The foreign policies of America are going down to disastrous defeat all over the world. Americans will soon wake up to defeat after defeat. The basic reason for these defeats is that the West under American leadership is simply incapable of controlling the rest of the world. Too many people live in too large an area with too many political cross-currents for any one nation or even a group of nations to be able to have mastery over. Within the many areas and countries that the U.S. is trying to subdue and run are too many people with knowledge of how to fight, the means to fight, and the will to fight. The world has too many other large nations, such as Russia and China, that can check America and the West in many possible ways and at every turn that suits them as the West seeks to run countries on or near their borders. Within the Western alliance, there are fractures that prevent united action. There are entire continents such as South America and Africa where events can, have, and will go out of American control.
America in every way is simply unequal to the task of ruling the world. It can’t do it physically since it lacks the raw resources or power. It can’t do it mentally since it lacks the spirit or will. It can’t do it morally since it lacks the moral high ground. It can’t do it financially since it lacks the wealth. If it keeps on trying to run the world, it can only meet with more defeats than it already is running into.
And there is no need for America the state to run the world. Our security does not depend on it. Nor is it right to spread a vision of what some or even many Americans think are right values via the forces of the state.
Preventing mass airplane terror is a win and a welcome win. That win did not come about by American foreign policy or by a war against terror expressed by American or Israeli troops on foreign soil. No doubt it came through intelligence methods and infiltration of terror networks. These are better methods than invasions, threats, sanctions, and similar pressures and methods that states employ.
The myth of America being a superpower that can remake the world is just that, a myth. Neoconservatives had a dream. They came to power. They turned that dream into a nightmare. They have taken America down to defeat after defeat. They are still dreaming their dreams and still leading the country downwards. Faced with bitter losses, they will now accuse America of not trying hard enough. They will say that we should unleash even greater power and weaponry. They will claim that the military has been stabbed in the back. They will shout that their policies were not put into practice effectively, or that they were sabotaged by weak-willed or ineffectual politicians. They will seek even more power. They will blame everyone and everything they can think of. They will fill the air with their denunciations and obfuscations. They will call us critics defeatists. They will bemoan the toll already paid in blood, as if that were reason to spill even more blood. But the reasons for defeat lie in a basic reality that neoconservative policies failed to reckon with: America cannot run the world.
Why do Americans support the wild-eyed neoconservative policies? Some Americans are warmongers. Some are mute followers of their leaders. Some believe pragmatically that the President knows what he is doing. Some believe that this is World War III. Some believe that it is a Christian duty to save the world even if it involves collective military might. And so on. Defeats we can hope will alter these attitudes and beliefs, all of which are entirely wrong. War does not bring peace. Mute submission is suicide. The President has no idea what he is doing. This is not World War III. And Christians should not support armed interventions on behalf of what they think are good causes. Christians should not be supporting wars right and left.
Americans should hold fast to one self-evident truth and not listen to neoconservative humbug. The truth is that this country cannot rule the world by army, navy, marine, and air force power, threat, warfare, and intimidation. Nor can it even diminish terror by these conventional means. Superpower methods are useless in the aim of world rule. They are worse than useless. They backfire. If Americans continue to listen and follow current foreign policies, if they keep buying into the neoconservative propaganda, then they will suffer even more defeats.
Afghanistan is a defeat and a snare. That war did not put Usama bin Laden out of business. It did not put local insurgencies out of business. The West ties down forces trying to hold a lid on a situation it can’t control in the long run. Russia couldn’t hold this country and the West can’t either. Trying to do so begets Western losses with no tangible long-run benefits. Men and women die and sustain injury. Wealth is dissipated. American debts rise while Afghani conflict continues. Warlords keep battling or fattening their purses. A fragile democracy there and others elsewhere struggle against insurgencies or don’t measure up to American goals. The clock ticks on to a more visible Western defeat in Afghanistan, but the defeat is already there. What is it that the West has won?
Afghanistan was under Taliban rule which was tied in with Pakistan’s support. The Taliban probably still have Pakistani support. American defeat in Afghanistan is also defeat in Pakistan. Someday the lid will blow off Pakistan as it did in Iran. What will America do then?
Iraq is a defeat and a snare. The country has a severe civil war going on. Americans sit in the middle of it all, powerless to enforce the American will, whatever that will is. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put Iraq together again.
Lebanon is a defeat and a snare. Israel launches an invasion. The U.S. approves and supports it. However, the war reveals the weakness of Israel’s armed forces, not only politically but also militarily, just as the Iraq War revealed the weakness of American armed forces to control a country. Hizbullah parries Israel with a force only a fraction of Israel’s. Hizbullah, which is no moral paragon, makes itself look good beside Israel’s blunderbuss approach that inflicts damage in all directions. There is no Israeli lightning war this time around. After weeks, Israel has penetrated Lebanon only a few miles. Iran sits safely at a distance observing how weak Israel really is. In the long run, can the State of Israel survive? Can it survive by brute force? I don’t think so, not in its current form. Lebanon will be counted as a turning point in which Israel’s enemies not only tasted blood but got the measure of their opponent, when the tide began to turn in their favor, when they rallied more sympathy for their cause, and even when they began to make headway in overturning Arab governments in favor of Islamic fundamentalist regimes. An Israeli defeat is an American defeat, whether or not America gave the green light for the initial invasion.
