The most bizarre part of President Obama’s address on Syria last night was the incredible disconnect on the issue of being the world’s policeman.
Obama started out by making a strong argument for being the world’s policeman:
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements — it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world is a better place because we have borne them.
I can think of no other paragraph which more perfectly summarizes the ideology that the United States is and needs to be the world’s policeman. It is a clear call to action for the United States to be the primary enforcer of international law, just like a policeman. It is a burden, but one Obama says is worth it.
Yet just minutes later Obama claims we are not the world’s policeman:
America is not the world’s policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
The only way to reconcile this absurd disconnect is to point out Obama is technically correct when he says we are “not the world’s policeman.” A policeman is only supposed to be the instrument for enforcing laws and rules approved by others. A policeman needs outside approval to act.
What Obama is actually advocating for with strikes against Syria is for the United States to be the world’s vigilante. A lone actor who uses force to advance his own brand of justice without authorization from anyone else.