Co-written by Patrick Porter.
Whatever US statecraft was supposed to create, it was not this. In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd on 25 May, barricades have gone up around the White House, unidentified paramilitary forces patrol the nation’s capital, police run amok in neighbourhoods and attack journalists, while Donald Trump threatens military force, branding peaceful protesters “terrorists”. Across the country, cities that were already facing Covid-19 and the subsequent economic distress are now aflame. To the Minnesota governor Tim Walz, they resemble “Baghdad or Mogadishu”.
Walz’s comment is more accurate than he imagines. The US arrived at this point in part due to the extravagant foreign policy that put its troops in Baghdad and Mogadishu. The nation’s current situation should therefore end one conceit that has lain at the heart of its public life for decades: that a constitutional republic can survive while continuously fighting wars abroad. Years of conflict have spawned an American style of militarism, an excessive reverence for force and anti-insurgent policing, which leans towards absolutism and racialised violence.
Consider how Trump and his officials responded to the protests. US defence secretary Mark Esper stressed the need to “dominate the battle space”. Though he later renounced this terminology, he has previously described US air strikes as “continuing to mow the lawn” and urged the US Congress not to debate the war-making powers of the executive. Senator Tom Cotton, who recently sanctioned military action against the American people in a New York Times op-ed, tweeted insisting that “no quarter” be given to the insurrection, and demanding federal military action over the will of governors and mayors. Suggesting armoured vehicles be put on the streets, Trump spoke of the need for the military’s “unlimited power”. The chair of the joint chiefs of staff, General Mark Milley, toured Washington, DC, in combat fatigues to “review efforts to quell the protests”.
In principle, the case for federal intervention to protect lives and property should be at least sombre and reasoned. But it has taken on a bellicose enthusiasm, suggesting attraction to violence as a display of power untamed.