Want to Free Up Tax Dollars? End the American Empire
There's an easy way to free up tax dollars, one that needs to be discussed. I can sum it up in four words:
End the American Empire.
What do I mean by that? Quite simple really. Start closing overseas bases and ending wars. Stop being the policeman of the world. Because, as I see the problem, whether you label the US the "World's Cop" or an "Empire" the end result is an ever increasing burden on the American people and a real threat to our national security. Let's take a look as to why:
The free-rider problem has long been an issue in U.S. security relations with its allies. [...] Today ... given the demise of the Soviet Union and the economic strength of Washington's NATO and East Asian allies, there is no reason for American taxpayers to underwrite those countries' security. [...][
Other European NATO members, many of which are also cutting their defense budgets, have made similar protestations of their inability to provide for their security without U.S. assistance--as have Japan and South Korea. By doing so, they flatter the United States into paying defense-related costs they would otherwise have to assume.
The argument that, because of U.S. leadership, Washington can secure international cooperation and assistance for activities that the United States would otherwise undertake and pay for alone is false. The reality is that America's leadership role enables other powers to transfer costs and risks to the United States. [...]
Yes, I know that link was to a policy analysis by the "Libertarian" Cato Institute in 1997, but the arguments that the author, Barbara Conry, put forth for the US ending its efforts to "police" the world (or if you prefer, maintain a global empire based on military force), are more relevant today than when she wrote them.
The United Kingdom frittered away enormous sums of money (vast sums) in the late 19th and the first half of the 20th Century trying to hold onto its empire. What benefit did it obtain for its people? None. Let me repeat that: none.
And while America might have obtained some marginal benefit during the Cold War from maintaining such a large military presence throughout the world, today the primary benefit goes to large multinational corporations, authoritarian governments that are as nasty as they come (Saudi Arabia) and one specific belligerent ally, Israel, who more often than not undercuts American interests in the region in pursuit of its own policy of expansion.
Conry was just stating the obvious. Remember the First Gulf War? The one that supposedly didn't cost the US all that much. Well as she pointed out back in 1997, that was a myth:
Washington provided economic aid to the Soviet Union; forgave Egypt's debt; and ignored human rights abuses in China, Ethiopia, and Syria. Moreover, Japan and the West European powers had a significant interest of their own at risk--gulf oil, on which those countries rely far more than does the United States. Their meager contributions to the U.S.-led military operation against Saddam Hussein were not burden sharing; on the contrary, Japan and Western Europe were "free riding" on U.S. efforts in order to preserve their own security interests during the gulf war. [
Of course, the cost of the unilateral wars pursued by Bush, Cheney and the "good" fellows at the Project For a New American Century (PNAC) dwarfed what we spent during the 1980's and 90's by a large margin. And that cost cannot be recovered. It has not brought us any increase in economic strength, nor increased our national security one iota. In fact, those war de-stabilized an already unstable region even more and led to increase in power of Iran, and of Islamic fundamentalist forces in Pakistan.
As this brief video explains, these wars primarily promoted the interests of corporations, not your average Joe and Joan American citizens.
Yes, you over there on the right screaming foul and inane comments? You say, if I get your drift that ending our projection of US military might around the world will end civilization as we know it? Well far be it from me to argue with you. I'll let Ms. Conroy's analysis of the security implications of ending the "special American role in the world" do that for me:
Other proponents of U.S. political and military leadership do not point to particular benefits; instead, they warn of near-certain disaster if the United States relinquishes its leadership role. [...]
Gingrich has pronounced a future without American leadership "a big mess." And former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher has warned,What we are possibly looking at in 2095 [absent U.S. leadership] is an unstable world in which there are more than half a dozen "great powers," each with its own clients, all vulnerable if they stand alone, all capable of increasing their power and influence if they form the right kind of alliance, and all engaged willy-nilly in perpetual diplomatic maneuvers to ensure that their relative positions improve rather than deteriorate. In other words, 2095 might look like 1914 played on a somewhat larger stage.
Such thinking is seriously flawed, however. First, to assert that U.S. leadership can stave off otherwise inevitable global chaos vastly overestimates the power of any single country to influence world events. The United States is powerful, but it still can claim only 5 percent of the world's population and 20 percent of world economic output. Moreover, regardless of the resources Americans might be willing to devote to leading the world, today's problems often do not lend themselves well to external solutions. [...]
"Failed states," such as Somalia, may not be uncommon. But, as the ill-fated U.S. and UN operations in that country showed, there is very little that outside powers can do about such problems. External powers usually lack the means to prevent or end civil wars, such as those in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, unless they are willing to make a tremendous effort to do so. Yet those types of internecine conflicts are likely to be one of the primary sources of international disorder for the foreseeable future.
