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How to Dismantle the American Empire Before This Country Goes Under

America's role in the world should not be to prescribe some specific world order or police the planet by force of arms. It's to save itself.

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In short, if the United States has a saving mission, it is, first and foremost, to save itself. In that regard, Dr. King’s list of evils may need a bit of tweaking. In our own day, the sins requiring expiation number more than three. Yet in his insistence that we first heal ourselves -- “Come home, America!” -- King remains today the prophet Americans would do well to heed.

A New Trinity

Here, too, there exists an alternative tradition to which Americans today could repair, should they choose to do so. This tradition harks back to the nearly forgotten anti-imperial origins of the Republic. Succinctly captured in the motto “Don’t Tread on Me,” this tradition is one that does not seek trouble but insists that others will accord the United States respect. Updated for our own time, it might translate into the following substitute for the existing sacred trinity.

First, the purpose of the U.S. military is not to combat evil or remake the world, but to defend the United States and its most vital interests. However necessary, military power itself is neither good nor inherently desirable. Any nation defining itself in terms of military might is well down the road to perdition, as earlier generations of Americans instinctively understood. As for military supremacy, the lessons of the past are quite clear. It is an illusion and its pursuit an invitation to mischief, if not disaster. Therefore, the United States should maintain only those forces required to accomplish the defense establishment’s core mission.

Second, the primary duty station of the American soldier is in America. Just as the U.S. military should not be a global police force, so too it should not be a global occupation force. Specific circumstances may from time to time require the United States on a temporary basis to establish a military presence abroad. Yet rather than defining the norm, Americans should view this prospect as a sharp departure, entailing public debate and prior congressional authorization. Dismantling the Pentagon’s sprawling network of existing bases promises to be a lengthy process. Priority should be given to those regions where the American presence costs the most while accomplishing the least. According to those criteria, U.S. troops should withdraw from the Persian Gulf and Central Asia forthwith.

Third, consistent with the Just War tradition, the United States should employ force only as a last resort and only in self-defense. The Bush Doctrine of preventive war -- the United States bestowing on itself the exclusive prerogative of employing force against ostensible threats even before they materialize—is a moral and strategic abomination, the very inverse of prudent and enlightened statecraft. Concocted by George W. Bush to justify his needless and misguided 2003 invasion of Iraq, this doctrine still awaits explicit abrogation by authorities in Washington. Never again should the United States undertake “a war of choice” informed by fantasies that violence provides a shortcut to resolving history’s complexities.

Were this alternative triad to become the basis for policy, dramatic changes in the U.S. national security posture would ensue. Military spending would decrease appreciably. The Pentagon’s global footprint would shrink. Weapons manufacturers would see their profits plummet. Beltway Bandits would close up shop. The ranks of defense- oriented think tanks would thin. These changes, in turn, would narrow the range of options available for employing force, obliging policy makers to exhibit greater restraint in intervening abroad. With resources currently devoted to rehabilitating Baghdad or Kabul freed up, the cause of rehabilitating Cleveland and Detroit might finally attract a following.

Choosing

President Lyndon Johnson had hoped that an ambitious domestic reform program known as the Great Society might define his legacy. Instead, he bequeathed to his successor a nation that was bitterly divided, deeply troubled, and increasingly cynical.

 
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