Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker concludes his interview with The New Mexican (“ ‘It’s a failure of American patience,’ “ Sept. 10), asserting: “It’s the 10th of September all over again.”

Such fearmongering has no place in a serious discussion of U.S. foreign policy.

Crocker declares: “We don’t commit to long-term conflicts. … If they do become long-term, that is when we start getting edgy and looking for the door. … We have created an atmosphere in which our allies worry about our commitment and our patience. …”

We must understand and reject Crocker’s worldview if the United States is ever going to confront serious challenges to democracy at home posed by our unshackled right wing and also tackle the most dire global threat of his (and our) lifetime, climate change.

First, Crocker contradicts himself on long-term conflicts. The war in Vietnam was a long-term conflict. U.S. efforts to dominate the Americas constituted, at least since the 1890s, a long-term, episodic conflict that still rages against Cuba, for instance. “[L]ooking for the door” after failure or because of weariness does not mean that a long-term conflict did or does not exist.

Second, Crocker’s interview is suffused with fear and paranoia: fear about the non-American “other” and paranoia about “an al-Qaida return.” Resorting to fear and paranoia to stir the nation’s citizenry to action has long been a basic component of foreign policy. The upshot after 1945 was an effort to create a hegemonic global presence through what was called the American Century.

Third, Crocker claims occupying Afghanistan “[cost] us very little in blood and treasure” and “was our insurance policy against another 9/11.” This is partly true: The absence of a draft probably prevented the spilling of blood at home. More to the point, the treasure that is American democracy cannot survive foreign adventures that have grown out of the drive for an American Century.

A limitless presence in Afghanistan as an insurance policy against future trouble means our involvement there was, and is, a vital national interest. It was, and is, no such thing.

Government officials such as Crocker, be they Democrat or Republican, are willing to sacrifice core values, such as liberty generally, individual freedoms, political inclusion and, alas, even democracy, in the name of security. The Patriot Act represents the tragic erosion of our core values.

We need to recall the words of John Quincy Adams and Richard M. Nixon. First, Adams, on July 4, 1821: “[America] goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. … She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.”

And, Nixon, at the Bohemian Grove in July 1967: “American-style democracy is not necessarily the best form of government for people in Asia, Africa and Latin America with entirely different backgrounds [from ours].” Would that he had taken his own counsel.

I submit to Ryan Crocker et al. that it is about time for a “failure of American patience” with the kind of foreign policy they espouse.

We must engage the world with others who also know that the existential threat of climate change is much closer than the horizon. Only then can America’s word to its allies be credible and its core values endure.

William Walker is the author of National Security and Core Values in American History (2009) and The Rise and Decline of the American Century (2018). He lives in Santa Fe.

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