America's Affinity for War Abroad Deflects from Its Woes at Home | Opinion

President Joe Biden used his recent State of the Union address to espouse the value of democracy and that "light will win over darkness," when referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden vehemently denounced the authoritarianism that defines Russian President Vladimir Putin's rule, as well as the chaotic and aggressive tactics by dictators that threaten to "shake the very foundations of the free world."

The president spoke from the lectern inside the U.S Capitol, once a symbol of liberty and freedom, which has been overshadowed by the Jan. 6 insurrection that took place just over a year earlier. This historic act of sedition imperiled America's own democracy, when rioters stormed the building fighting to overturn Biden's electoral victory and name Donald Trump as the legitimate leader. America's words of caution against the backdrop of war in Europe are illusive. As Putin faces opprobrium in his efforts to hamper democracy in sovereign states, political division and the suppression of marginalized communities in the U.S. continues unabated.

A recent bill in Florida was passed, censoring educators from encouraging conversations in the classroom that relate to LGBTQ+ rights. This piece of legislation, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by its critics, heralds a new era of derisive campaigns by Republicans that stifles freedom of expression. The bill has provoked a scathing response from its opponents, with openly-gay state senator Shevrin Jones pleading for his counterparts to "do no harm." In defense of the policy, GOP representative and sponsor of the bill Dennis Baxley said it addresses "social engineering," resurrecting the age-old trope that being gay is considered a choice and something that can be taught.

As a war on the rights of LGBTQ+ people fester at home, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton accused Putin of being "anti-gay," which is why some Republicans admire him. This may be the case, but her condemnation of despots abroad downplays her own rhetoric on this topic. Clinton made advocating for gay rights around the world a testament to her own foreign policy endeavors as secretary of State during the Obama administration. However, she failed to acknowledge the pain caused by her husband's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which banned openly-gay servicemen from the U.S. military. Prior to that, in 2007, she deflected from answering whether homosexuality should be considered immoral.

In the past, Democrats and Republicans have been in sync, using the guise of freedom as a reason for war overseas while failing to alleviate social justice issues at home. The likes of Putin pursue military aggression on sovereign states when they perceive Western democracy to be an increasing threat, but Republicans also feel the right to vote jeopardizes their quest for power. Under Biden's tenure, U.S. states led by the GOP are curtailing the voting rights of millions of Americans, predominantly in districts with diversifying electorates.

A U.S. Army soldier stands guard
A U.S. Army soldier stands guard as his commanding officer and allied troops meet with local villagers on May 26, 2021, near the Turkish border in northeastern Syria. John Moore/Getty Images

Since 2020, 32 bills have been implemented in 17 Republican-led states to hijack the voting process. Biden pledged to restore voting rights at the federal level with sweeping legislation that would haven superseded state law, but his bills suffered a beating in the halls of Congress when recalcitrant Republicans and Democrats refused to budge. Furthermore, the supposedly non-partisan Supreme Court, which now has a conservative-majority of justices, enabled a blatant case of gerrymandering in Alabama to go ahead, arguing that re-drawing the electoral map would come too close to an election.

This is the same Supreme Court that is set to rollback abortion rights through a pending court case, removing a woman's agency over her body in an overarching power grab of reproductive health. If this comes into effect, the U.S. will become one of the few nations in the Western hemisphere that has reversed a pro-choice ruling. As it eviscerates women's freedoms at home, America's International Women's Day assertion for female liberation in places like Afghanistan and Ethiopia rings hollow.

The U.S. may chastise Russia at every opportunity throughout this war, but its economy is walking a tightrope in the meantime. America and its allies are heavily reliant on Russian imports of oil and natural gas, but, by imposing sanctions on Russian trade they must find alternatives in other parts of the globe. U.S. government officials recently traveled to Venezuela in their search for oil, a country where they once threatened to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro in 2019 by recognizing his opponent as the de facto leader. Two Americans were freed from a Venezuelan prison after a round of talks, signaling an easing of tension between the two nations. America previously inflicted crippling sanctions on Venezuela, lambasting autocratic leaders that reigned terror over the Venezuelan people.

Furthermore, Biden is courting the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to increase consumption of their oil. By doing so, he is turning a blind eye to the incessant human rights violations perpetrated by Saudi tyrants; from imprisoning dissenters to their deeply flawed record on women and LGBTQ+ rights. These damning acts of intimidation by government apparatchiks are equal to what the U.S. is vigorously opposing from Putin's regime. But, amnesia creeps in when the need for fossil fuels arises.

With the invasion of Ukraine ramping up, the British foreign secretary Liz Truss used her speech in Washington to discredit Putin's expansionism that has trampled on "sovereignty, democracy [and] the U.N. charter." The U.K. stands firm with America's mighty grip on the world and its sabre-rattling against totalitarian rulers. As inflation soars, inequality worsens and the electorate becomes further demoralized, America's politicians decry the horrors abroad to deflect from their woeful response to issues at home.

Liam Barrett is a freelance politics and culture writer based in London. His Twitter is @LiamMBarrett.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.