Sunday, August 17, 2014

Should the U.S. Counter Every Threat Anywhere on Earth?

By Michael S. Rozeff

Walter, I found your exchange with Gitz to be interesting. You were successful in eliciting from him a clear if very brief statement of his arguments:
“1) national defense is the primary function of government (in the sense of government being brought into being in the first place to provide security), without which nothing else can exist; and 2) that the nasty world of international relations requires the use of power in order to prevent more ruthless and noxious powers from filling power vacuums. On that last point, I shudder to think what the world would have come to had not the United States been there to actively block Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin (and his successors). Or if American retreat from foreign responsibilities at present allowed Vladimir Putin, the thugs running the Chinese Communist Party, or the mullahs of Iran to acquire new opportunities (invariably at the expense of our and our allies interests).”
This is the standard line of neoconservatives and the Washington establishment, and the warmongers among them. It’s been the line ever since
Bush 2 articulated it as a doctrine of the war on terror. The world was to be one immense battleground for as far ahead as one could see and further. The U.S. government would expand its job into eliminating not only every real threat that it perceived, typically exaggerated or concocted, but even every threat of a threat. Otherwise it was said that Americans would not be safe. This was the senseless doctrine spawned by 9/11 and by those who believe in and benefit from a continual warfare state. It is on the international front the same kind of formula as on the domestic front of ensuring economic security for every American by means of government force or achieving a mythical equality. Choose an unattainable utopian end that cannot be achieved by any government but beckons or is sold as a worthy social goal, even though it is impossible and nothing of the kind.
My general reaction to what Gitz says here is that his arguments are shallow. They do not address the most important questions. These include the scope of foreign policy, its aims, the directions of foreign policy, and the question of who controls foreign policy. Foreign policy may be a function of government or a body chosen by a people or nation, but who “owns” the foreign policy turf? How do the people monitor and control those who make foreign policy? Do they have an effective means of controlling it? I argue that the processes of voting are extremely inefficient in doing so, the result being that various bodies in Washington, like the State Department, certain Congressional committees, certain military figures, certain lobbyists and various think tanks, control the process to the virtual exclusion of outside control. Even effective monitoring is impeded greatly by government secrecy and by government propaganda. The result is that national defense is not the end sought and not the end achieved. In other words, Gitz is dreaming about some kind of theoretical textbook fantasy that does not hold in the real world.
It is indeed the case that international relations require the use of power, but this statement of his also is shallow and fails to address the central issues. What kinds of power? How much power? How applied? To what situations? When is power to be avoided? What alternatives to power exist? How and when should these alternatives be applied alone, or in what combinations with power? When can strong defense alleviate the seeming necessity of applying U.S. power? What are the roles of foreign nations in defending themselves without reliance on U.S. power? What is the actual record of success and failure in the now-lengthy history of applications of U.S. power overseas? How do the applications of power overseas affect domestic policies and freedoms? How can such institutions as the CIA, the NSA, and the presidential powers to make wars with special forces be reconciled with a free people at home?
Gitz sees matters in very simple black and white terms, at least in this brief reply he sent to you, but I think it’s representative of the kinds of rhetoric we regularly hear from a good many senators. His model is that the world is filled with the grasping for power, and that foreign nations are either too weak to fill the vacuums or else prone to be subject to nasty power-vacuum fillers like Putin and Chinese thugs. This is hardly a fair assessment of the world or the positions of foreign nations. Although power is a means (and an end), it is not the sole means or end of any nation. Other aspirations and means co-exist with it as the costs of power and its application are high, making it not a first or best choice in many circumstances. And even when the world seems to be or is a dog-eat-dog place or a war of all against all, that does not imply that it requires a U.S. role as a policeman, judge, jury and executioner. Such a self-appointed role is too expansive, not needed for American security, and too subject to the temptations of abuse itself. It implicitly endorses American exceptionalism, hegemony, and a unipolar world. The costs of attempting to reduce threats by applications of force are unbearable for everyone involved, and surely exceed the benefits. Look at the costs of the Iraq debacle alone, estimated in the trillions. With what benefits? The entire situation there and in nearby countries is worse than in 2003 and worse than if the U.S. had done nothing about Saddam Hussein.
Walter, you will not be able to convert Gitz and others who share his views without a lot more education about the failures of U.S. foreign policy, their enormous costs and negligible benefits. He’s thinking in terms of Hitler and Stalin, or in terms of a basic model in which there are ALWAYS one or two large and nasty threats out there that need to be stopped by U.S. force before they become large ones. He’d probably also endorse suppressing Iran on this basis or attacking Saddam Hussein or the Islamic State today. That is, his model leads on a very slippery slope to perpetual war until the U.S. controls the entire world.
