Time to end American empire, lower defense spending

By Harrison Searles


As debate over domestic policy in the United States focuses on austerity and reducing the federal deficit, there have been two 1,000-pound gorillas in the room.

One of which is so-called mandatory entitlement spending and the unsustainable commitment that the federal government has given to it. The second is the sacred cow that defense spending on a global empire that actually manages to diminish American security with its unnecessary series of globe-trotting military adventures over the past decades.

While the former has at least been acknowledged and addressed by Rep. Paul Ryan’s recent and politically gutsy budget, spending on an at-best obsolete empire that stretches from South Korea to Germany is allowed to continue demanding and getting whatever it wants. It is time that the federal government come to terms with those unsustainable burdens that it has in foreign nations and replace them with a foreign policy that puts America first.

However, it must be warned that to think that ending the keystone role that the U.S. military plays in the structure of the world would simply be a matter of graciously leaving stage right as other nations peacefully decide to fill the role would be excessively naïve. Over the past decades – and especially since the end of the Cold War – too many nations have counted on Uncle Sam to provide at least an implicit threat of intervention. Whether it is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the United Nations, it is expected that the U.S. military will always be the leading force when it comes to military affairs. This can be seen in not only the recent outcry for American intervention in Libya, but also the equally as loud, if not even more thunderous, calls for the military of the U.S. to enter Darfur in order to stop the atrocities there and in previous humanitarian missions in the former Yugoslavia. To end empire means to also end all military adventures for even the most humanitarian of ends.

The electorate must face the fact that there will be consequences of the U.S. relinquishing its role as global superpower and that this will mean that innocents across the world will die while we look on.

Of course, the formation of international security – which would result from a draw-back of American involvement around the world – is difficult to foresee. Surely it is true that nations like France played a leading role in the actions in Libya so do-gooders can place their hope that they would act as the international keepers of the peace.
However, it is very doubtful that those very same nations, having a fraction of the military strength of the U.S., would be able to have the same capability to single-handedly give legitimacy to military adventures or to intimidate nations into accepting certain positions.

The fact is that, after the Gulf War and the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, there has not been a nation that can actually hold a candle to the American military in a conventional war and now the only efficient tactic against it is a protracted guerrilla struggle. While this may seem to be self-evidently obvious, it is necessary to hearken back to the expectations of the Gulf War when decision-makers both within the executive branch and military were actually worried about the amount of casualties the Iraqi army could inflict. In many ways, the one-sided battles in the deserts of Kuwait have set a paradigm that we have all become too accustomed to: the thought that any military confrontation with the West is a one-way road to military disaster.

Whether another nation acting in place of the U.S. could also maintain that standard ought to be considered an open question if the U.S. were to pull-back its military might.   Nevertheless, despite reasons for short-term pessimism regarding the results of the end of the Pax Americana, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the course of events in the long-run. For one thing, the greatest threat to American interests and security today is its own actions and those of its allies. Creating an enemy out of the peoples of an entire region, as American policy in the near East has been doing over the past decades whether by giving unconditional support to Israel, or occupying an entire country after invading under pretenses now understood to be false will only make the U.S. less safe in the long run. Weapons and war cannot convince the peoples of the Middle East that the U.S. is a country that they should have peace with and once their grievances are actually considered, they are actually more reasonable than not.

Furthermore, the presence of the U.S. in many regions only serves as a force that prevents events from reaching an indigenous equilibrium. Whether it be American support for otherwise unpopular regimes or otherwise, often American interference in the affairs of a region serve to prevent an outcome that is fully compatible with all regional factors and this only makes the problem worse. All of these considerations are thoughts that help to offset the darker short-term picture of an end to the American hegemony over much of the world and show that its end may actually make the world a better place.

Without the consequences of blow back from military adventures gone wrong, the U.S. would paradoxically enough be made safer by a reduction of its self-inflicted military responsibilities across the globe. Furthermore, the money saved by such measures would help the federal government pay for the rash promises it made to its citizens over the last decades. Nevertheless, there is a stark contradiction between the desire to roll-back the post-World War II American empire and a desire to use the military as a tool to chase dreams of world peace in far-away regions engulfed in war and disaster. Once a single military adventure is allowed, a rule is set that it is a legitimate role for the U.S. military to undertake such missions, and the question then becomes what adventures are permissible.

The only means of ending the American empire is to simply accept Washington’s advice that the best foreign policy is to simply pursue good will and trade with all, but alliances with none. If this is not accepted, then empire is the only logical conclusion.

Harrison Searles is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]