Dispatches from the Empire

Listen to the Dissenters on Israel

Our status as a haven for human rights has always been dubious, a self-serving mythology that massages the ego while covering up real horror. Our closest allies can hardly boast of better behavior, even as they claim their own commitments to democracy. Such claims rest on selective memory, forms of national amnesia that ignore the bad while emphasizing only the most superficial good. In the U.S., there are few reckonings for our actions overseas, and little accountability for bad actors. Ghouls like John Yoo can author torture memos and enjoy a comfortable sinecure thereafter. Luminaries fêted Henry Kissinger for his recent 100th birthday. The U.S. rehabilitates its own worst and expects the world to acquiesce.

What, then, does America mean to the world now? People still risk their lives to come here, but the overall portrait is one of imperial decline. Though the election of Joe Biden repaired some reputational damage from the Trump years, our elderly president polls badly at home while he props up abusive regimes overseas. Congress looks little better. One party cannot govern, while the other mostly fails to check Biden’s worst foreign-policy impulses. The U.S. has extended a national culture of impunity to its friends, including Israel, and the subjugated pay the price, which is violence.

In such times, dissent takes on new importance. It serves both a pragmatic and moral function. Dissenters can remind the U.S. of the promises it makes not just to its own people but to the world. Should the powerful listen, they seize an opportunity. There is time, still, for the U.S. to do the right thing: to stabilize the damage it has inflicted on the oppressed and itself, to regain an edge over its competitors on the global stage.

If ever I could sum up my feelings about America…