Threats of armed force by national leaders against nations that might interfere with those leaders’ national objectives have been uncommon in recent years. For one thing, they’re illegal. The United Nations charter forbids warfare and threats of warfare without UN approval, except in self-defense. Most nations seem to have taken a lesson from what happened to the war-loving peoples of Europe in the last century. National leaders have mostly been restrained from threatening armed force.
There was a time when military conquest was part of our value system. Might makes right, as we used to say, and as some still claim to believe. Despite the proof of history that conquest is impermanent and injurious in modern times, there seems to be a fringe of Americans who crave organized violence. Arms and threats of violence are tools of virtue in their view. It worries these people not at all that every conflict launched by the USA and other military powers over the past 40 years has succeeded only in killing and maiming lots of people and destroying their property.
It’s a shrinking minority that subscribes to the old view, as more and more people push aside the veil that masks recent history. Today, the general consensus among peace-loving people is that aggressively militaristic leaders should be removed if possible and eliminated if necessary. We recognize that they have been extremely destructive over the decades and centuries, and we suspect that the world might have been a better place but for their brutal and self-glorifying adventures. People who issue threats of military force to advance national interests are now considered armed and dangerous. Restraining them is a matter of life and death.
That’s why many of us are shocked that the US President, a lifelong civilian, should publicly threaten military force against any and all members of the United Nations that might stand in his way. His words were unambiguous: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.” With that chilling declaration, he’s made himself an enemy of all humanity, and he’s taken us with him. Any soldier of just about any nation might kill him or his subordinates and claim the justification of self-defense. Even his own people have a powerful incentive to remove him by all possible means, simply to save human lives.
What motivates this man, our national leader, to embrace such evil? Does he speak for us? Have our values changed so radically that we reject laws and standards of decency? Or is he speaking only for himself, drunk with glory in the knowledge that decent, ordinary kids are willing to kill and die at his command? If it’s personal ambition that motivates him, what’s our obligation to the world, to our nation, to each other?