outreach encourages Americans to support these interventions rather than question them.

American Exceptionalism Media Project director Caleb Rossiter saw that poster while training in Barton Hall for a track meet.  He wrote an article for the Cornell Daily Sun about the truth of the poster's claim that "Global Reach Starts with Community Outreach."  Here is the article.

April 3, 2013: The UN Arms Trade Treaty: An Agreement on Arms, With No Teeth.

I helped write the original arms trade treaty -- the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers -- in 1993. Ever since 1999, when Amnesty International dropped the Code's clear ban on arming and training dictators, in favor of an unenforceableban on selling weapons that might be used to harm citizens, the arms trade treaty has been doomed to irrelevance. Here is my recent article on the new treaty, in the on-line magazine Foreign Policy in Focus.

February 5, 2013: French-U.S. Attack in Mali: Not a Humanitarian Intervention

I argue in The Turkey and the Eagle that human rights activists are manipulated by neo-colonial powers into supporting allegedly apolitical "humanitarian interventions" that are political in the extreme. A recent case? The 46th French military intervention in Africa since its former colonies' quasi-independence in the 1960's. Here is my (unpublished) letter to the New York Times on the subject.

December 13, 2012: Camouflage Hockey Uniforms? Using concern for the troops to promote empire.

Militaristic propaganda is seemingly everywhere, and it is particularly obnoxious when it trades on our concern for our troops who were wounded in imperial wars. Check out my recent opinion piece in the Ithaca (NY) Journal.

November 4, 2012: What Right Do We Have to Attack or Sanction Iran?

In the 1990's I founded a research and advocacy group called Demilitarization for Democracy.  In its 8 years of operation, DfD won a number of victories for human rights and arms control: we blocked transfers of U.S. arms and training to dictators in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Africa, and successfully promoted a moratorium on the use of anti-personnel landmines, which provided impetus to the international effort to ban these weapons.  However, on our signature campaign for a Code of Conduct to ban arms transfers to dictators, DfD’s coalition of arms control, humanitarian, and human rights groups was beaten soundly.  We were overwhelmed on floor votes in both houses in 1996 by the Clinton administration, which was aided by union and corporate interests and the foreign policy establishment. 

The administration’s argument boiled down to a creed known as exceptionalism: America is a unique and altruistic force for good in the world, dedicated to protecting democracy, stability, human rights, and economic growth, and we need these relationships with less-than-democratic governments to strengthen us against the countries that do not share our values.  In 1998 I took a leave for DfD to run for Congress against a Member who had voted against our legislation, and I encountered the same powerful public opinion: if we do it, it has to be good, because we are the indispensable power and must make deals so we can good for the world.  As a college professor and high school teacher since then, I have seen the same core belief already firmly indoctrinated into many of my students, and thought about how to address the problem before it becomes the excuse for another generation of American domination of other countries.

DfD’s experience was the same as those of all progressive arms control and human rights groups: exceptionalism provides a banner under which the imperial elite and self-interested actors can successfully ward off campaigns against nuclear weapons, particular conventional weapons, interventions, intimidations, and aid to repressive forces.  These campaigns treat the symptoms; our project wants to make that treatment easier by attacking the disease itself -- exceptionalism.

U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program provides a good example of the difficulty of conducting individual campaigns without taking on exceptionalism.  Just as they were in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, arms control groups have been forced into a corner, because they must operate within the confines of the public belief that America should take an exceptionalist positon, and claim the right to force other countries to stop pursuing nuclear weapons themselves. 

Arms control groups have to dispute means, not ends, on Iran because the policy debate is framed by exceptionalism.  As in Iraq, they argue that the weapons process is not well-developed, or that military attacks may harm more than hurt U.S. interests, and they implicitly support brutal economic sanctions that harm the average citizen.  The groups would be strengthened by a simultaneous effort to discredit America’s exceptional right to determine which nations can have nuclear weapons.  This effort would also aid them as they push the United States to make good on its commitment under the NPT to negotiate away all nuclear weapons, including its own, under international controls and inspections.