“Resolving conflict worldwide” and “changing dictatorship into democracies” count in this context as simplistic, even childish reductions of any questions truly before us. When we focus on such simplisms instead of treating them for what they are, every movement of any kind falls subject to strategic hypochondria, a condition under which even a move consequentially “inward” also becomes impossible: A hypochondriac nation will resist turning consequentially in any direction at all.
The world’s chieftain cannot serve the general interest effectively and reliably unless convinced that serving the general interest also serves “his” self-interest – that the two interests are finally the same or non-severable. When the chieftain falls into a depressive state – of apathy, or aboulia, or neurasthenia; doubting all, negating itself to negate all – the system fails, and the will to stasis is realized, or hypostatized, as crisis.
Putin’s argument against American exceptionalism is effectively that the American project as an ideological project is essentially over. The prophecy has been fulfilled: What in 1776 was a message of a few colonial upstarts – that “all men are created equal” – is now everyone’s basic belief, even the belief of Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad. Belief in equality no longer sets Americans apart: Everyone believes everyone is equal – or equal before God – so there’s nothing exceptional about believing so, and no need for Americans to go abroad seeking monsters to destroy.
Even worse, for the committedly anti-committal majority, which seems to include the President himself, the proposal of minimal means is burdened not only by threateningly maximal moral and historical justification, but by multiple additional independently intimidating justifications, each seemingly more disqualifyingly persuasive than the last.
The President has put before Congress a vote on the international system in its America-centric or Neo-Imperial form, with his office, as it has developed, and the norm against mass annihilation of people, as interdependent critical features of that system, subject to simultaneous yay or nay.
According to Ulfelder’s logic – which is not at base much different from the traditional and time-honored understanding of human nature – a definitive change in calculations in favor of escalating future mass atrocities is precisely what must occur if his preferred policy is adopted.