The Enemy Within
The United States is a bit like a 375-pound, middle-aged man with a heart condition walking down a city street at night eating a Big Mac. He’s sweating profusely because he’s afraid he might get mugged. But the thing that’s going to kill him is the burger.
Since the end of the Cold War, America has been on a relentless search for enemies. I don’t mean a search in the sense of ferreting them out and defeating them. I mean that America seems to have a visceral need for them.
Many in the United States have a rampant, untreated case of enemy dependency. Politicians love enemies because bashing them helps stir up public sentiment and distract attention from problems at home. The defense industry loves enemies because enemies help them make money. Pundits and their publications love enemies because enemies sell papers and lead eyeballs to cable-news food fights.
The Greeks, who once seemed to know a lot more about life than they do about fiscal management today, noted that for any drama to succeed it requires agon — conflict. The same seems to hold true for politics and foreign policy. It’s easier to run against a threat than it is to articulate a vision of where we should be headed and how to get there. Absent clear dangers, it’s hard to persuade people to fund giant defense and intelligence establishments or to mobilize international coalitions. (Just add up how many international coalitions are primarily against things — enemies, hunger, disease, climate change — rather than for things.)