The Role of the U.S. in Global Military and Political Affairs

2007/11/24

This paper will argue for the appropriate role of the U.S. in global military and political affairs as one of leading importance but not hegemonic power or its opposite: isolation. The paper will argue though America has an exceptionally fortunate geography and is the world’s single most powerful country with global interests, our ability to positively execute our will is severely limited. The paper will argue against the ludicrous phantom of stability, and its concommited crises, interventions, failures, and fear. We cannot police the world: and waste considerable resources and good will in that vain attempt. The collapse of the USSR made the world more chaotic, and diminished our power which now has to be measured by absolute success against an ideal instead of relative success against an opponent. It will argue for our national interests narrowly, and Western Democratic interests broadly in a world that will always be dynamic. It is of paramount importance to see the world as it really is, and let go of false paradigms. The paper will finally argue against the superstitious and Manichean notion of good versus evil, and adopt a skeptical, open, transparent and self interested view of the humanscape and our global way.

Many Americans have a strange, Manichean, comic book hero view of the world, in which we are “good” no matter what and others are measured by the quality and quantity of their philo-Americaness. This national Aspergers Syndrome, this obtuseness, leads to a general inability to appreciate the perception and consequence of our actions globally. We should renounce the right to impose our culture and any form of government on other nations, and accept as legitimate, any government that is constituted in any given country by people of that country regardless of form. It is not possible to achieve global stability: the track record of our efforts is abysmal and disastrous; we have been choice blind. The idea that the world could be worse off for lack of our interventions is highly improbable. Much of the perceived difficulty we have globally now is simply blowback from form earlier counterproductive efforts (Johnson). Our stubborn bloody-mindedness in pursuit of policies that don’t work; that are against our own interests speaks to a warped morality and worldview. And in light of the obvious counterproductive outcome of our policies making a change is critically important for our self respect and self interest. America’s manifest destiny mindset and the idea that we can do no true wrong hamstrings us from intelligent reflection on our outcomes and goals.

One can wonder if that is a failing of the human mind when presented with overwhelming wealth and power. Britain, France, Germany, Spain and other Western nations went through a period of exceptional success only to be brought low in the end. Their pride and hubris somehow did not allow for the rational and calculating decisions to be made concerning the possibility of overreach and blowback. “The United States today is discovering what other great powers have found before it: military victories can have results opposite to those intended. The world has not been made more pliant and respectful by a demonstration of American might, but is, on the contrary, more recalcitrant, sulky, and difficult than it was before the Iraq war.” (Woolacott)

We can transport soldiers globally rapidly, but once there, they move at the pace of humanity has moved through the ages (Army War College). We must remember that the combat soldier and the police officer have almost nothing in common in their duties. Between these two lies the constabulary or paramilitary police, necessary to maintain order in conquered lands. Closer to police than military, they eschew most heavy weapons of the military, though they have a military style hierarchy. The way that they are more police like is their respect for property, and their engagement with the people and community. The order needed in conquered lands is disturbed by the mayhem of military tactics. One may note that America doesn’t actually have a constabulary type force, and conclude our troubles in Iraq and Somalia may have been due in part to this. In the aftermath of WW2 we had a de facto constabulary. The military was tasked with administering conquered lands, but created a separate command for that purpose, in Germany for example the 15th Army. The 15th never fought a battle and its staffing was heavily tilted towards persons with civil skills. Our combat armies in Europe were not designed to foster order and development, they were designed to break and defeat the enemy.

The obvious failure of peace keeping to resolve any conflict argues rationally against its use (Johnson). The very presence of peacekeeping forces inhibits the traditional remedy of endangered civilians, which is to escape from the danger. Deluded into thinking that they will be protected, civilians in danger remain too long in place; and then flight is not an option. The practical consequence of peace keeping is a prolonged infliction of the agonies and indignities of conflict on defenseless people and argues against its morality. The great powers impose cease fires for reasons that are as deluded as they are frivolous. “… with combat suspended momentarily but a state of hostility prolonged indefinitely. Since no side is threatened by defeat and loss, none has a sufficient incentive to negotiate a lasting settlement; because no path to peace is even visible, the dominant priority is to prepare for future war rather than to reconstruct devastated economies and ravaged societies. Uninterrupted war would certainly have caused further suffering and led to an unjust outcome from one perspective or another, but it would also have led to a more stable situation that would have let the postwar era truly begin. Peace takes hold only when war is truly over” (Lustick). We should allow, or even on occasion help the stronger to defeat the weaker faster and more decisively; this would actually enhance the peacemaking potential of war. The final result of interventions and peacekeeping is to prevent the emergence of a coherent outcome, because it requires an imbalance of strength sufficient to end the fighting.

