Another Century of War?

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libertarians, or believers in the free market economy, probably
met professor Gabriel Kolko through reading his 1963 revisionist
interpretation of American economic history for the period of 1900
to 1916, entitled The
Triumph of Conservatism
. Since then, professor Kolko has
been primarily a historian of war and American foreign policy which
culminated in his 1994 magnum opus entitled Century
of War: Politics, Conflicts and Society Since 1914
. The
publisher of this work suggested that he continue the same theme
by commenting upon the events of September 11, 2001. The result
is this excellent 150-page book published in 2002, Another
Century of War?
, written in a very readable, journalistic
style. Kolko states the purpose of his book:

the following pages I outline some of the causes for the
events of September 11 and why America’s foreign policies
not only have failed to exploit communism’s demise but have
become both more destabilizing and counterproductive. I
also try to answer the crucial question posed in my title:
Will there be another century of war?

Kolko’s theme is that the United States has become the single most
important arms exporter, thereby contributing to much of the disorder
in the world, and furthermore, contrary to America’s claims of bringing
stability to the world by its interventions, especially since 1947
in the Middle East, it has caused death, destruction and turmoil.
America has become the sole rogue superpower and is no longer restrained
by the possibility of the Soviet Union throwing a counterpunch.
Kolko states: “Communism virtually ceased to exist over a decade
ago, depriving the United States of the primary justification for
its foreign and military policies since 1945 . . . . ” Kolko points
out that America struggled to find an appropriate major enemy but
finally targeted China, which was trying to discard its communism
and establish a free market economy. However, September 11 changed
everything. Terrorism has become the world wide enemy of America
which may result in a perpetual war to oppose this sinister and
elusive enemy. He points out further that: “Bush had campaigned
in 2000 as a critic of ‘big government,’ but after September 11
he became an ‘imperial’ president with new, draconian powers over
civil liberties.”

regard to our policies in the Middle East since 1948, he says we
tried to keep Soviet Russia out and take over more control of British
oil interests, while assuming their contradictory policy of supporting
the state of Israel and remaining friendly to the surrounding Arab
states. Kolko shows that we supported the Shah in Iran while the
CIA and the Israeli Mossad trained the Shah’s secret police, the
SAVAK. The Shah was overthrown, largely as a result of the revolt
against the oppression by his secret police. We then armed and supported
Saddam Hussein in Iraq, giving him a massive amount of weapons,
and along with Saudi Arabia, much money, in order to fight the new
leaders of Iran.

he states that the CIA set up a Vietnam-type trap for the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan, and with financial assistance from Saudi Arabia,
we armed and supplied Osama bin Ladin in order to fight the Soviets.
When Saddam and Iraq threatened Kuwait, Osama bin Ladin offered
to repel Saddam but this offer was refused. Instead, the American
coalition, with financial support from Saudi Arabia, pushed Saddam
back within his borders while leaving American troops in Saudi Arabia,
thus alienating bin Ladin, who vowed vengeance on America for this
act. Bin Ladin mobilized his forces into the al-Qaeda in 1989, by
training up to 70,000 potential fighters and terrorists while creating
cells in at least 50 countries, all initially financed with U.S.
and Saudi money. Kolko states: “But both of America’s prime enemies
in the Islamic world today – Osama bin Ladin and Saddam Hussein
in Iraq – were for much of the 1980s its close allies and friends,
whom it sustained and encouraged with arms and much else.”

points out that American wars and various interventions have usually
produced unintended consequences which were harmful to the best
interests of America. He concludes his critique of American foreign
policy in the Middle East with the following statement:

of its [America’s] policies in the Middle East have been contradictory
and counterproductive. The United States’ support for Israel is
the most important but scarcely the only cause of the September
11 trauma and the potentially fundamental political destabilization,
ranging from the Persian Gulf to South Asia, that its intervention
in Afghanistan has triggered.

states that our massive support for Israel, which began in 1968,
was one of the turning points in American foreign policy:

aid [to Israel] reached $600 million in 1971 (seven times
the amount under the entire Johnson administration) and
over $2 billion in 1973. Thenceforth, Israel became the
leading recipient of U.S. arms aid. Today it still receives
about $3 billion in free American aid. Most of the Arab
world, quite understandably, has since identified Israel
and the United States as one.

points out further that our invasion of Afghanistan has greatly
destabilized the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which
may produce even worse results for America.

foreign policy will now try to justify its huge military budgets
to fight terrorism, but terrorism is the guerrilla warfare weapon
of the weak against the strong, and is not overcome with huge defense
budgets, large armies and navies or high-tech airplanes. He quotes
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, who maintains that:

are perfectly capable of spending whatever we need to spend.
The world economy depends on the United States [contributing]
to peace and stability. That is what underpins the economic
health of the world, including the United States.

Kolko paints a dire future for America if it continues its frequent
interventions and warfare throughout the world:

it confront the forty or more nations that now have terrorist
networks, then it will in one manner or another intervene
everywhere . . . . America has power without wisdom, and
cannot recognize the limits of arms despite its repeated
experiences. The result has been folly, and hatred, which
is a recipe for disasters. September 11 confirmed that.
The war has come home.

summarizes American foreign policy and its results as follows: “The
United States after 1947 attempted to guide and control a very large
part of the change that occurred throughout the world, and a significant
part of what is wrong with it today is the result of America’s interventions.”
He states that we do not have to look at political arguments or
even Washington’s Farewell Address to see what our policy should
be in the future: “The strongest argument against one nation interfering
with another does not have to be deduced from any doctrine, moral
or otherwise; it is found by looking honestly at the history of
the past centuries.” He concludes with the sweeping statement that:
“Since the beginning of the last century, only wars have tested
to their very foundations the stability of existing social systems,
and communism, fascism, and Nazism would certainly not have triumphed
without the events of 1914 – 18 to foster them.”

concludes his final chapter by stating that we cannot afford further
interventions and wars since weapons of mass destruction are prevalent
throughout the world and available to terrorists everywhere:

foreign policy that is both immoral and unsuccessful is
not simply stupid, it is increasingly dangerous to those
who practice or favor it. That is the predicament that the
United States now confronts.

further states:

way America’s leaders are running the nation’s foreign policy
is not creating peace or security at home or stability abroad.
The reverse is the case: its interventions have been counterproductive.
Everyone – Americans and those people who are objects of
their efforts – would be far better off if the United States
did nothing, closed its bases overseas and withdrew its
fleets everywhere, and allowed the rest of the world to
find its own way without American weapons and troops.

little book is so full of wisdom and good common sense, that it
should lead the way towards reaffirming our original foreign policy
of noninterventionism, so well stated by Presidents Washington and
Jefferson. American foreign policy changed to interventionism with
the Spanish-American War, and all of its subsequent wars have actually
diminished the freedom of the American people and caused death and
destruction throughout the world. The difference now is that terrorism
from the Arab world will be prevalent on our own shores rather than
in a distant Europe or Asia, as in past wars. Kolko has written
a powerful warning to the politicians of the “American Empire” about
the danger of hubris, or the arrogance of power, showing that we
should abandon our interventionist foreign policy or suffer the
same consequences as other empires (e.g., Athenian, Roman, Spanish
and British) before us. After all, our founders clearly warned us
that we would retain our freedom only so long as we remained a Republic
with limited powers in the central government and followed a noninterventionist
foreign policy.

11, 2003

V. Denson [send him mail],
editor of The
Costs of War
and Reassessing
the Presidency
, is a defense lawyer. A shorter version
of this review appeared in the October 2003 Ideas
on Liberty


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