Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Corporate gatekeepers and big tech monopolists are making it more difficult than ever for independent media to survive. Please chip in today.

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the White House. (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

WaPo Editor Blames Lack of US Leadership for Famine Caused by US Leadership

Obama and Trump have logistically and politically supported the Saudi-led bombing and blockade of Yemen that caused the famine.

“American leadership” is one of a long list of vague, seemingly benign pseudo-concepts our media throw around to justify increased spending on soft power and military adventurism. It’s a difficult concept to pin down, but it’s almost always presented as something the United States is “failing” to do when it doesn’t “engage” the world with enough war, sanctions or arbitrarily applied human rights scolding.

Lamenting a “lack of American leadership” is, therefore, a time-honored Serious Person cliche for those operating at major US papers, and one Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl phoned in Sunday with his op-ed “Genocide, Famine and a Democratic Retreat—All After One Year of US Inaction” (1/21/17).

WaPo: Genocide, Famine and a Democratic Retreat--All After One Year of US Inaction

Washington Post‘s Jackson Diehl (1/21/18): “It’s getting easier for regimes to commit — and get away with — crimes against humanity.”

The piece began with a bizarre inversion of reality:

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but as the United States has retreated from international leadership in the past decade, several toxic global trends have gained momentum. Democracy is steadily retreating, according to Freedom House, whose annual study documents a decline for the 12th consecutive year. Famine is threatening more people than ever: Tens of millions are at risk of starvation in countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia.

It’s unclear exactly what “international leadership” is supposed to mean here, besides being inversely correlated with Bad Things happening. The piece is a broadside against both former President Obama and Donald Trump for “steadily retreating,” but the most serious Bad Thing he cites as a result of a lack of American leadership, the famine in Yemen, is a direct result of “American leadership.” Obama and Trump have logistically and politically supported the Saudi-led bombing and blockade of Yemen that caused the famine.

But Diehl’s not honestly engaging with the world as it is; his job is to advance the premise that the US has both the right and the moral duty to dictate the affairs of other countries. Diehl did the same cynical reality-inversion last June (, 6/26/17), when he not only ignored the US’s role in creating the Yemen famine, but painted them as the heroes coming to the rescue.

Similarly, Diehl cites “the tragedy of Syria” in Sunday’s piece as a result of a lack of American leadership, without mentioning the American leadership of the CIA—along with American leadership allies Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatarhelped fund, train and arm groups in that conflict, thus fueling the “tragedy.” Also omitted was the ongoing role of “American Leadership” in bombing seven countries, its deadly drone program that has terrorized thousands of civilians in Yemen and Central Asia, its continued use of offshore penal colonies outside the scope of international law and a number of other bad things that result from the active exertion of “American leadership,” rather than its absence.

The rest of the piece is about the Trump administration’s “inaction” over ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma, but the setup is very telling. Diehl uses this ethnic catastrophe to browbeat the US for not doing enough, but really what he wants, as evidenced by his years of writing (see, e.g.,, 5/2/06, 12/23/14, 5/17/16), is more meddling and intervention and bombing in general; the tragedy in Burma simply serves as a moral lubricant for an assertion of the US’s superiority. To national security boosters like Diehl,  “American leadership,” like military spending, is always in a state of inadequacy. There’s never enough, we always need more. The possibility that said “leadership” or military spending may be causing the problems—even the ones he himself cites as the most urgent—rather than being their solution is simply not an option.

© 2021 Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)
Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson is a New York-based  journalist, a contributing analyst for, and co-host of the Citations Needed podcast.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

World Leaders Must Commit to End Covid-19 Patents: Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus

Decrying the "brutally unequal global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines," Yunus wrote that "there is still time for world leaders to say never again."

Andrea Germanos ·

Addressing Crisis 'Existentially Imperiling' Its People, Vanuatu Declares Climate Emergency

"We are in danger now, not just in the future," said Prime Minister Bob Loughman.

Andrea Germanos ·

'Grotesque': Disgust as Trump Reads Names of Uvalde Victims at NRA Convention

Former President Donald Trump and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas were among those pushing a "good guys with guns" theory that "utterly failed" the latest victims of a mass shooting.

Andrea Germanos ·

Wall Street-Funded Democrat PAC to Spend $1 Million in Bid to Unseat Tlaib: Report

"Imagine spending $1 million to oust Rashida Tlaib instead of organizing in Detroit to make sure Michigan goes blue," quipped one progressive group.

Brett Wilkins ·

Parents Demand Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty 'For the Sake of the Children'

"We cannot remain silent as the fossil fuel industry and world leaders rob our children of a livable future," parents from 32 nations wrote in an open letter.

Brett Wilkins ·

Common Dreams Logo