The degradation of the combat effectiveness of highly trained soldier ill used as a super police force is a phenomenon that is documented (Army War College). Multinational commands are worse still, and typically find it difficult to control the quality and conduct of member states’ troops, leading to a reduction of the quality and performance of all forces involved, to the lowest common denominator. Allied military forces suffer this to a somewhat lesser degree, but not by enough to overlook. Any time troops are used for interventions they should only being engaged in one of two type activities, either helping to bring an end to the war by helping the most powerful side, or facilitating the evacuation of population which we resettle in our homeland.
But by far the most disastrous of all interventions in war, and the most destructive, are humanitarian relief activities. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was established immediately after the 1948/9 Arab–Israeli war to feed, shelter, educate, and provide health services for Arab refugees who had fled Israeli zones in the former territory of Palestine. But UNRWA camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip provided on the whole a higher standard of living than most Arab villagers had previously enjoyed, with a more varied diet, organized schooling, superior medical care, and no backbreaking labor in stony fields. They had therefore the unintended consequence becoming desirable homes rather than eagerly abandoned transit camps. With the encouragement of several Arab countries, the UNRWA turned escaping civilians into lifelong refugees who gave birth to refugee children, who have in turn had refugee children of their own. During its half–century of operation, the UNRWA has thus perpetuated a Palestinian refugee nation, preserving its resentments in as fresh a condition as they were in 1948 and keeping the revanchist emotion intact. “By its very existence, the UNRWA dissuades integration into local society and inhibits emigration. The concentration of Palestinians in the camps, moreover, has facilitated the voluntary or forced enlistment of refugee youths by armed organizations that fight both Israel and each other. The UNRWA has contributed to a half–century of Arab–Israeli violence and still retards the advent of peace” (Lustick).
The only successful model of refugee resettlement model is the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA), which operated displaced–persons’ camps in Europe immediately after World War II. By virtue of keeping refugees alive in spartan conditions that encouraged their rapid emigration or local resettlement, the UNRRA’s camps in Europe had assuaged postwar resentments and helped disperse revanchist concentrations of national groups. These camps sabotage of peace is completely avoidable. Instead of creating Refugee Nations and prolonging the warfare whose consequences they ostensibly seek to mitigate, we should help with permanent resettlement.
Terrorists exist, and have since at the mid 19th century, yet they constitute a minuscule physical threat, but one that has seized our fear and imagination (Sherry). In fact we lose much more when we restrict our own liberties than harm they can ever inflict upon us materially. “The suicidal assassins of September 11, 2001, did not attack America, as our political leaders and the news media like to maintain; they attacked American foreign policy” (Johnson). Essentially terrorist tactics are used by the powerless to fight for control of land and to undermine imposed power. Were they more powerful they would be partisans and guerillas. “While terrorism poses some level of risk to the population, the risk is wildly exaggerated; ironically, this magnification of their power is a central goal of terrorists. Our nation has a history of inventing or magnifying political threats: nuclear attacks during the Cold War, McCarthyism and the Red Menace during the fifties, and most recently WMD in Iraq. Public policy should focus on reducing collective fears and overreactions to terrorism, not on fueling them” (Taleb).