But how viable is this model? How accurate? Is Putin actually a new Hitler? Where is his armed society, his totalitarian party and principles, his record of invading nearby Poland and eastern European countries? Are the Chinese really such a threat? Mao died a long time ago, and China has changed drastically. Are jihadists a threat to Americans of such scope, or can they be handled by countries nearby like Turkey and Iran that have an incentive and the forces to do so, or even by moderate Muslims who take to arms? If the U.S. hadn’t armed ISIS in Syria, would it now pose a threat to Baghdad? How useful is this Hitler-Stalin model in formulating a defense policy in today’s world? How well does it actually work out in practice? What are its alternatives? Isn’t America more than adequately capable of fending off almost any threat merely by defending its own shores? Wouldn’t it then have far more resources to strengthen itself economically, and wouldn’t that lead to the strengthening of many foreign nations who could then better defend themselves?
Won’t foreign empires, if they should arise, tend to ameliorate because they run into high costs of administration? Isn’t the application of U.S. power against all comers, even the tiny threats and threats of threats, an impatient, costly and self-defeating policy? If the U.S. withstood and handled the Spanish, French, British and Russian empires prior to WW I, what prevents it from having a strictly continental defense policy today, what with its hugely advanced technology?
U.S. foreign policy-makers have immersed this country into Middle Eastern alliances and ever-shifting rivalries for decades, and it has been unnecessary to American security. One result of this immersion has been the 9/11 tragedy. Others have been extended wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. has also fostered a rogue nation in Israel. Now the U.S. is imagining threats everywhere in Africa and embarking on yet more quests that are linked to military contingents and methods. U.S. alliances throughout the world can trigger wars at any time. Americans are held hostage by its alliances. They are made less safe. The costs of wars render Americans less productive economically.
U.S. foreign policy in Ukraine and the Balkans has now inserted this nation into yet another troubled region and brought the U.S. to the point of sanctioning a country (Russia) whose land mass is the largest in the world. This is insane and certainly counter-productive. Europe is following the U.S. lead and NATO is independently spearheading confrontation in the most dangerous and hostile way. What is the end game? Is Russia supposed to back down and be humiliated? What good does that do for Americans? What good does it do to create a new cold war or risk a hot war?
Russia has invaded no country. Its actions in support of Russians inside Ukraine have been incomparably smaller than the unilateral actions of the U.S. in invading any number of countries or in using drones that kill civilians or in arming a fanatical nation like Israel or in bombing Libya. In any event, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are no more America’s business than America’s intrusions into Mexico and Canada in past years or its intrusions into Central America were to Russia, Germany or China. Americans have no interest in Ukraine and bear no threat from this region of Russia’s activities in this region, none that can justify U.S. threats, demands, sanctions and pressures on Russia, any more than the U.S. activities in Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti or Colombia justify the intrusion of Russia, France, China or India into those countries. If every introduction of forces, invasion, linkage, intrusion or interference of one state with another state, justifies one or more other states in creating a cause of war out of it or sanctions that amount to economic warfare, the world will find that it is amplifying these conflicts, not mitigating them. It will find that larger rivalries among states are inserted into smaller conflicts and issues. It will find that what stability is produced by a balance of powers is undermined by powers taking sides in a larger number of disputes and making them even more serious than they already are.
Gitz’s talk of “foreign responsibilities” of the U.S. government is in this case as it is in most all cases nothing but empty gibberish, a fantasy image that sounds real to those who chant it and use it to justify foolish foreign policies. It is a justification for unilateral interference and blowing up any conflict or supposed threat into a larger scale war that is costly in human life and resources.
The above originally appeared at

1 comment:

  1. Markets governed by certainty of laws promote transactions among individuals by matching their mutual expectations. Without such rules of just conduct and contractual agreements we can only speculate the future actions of various individuals or collectives, definitely not a comforting environment, world politics beget power struggles because of this uncertainty. It's not laws but competing interests which keeps tabs on each other.

    History is riddled with unprovoked acts of aggression because we find all sorts of justifications for war, in order to avoid meaningless conflict we need to ascertaining whether there is any real threat. Without relevant information and proper methodology we can never arrive at a proposition, interventions deal with complex phenomenons and here majority view can never be a meaningful criteria.

    If we enforce that every military intervention should be funded with an increase in taxes then hopefully politicians will think twice before committing to any reckless adventure. Markets work because the cost benefit analysis leads to efficient allocation of resources, similarly the cost of losing electoral votes due to higher taxes might keep checks on political institutions and force them to pick the most optimal, lest intrusive means of getting the job done.