Monday, September 26, 2011

Imperial By Design

That's the title of an article in The National Interest. It was published in December last year, but I only just came across it. It's a very interesting look at US foreign and military policy over the past few decades. Here's an excerpt.

The United States has been at war for a startling two out of every three years since 1989, and there is no end in sight. As anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of world events knows, countries that continuously fight wars invariably build powerful national-security bureaucracies that undermine civil liberties and make it difficult to hold leaders accountable for their behavior; and they invariably end up adopting ruthless policies normally associated with brutal dictators. The Founding Fathers understood this problem, as is clear from James Madison’s observation that “no nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” Washington’s pursuit of policies like assassination, rendition and torture over the past decade, not to mention the weakening of the rule of law at home, shows that their fears were justified.

To make matters worse, the United States is now engaged in protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have so far cost well over a trillion dollars and resulted in around forty-seven thousand American casualties. The pain and suffering inflicted on Iraq has been enormous. Since the war began in March 2003, more than one hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, roughly 2 million Iraqis have left the country and 1.7 million more have been internally displaced. Moreover, the American military is not going to win either one of these conflicts, despite all the phony talk about how the “surge” has worked in Iraq and how a similar strategy can produce another miracle in Afghanistan. We may well be stuck in both quagmires for years to come, in fruitless pursuit of victory.

The United States has also been unable to solve three other major foreign-policy problems. Washington has worked overtime—with no success—to shut down Iran’s uranium-enrichment capability for fear that it might lead to Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons. And the United States, unable to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place, now seems incapable of compelling Pyongyang to give them up. Finally, every post–Cold War administration has tried and failed to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; all indicators are that this problem will deteriorate further as the West Bank and Gaza are incorporated into a Greater Israel.

The unpleasant truth is that the United States is in a world of trouble today on the foreign-policy front, and this state of affairs is only likely to get worse in the next few years, as Afghanistan and Iraq unravel and the blame game escalates to poisonous levels. Thus, it is hardly surprising that a recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey found that “looking forward 50 years, only 33 percent of Americans think the United States will continue to be the world’s leading power.” Clearly, the heady days of the early 1990s have given way to a pronounced pessimism.

This regrettable situation raises the obvious questions of what went wrong? And can America right its course?

There's much more at the link. I don't agree with all the points made, but they offer much food for thought. They also, to a certain extent, tie in with observations made in the latest Daily Dispatch from Casey Research.

I had friends in high school who ... constantly got into fights. And the more fights they entered, the bigger their problems became. Many of them would win almost every single fight, but it nearly got to the point where they couldn’t attend any social gathering without a situation like the one I faced. Someone somewhere was always looking to beat them up. It created an endless cycle of more fights and more enemies.

In my opinion, that’s where the US is right now. Sure, we’ve bombed the hell out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries. There’s no doubt that @$$ has been kicked, but at what price? Many countries tiptoe around the US, as if afraid to catch the federal government’s military ire, but at the same time they secretly plot to strike in case an opportune moment presents itself. And within the US, people now have to constantly watch their backs, as they’re monitored nearly everywhere, from porno scanners at airports to wiretaps on phone calls to sifting through email looking for “suspicious” words and phrases. This didn’t happen because we’re necessarily wrong – that’s just the way fights work. If you beat the living hell out of someone, that person will likely come back wanting revenge at some point down the road. It doesn’t matter if you were in the right. Unfortunately for the US, our military has been going around the world breaking a lot of bones.

In that process, there has been a lot of “collateral damage”. In Iraq alone, there have been over 100,000 civilian casualties; about 12% of those were caused by coalition forces. That’s the rough equivalent of four 9/11 attacks. Do you remember how mad Americans were on September 11th? Well, imagine many Iraqis being four times madder than that.

When a young man loses his parents or sister to an accidental US bomb, he won’t say, “Well, the US is right to be in Iraq, so I’ll forgive them. And by the way, thank you for freeing me from Saddam Hussein.” No, that person will likely look for revenge at an opportune moment in the future. The more people we knock out; the more people come looking for revenge.

The US government’s current strategy seems to be to fight everyone all the time and win every single battle. If a government can do that over the next hundred years, then that might be a reasonable security strategy. But anyone who’s been in a high school fight knows that this is a flawed strategy. It leads to either a life of paranoia or eventually being caught outnumbered in a dark parking lot, metaphorically speaking.

Again, more at the link.

Oh - and when it comes to the US military, check out this entry in Time magazine's Battleland blog. It links to a mind-bogglingly complex chart of the weapons development and purchasing process. After seeing it, I'm no longer surprised that so many weapons programs have ended up way over budget and years behind schedule . . .




Jumblerant said...

Not liking the 'Greater Israel' section. Appears that they're not so sure about their facts...

Phil K said...

My high school experience is precisely the opposite of the one described here. Until the time finally came that I decided that all attempts to pick on me would be met with immediate violence, I was physically picked on constantly. In the beginning, I didn't win any fights - I had no experience with it. But I inflicted pain in every encounter. Long before I got all that good at fighting, most of the physical attacks no longer started at all. My older brother's experience was very similar.

The lesson that I learned was that you must always be ready to defend yourself. If pain is inflicted on your attacker every single time they attack, their willingness to attack you is diminished.

trailbee said...

Phil K's method worked for our son, but I also think that it's a matter of how many friends each has.
However, looking at our global situation per the two articles above, it is amazing neither one addressed the "ransom" we pay each year to countries who wish us harm. I do understand about reparation and diplomacy, but we have over-extended ourselves in relation to the returns, and also at a time when we are arguing in the Congress and fighting the President over the budget and debt ceiling issue. Is foreign policy not an important part of the Secretary of State's job? What has our Secretary really done for us, except to betray us in trying to remove our personal weapons at home? Are her missions secret? As we never hear about her work, is she actually working to enhance the President's socialist agenda?
I believe National Interest and Casey Research are close to the truth, but I would go one better and ask "Do you have solutions we can live with, without giving up our Constitutional Freedoms?"