We cannot police Global climate issues; any attempt to do so is doomed for two reasons. First we have no track record of bending others to our will and doing so cost effectively, and this doesn’t include times when our will makes no sense. Second the global climate is far too complex and poorly understood for us to make sweeping and costly changes to our way of life; we don’t even fully understand geological and solar processes. That does not excuse us from best practices and good stewardship. Pollution is wasteful; it causes economic damage when in fact those are resources that should be harvested. We should use wisely our resources, reduce waste, and conserve. We should develop a more integrated economy reducing waste and boosting our economy.
We suffer from our own rhetorical flourishes, words have meaning and consequence even if one lies when one uses them (Loehr). Our politicians speak as though we respect sovereignty, but in practice we don’t, unless the country is powerful or irrelevant. There is a certain weakness inherent in the use of organized violence to maintain authority (Gonsalves). A resort to violence even when victorious contains an implication of power that is lesser than one would desire. In other words, he who fights against the weak and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. “To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish” (Harvey). I will conclude that America is once again powerful when a presidential phone call or face to face meeting between our plenipotentiary and a foreign leader is enough to get our way.
We are led by people who are an ignorant, cowardly, corrupt, and inept crew, neither they nor even the loyal opposition have any geographical sense. The stench of the current administrations’ failure can almost make one forget that our foreign policy has been weirdly counterproductive for some time, and with some exceptions, back to the Spanish-American war. It even makes me desire a constitutional change to our whole system. We lack organizational continuity, doctrinal cohesion, popular memory, and any evident connection to the past, and insanely we continue repeating the behavior of preceding generations expecting different outcomes. We need a new governing system, based upon our actual experience 200+ years in duration. The Founding Fathers did an extraordinary job; now we must carry on with the accumulated wisdom and knowledge that we have gained, and the changed circumstances that pertain.
The age of empire is over. An especially striking fact is that the most modern empires have a far shorter life span than their ancient and early modern predecessors. Though we have great power it is the power to destroy, so called hard power: brittle, we use it in fear and avarice. What we need is soft power, the power to influence without conflict and the confidence and resilience that comes with an accurate reading of the world and our place in it.
Toward a solution we can conceptualize the globe into discrete geographical compartments to resolve an intellectual dichotomy: that is the rapidity of movement available to an individual and idea through the threads of electronic media that meanwhile belie the awesome effort still required to force project around the globe. We can further define core and peripheral regions. In reference to Map A, the territories marked in green are core, all others are peripheral.
The core territories can be broadly defined as the extended North Atlantic which includes the Gulf of Mexico, the western Mediterranean, Baltic, Caribbean, Norwegian, and Barents Seas, and bordering Arctic sea zones. The great Pacific arc as far as Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan back to the western coasts of the Americas, and south to encompass Antarctica. These core territories as broadly defined constitute all the wealthy and powerful Western Democratic nations, plus Western nations aspiring to the same, with a few outliers. It is only in these territories that we should constitute treaty alliances. We should conceive the whole as an integrated one, were we have broad commitments to our allies, and they in turn have more regional commitments, except for a handful of countries besides us that would belong to both the Atlantic and the Pacific treaty organizations. The core nation’s alliances will likely intervene in conflicts that erupt on the side of the most powerful belligerent to achieve a victory and conclusion and prevent ongoing strife. The cost structure of the American military is wildly inflated and distorted; far too much money is spent in total, and of that much is misdirected. Peripheral belligerence against any core nation will result war with one or both alliances.
We need to look at our economy and energy needs strategically and therefore all vital resources and manufactures must come from the core, with at least half coming from the Americas. The looming shortfalls of fossil fuels and Uranium necessitate broad remedies that can exist within the core. We can have free trade with our first world core neighbors. The developing nations in the core would get trade privileges similar to those used by South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan to facilitate their own growth: those countries are primarily in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the North African littoral; in addition passport holders from all core countries may come to America with automatic visa rights. A new currency regime should be promulgated wherein between first world core nations the currency values are either fixed, or the same currency is used whether de facto or de jure. Developing nations of the core within limits could adjust their own currencies relation the new Western currency with an eye toward steady growth in those developing countries. International standards, laws, and codes should be refined and agreed upon by a supranational body made up of core nations. Trade will not be embargoed between core nations; agreements with peripheral nations are always subordinate to the core, and subject to review and veto.
The war on drugs at home and abroad has been a catastrophe. We continue to suffer from drug use unabated, we have lost civil liberties to an alphabet soup of police agencies, and we have brought ruination on the economies of the supplying countries. Drugs are a medical and economic problem not resolvable by force, and we should cease wasting time and money in a vain and futile struggle against human nature. We should substitute other behaviors, offer medical treatment, and regulate the process to keep prices low, and use away from public spaces.
There is no nation anywhere that constitutes a threat to America at this time. Americans seem to suffer from the concept of Zero-risk bias. This leads to erroneous and costly attempts to reduce our security risk to an improbable zero, when the critical idea should be roughly that which is economically efficient, and more relevant, and that is not bringing risk from .1% to 0%, but from 30% to 5% for example. There are extraordinary and unpredictable events in human history, but one cannot reasonably make plans based upon a statistical improbability. Nassim Taleb calls the impact of the highly improbable events Black Swans. “Just imagine how little your understanding of the world on the eve of the events of 1914 would have helped you guess what was to happen next” (Taleb).