The nebulous benefits of U.S. global leadership do not justify its immense costs, and it is unlikely that the United States is even capable of pursuing such a strategy over the long term. Scholars Jonathan Clarke and James Clad have observed, "As American leverage in the world (aid, effective military power, or diplomatic sway) continues to decline, America increases its conditions and demands. . . . Such bluster counts for little." ... And while trying to lead the world is costly enough now, a strategy that holds as its highest objective the exercise and preservation of American leadership seems likely to lead inexorably to an increase in commitments and costs over the long term.
Read that last sentence again. Then recall for a moment that we are presently engaged in the longest war in our history (Afghanistan) with no end in sight and no demonstrable benefit to American interests regardless of the ultimate outcome. A war that has cost us almost
(the cost for Iraq is nearing $800 Billion Dollars), and Nobel prize winning economist
projected back in 2008 (before the escalation of the Afghanistan War) that the ultimate war costs will exceed THREE TRILLION DOLLARS.
Remember Conry wrote her article for Cato before Bush pursued wars of aggression and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan, policies that President Obama continues to pursue, including increasing use of our military against "our enemies" in Pakistan and Yemen. Obama initially stated our mission in Afghanistan would end in 2011. That deadline has now been extended by the Obama administration until 2014. Yet as no less a figure than General Petraeus has noted, success in Afghanistan by 2014 is uncertain:
Gen. David Petraeus's admission that a U.S. victory in Afghanistan is not a "sure thing" by 2014 is the latest indication that the Obama administration has no hard deadline whatsoever for ending what is already the nation's longest war.
Petraeus told ABC News of the 2014 target date: "No commander ever is going to come out and say, 'I'm confident that we can do this.' I think that you say that you assess that this is -- you believe this is, you know, a reasonable prospect and knowing how important it is -- that we have to do everything we can to increase the chances of that prospect.... But again, I don't think there are any sure things in this kind of endeavor. And I wouldn't be honest with you and with the viewers if I didn't convey that."
And those costs do not include the enormous year after year expense of maintaining overseas American military bases around the globe, the out of control cost of new weapons programs, and the human cost of physically and psychologically wounded and damaged service men and women. In short, playing world cop and/or maintaining America's Empire is a huge cash drain on our economy, destroys the lives of millions of people around the world, including thousands of Americans, and has actually weakened our national security through a foolish attempt to maintain American preeminence through the use of military force.
As one Canadian observer notes, the US is in decline in large part due to its massive investment in our military:
“The Real Cost of the War in Iraq: What seven years of fighting has done to American society” is the title of a recent article by historian Anne Applebaum. She enumerates the obvious and non-so-obvious ways in which the war reduced American power, such as increasing the price of America’s oil imports. [...]
Applebaum failed to list one of the less obvious costs of the war in Iraq– loss of trust in government by the American people. The discovery that there were no WMDs in Iraq had a devastating impact on Americans’ trust in their rulers. A recent poll found that only 21% of Americans believe that the US government has “the consent of the governed”. That is a shockingly low figure for an industrialized democracy. [...]
Another cost of the war is the intensification of anti-Muslim sentiment in the US, which had already been exacerbated since 9-11. Even though the leadership of the US has said repeatedly that the US is not at war against Islam, many Americans do not seem to have grasped the fine distinction between Islam and al-Qaeda. It now appears that some in the US wish to imitate the Swiss minaret ban, since there are campaigns against mosque construction in New York (the famous Ground Zero mosque), Tennessee, and elsewhere. Needless to say, the crusade against mosques in the United States is being reported in the Muslim World, thereby reinforcing suspicions that the US is anti-Muslim. What a great strategy for winning hearts and minds
It is well past the time to change our "global mission" to one that fits reasonable expectations and eliminates the waste of nearly a century of costly overseas wars and military expansion. Though Conry wrote these words over a decade ago, I'll let her have the last word on ending America's foolish attempt at global hegemony:
If the United States makes the transition to a sustainable foreign policy in the near future, it should be able to do so on its own terms. By ceding extraneous global responsibilities in a reasoned and orderly fashion, Washington will be in a good position to influence the redistribution of global power. Conversely, policymakers can continue to pursue a world leadership strategy and face the crises that are likely to result from that overextension. When such crises arise, the United States may be forced to make abrupt shifts in policy and may have little ability to influence the subsequent redistribution of power and responsibility in the international system. The benefits of voluntarily scaling back American global responsibilities sooner instead of being forced to do so later are obvious. It is not a formula for utopia, but it is far more realistic than a crusade to lead the world.