Noted American political scientist John Mearsheimer said at a conference that the current refugee crisis in Europe is in large part a “gift from Uncle Sam.”
At a panel from the Advancing American Security conference, hosted by the Charles Koch Institute, Mearsheimer slammed American social engineering in the Middle East and the subsequent refugee crisis in Europe as a product of liberal hegemony.
“We’ve broken Syria into a variety of parts,” Mearsheimer said at the conference Wednesday. “Refugees are streaming into Europe, threatening to wreck the European Union. This is a gift of Uncle Sam.”
Refugees pouring into Europe have created tremendous conflict among member states. Countries like Poland and Hungary have refused to abide by EU dictates, pledging to keep out refugees, as to maintain internal sovereignty and cultural values. In Germany, while the government is largely pro-refugee, regular citizens have expressed displeasure with essentially open borders policies, which brought in over a million refugees into Germany in 2015 alone.
This opposition has continued to grow, spurred on by refuge misbehavior, specifically the sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve perpetrated by Arabs and North Africans. Media and government cover-up of the assaults has only served to fuel burgeoning far-right movements in Germany, like PEGIDA and Alternative for Germany. Terror attacks in Brussels and Paris, as well as reports that the Islamic State is sending operatives disguised as refugees deep into Europe, have strained the EU to the limit. Britain’s upcoming referendum to exit the EU is in part based on terror concerns.
As Mearsheimer put it, the refugee crisis in Europe is a paradigmatic example of unintended consequences arising from meddling in Syria, but the American people don’t seem to care about these consequences, because throwing U.S. military resources at lost causes around the world doesn’t materially affect them personally.
But the absolute death and destruction wrought in Syria is still difficult to ignore. Out of an entire population of 23 million, 7 million have been internally displaced. A further 4 million have left the country altogether. At least 250,000 people have died. Other estimates place the death toll even higher at 470,000.
Part of the reason behind constant U.S. intervention in the Middle East is the fact that liberal hegemony is a dominant stance among foreign policy decision-makers. Liberal hegemony describes a deep commitment to transforming every nook and cranny of the world to come into alignment with U.S. political and social values. This ideology, according to Mearsheimer, is bent on dominating the entire globe. What this entails, then, is a constant stream of social engineering abroad, often in the form of regime changes.
While ideas of liberal hegemony had existed in some form during the Cold War, the post-Cold War era supercharged its influence, and after 9/11, the U.S. adopted an even more aggressive policy of regime change.
At the time, the undisputed school of thought was essentially that the planet was destined to be filled with liberal democracies, and nothing else. Liberal democracy was viewed as the final form of government. This conception tempted the foreign policy elite to speed up the historical and global inevitability of liberal democratic supremacy by using a big stick to engage in social engineering.
But for Mearsheimer, the focus on liberal hegemony flies in the face of a focus on actual U.S. foreign policy interests.
“Why do we care about regime change?” Mearsheimer asked. “We’re a remarkably secure power. Who cares about what happens in Syria and Egypt? Why do we really care? And why do we have to get involved in social engineering?”
Kathleen Hicks, director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pushed back somewhat by placing the blame for Syria on other actors like Iran and Arab states that have funneled weapons and funds into the region, resulting in further destabilization.
“I don’t think we’re totally responsible in Syria,” Mearsheimer responded. “But there are five big cases of regime change, all five of which are failures: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, and Libya.”
“We’re almost completely responsible for the mess in Afghanistan and Iraq which led to creation of ISIS. We played a key role in Syria starting in August 2011 when Barack Obama said Assad had to go. We’ve played a key role in fueling that civil war. We played a key role in Libya, and we played a key role in toppling the government of Egypt.”
“What we ought to do is … get out of people’s faces and get out of the business of social engineering.”
Regime change has failed again and again because nation building is such a precarious process.
“We’re not even good at it here,” Mearsheimer said.
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