Globally China is the lone foreseeable competitor, but that can be dealt with by first examining their sense of their history, second examining realistic not worst case scenarios, binding our core together, and pursuing and possibly excluding China from space exploration: the new high ground. China could be hemmed in to less than its approximate ancestral limits.

India has provided the world with the sole workable example of how a nation should deal with a hostile neighbor by initiating use of force to achieve an enduring solution. In 1971 India invaded East Pakistan, now known as Bangladesh, to rid itself of a pesky security problem. In a good example of economy of force India used what was necessary to win quickly. Essential to their plan was to introduce native rule. Though Pakistan became free of Great Britain, East Pakistan remained subordinate, riled by outsiders, largely West Pakistani’s Punjabi’s. India invaded and defeated the Pakistani army, recognized a native opposition group as the provisional government, and began preparations to withdraw very quickly. The Indian forces were cheered, as they left. Those borders are peaceful to this day. We should work with India as a partner in the Indian Ocean regions, as described in red on Map A. We could consider joint action with India, and encourage that great nation to use its considerable pool of talent to the benefit of themselves and the peoples of the Indian Ocean region.

Russia is a great country though, or perhaps because it has known great vicissitudes of fortune and travail. We should acknowledge their cultural sphere, and the geography of their interests. The area in blue on Map A shows the area encompassed by their interests, and ability to exercise their power, in areas peripheral to ours. Russia has shown their grit and determination in bearing the lion’s share of the war against Hitler and Nazism. They have shown their wisdom in selling us Alaska, and allowing the Soviet Empire to dissolve peacefully. Unlike their Western European neighbors, they have not recklessly started global conflicts. (Czar Nicholas II is somewhat of an exception). We can work with Russia, show them the respect they have earned, and work jointly should they desire it in the blue regions. They would be given to understand Central Europe and Scandinavia defined by the green area on Map A are off limits. Russians are essentially realistic and tend to keep their international deals.

Brazil is the leading state of the purple zone as defined on Map A. Brazil’s subtle racism has a large element of class to it, but it poses less of an obstacle than the racism found in elsewhere in America, Europe, or Asia in African development. Also the distance between Brazil and South Atlantic Ocean Africa spatially and culturally is smaller than between America and Africa. And both have experienced the destructive economic model wherein the extraction of mineral or agricultural resources is their primary economic function. In Africa either borders must change or people must move. White Western interests have done considerable damage to the people and land of Africa. The best thing we can do for Africans now is to let them keep their resources and forbid cash trade outside of the south Atlantic. We can barter capital improvements, expertise, and education for what we think we need and to recompense them for past mistreatment. We should share military expertise with Brazil upon their recognition of their sphere of influence.

We have tried to be the globes policeman since the end of WW2. It has resulted in considerable carnage and ultimately failure, as we are worse off now in Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Nicaragua and so on for our efforts. Doing nothing would have had a better outcome. The endless wars and refugee streams cry out for a new course of action. We can’t make the entire world better, and we certainly can’t make Americans out of foreign peoples. We can protect ourselves, our friends, and within narrow limits intervene in core critical nations alone, and in peripheral nations with the cooperating power to help the stronger side win. We should be strong and resilient, instead of belligerent and arrogant. We must educate all our youth in Geography so that some day we will have leaders whose decisions will be informed by knowledge and understanding instead of ignorance and fear. It is not our job to rule the world’s outcomes, but more importantly it is impossible, and that couldn’t be any plainer.