All over this world are trouble spots and more potential defeats. Thailand is or will be having war. Somalia experiences war and Ethiopia intervenes. China will sooner or later make a move of some sort on Taiwan. North Korea threatens South Korea. Venezuela links up to Cuba and Iran while threatening trouble elsewhere in South America. Brazil has severe problems. One can go on and on and on. America cannot control all of these situations. It cannot police the world. It cannot run the world. Neither can the major countries that run the United Nations Security Council, and it is a good thing they can’t.
Will Americans learn?
Defeat will not go down American throats easily. It may not go down at all. I do not know. But where character and brains most count are in times of defeat and loss. America failed to learn the lessons of stalemate in Korea and defeat in Vietnam. I have no great hope that it will learn from the current episodes. When the hand is burned on a hot stove, one learns not to touch it again. Will America learn not to touch the multitude of world trouble spots? I doubt it. There will be excuses and rationalizations instead. A basic problem is that foreign policy is the main toy of Presidents and Congresses. They can’t resist playing with it. They like to. They don’t get burned. We do. The basic problem is that Americans support their Presidents and Congresses with money, bodies, and wills. They should not. If this is the only way that Americans can get satisfaction, by displays of brawn all over the world, then they are doomed to defeat. The Lilliputians will tie the American Gulliver down and cut him up into little pieces. America should not be trying to save the world via armed force.
What is to be done? Many Americans worry about Islamic fundamentalist regimes coming to power, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bin Laden or his deputies might soon be running Somalia or some other country. We need to distinguish the American state from individual Americans. The state’s actions need to be severely constrained. The correct foreign policies in situations like these for the state are (a) patience, (b) non-intervention, (c) peaceful engagement, and (d) appropriate defense of America. The last resort should be war and only when a country directly engages the U.S. in war. Individuals should maintain their own moral high ground so that they can apply moral pressure against injustices and so that they can engage in voluntary individual (not state) action against them. The general idea is to shrink the state’s role in foreign policy (state to state), and allow individuals to engage foreign people in voluntary relationships if they wish to, but still within the boundaries of just and justifiable actions. State’s policies should be more passive than is today the case, and individual policies should be as active or passive as individuals see fit (within the limits of being just.)
If Christians wish to remake the world, they can do so with proper and traditional means as individuals (which includes voluntary organizations). If pirates attack ships in Indonesian waters, the shippers can use mercenaries if they wish for protection. Piracy need not lead to extension of the U.S. war against terror to Indonesian waters. If separatists in Thailand blow up a train and Americans want to take sides and fight in Thailand, that is their prerogative as individuals, not that I’m recommending it. They might even fight each other, or they might find Thais fighting them. And if so, the Thais should understand that America the state is not going to protect any of its citizens who undertake such ventures in foreign countries. They are actions of individuals. Situations can rapidly become complex, and this is a good reason why the American state should stay out of foreign situations. It is not proper for the U.S. state to choose up sides and commit the nation to one side or the other in foreign struggles, even if they involve Americans. It makes no sense to extend the protection of the American state, for example, to every American wherever they are in the world in ways that drag the state into local conflicts and wars. An American who travels should be responsible for his own protection. If Americans could carry guns, they would be a lot safer. And if they wore an emblem that signified they were under the protection of a credible protection company that would seek justice for any harm done, that would be better than running to an Embassy in case of trouble or waiting for the Marines to land. It would be better than terrorists, insurgents, and rebels being able to drag the U.S. into wars of their choosing.
The American state should lay back and sit still, first for 5 years, then 10 years, then 20 years, and longer. Americans need a long, long respite. We need to recover our sense of proportion. We need to learn how to think and see straight again. We need to solve our own problems. No nation can keep fighting forever without having a nervous breakdown.
We need to lay back and sit still because oppressive regimes have a way of self-destructing over time. This happened to the Soviet Union (and it’s the path that the U.S. is on). There is a reason. The more that a regime tries to control, the higher become its costs of control. But also the benefits of citizen resistance rise as the regime becomes more oppressive. At some point, if the regime goes too far, the citizens make a change. It depends on their pain threshold and dissatisfaction levels. This is something that outsiders can’t gauge. We should know about this. Americans once had a low threshold of pain and threw off the British rule.
Nonintervention has the enormous benefit of giving foreign peoples no excuse to be against America as a state. If our state has done nothing to earn their hatred or enmity, then they have no just cause against us. This will diminish attacks on us inasmuch as many attacks are for what enemies regard as just causes even if those attacked see matters in the opposite light. Nonintervention will not end all attacks or problem situations, however. One can imagine all sorts of such difficult cases even if the U.S. becomes more passive, but they will be clearer and easier to manage if our state is minding its own business. That’s what nonintervention means: Mind your own business, America.
If Islamic regimes oppress their people (or we believe they do), we should be patient and not intervene as a state. Anyway, we have little choice but to wait for the inevitable alteration in the country’s politics because collective intervention makes matters worse. We should be passive as a state, but active as individuals if we wish to. North Vietnam conquered South Vietnam despite American intervention, but now that country engages the U.S. in trade and other ways. If Iranians become dissatisfied enough with their rulers, they will change what they have. The U.S. surely can’t do it for them without further defeat. The U.S. once intervened to put in a puppet, the Shah of Iran, and the Iranians, or some of them, never forgot it. Our CIA’s intervention, among many others, led to the troubles we now face. If there is injustice in Iran that the Iranians complain about, Americans as individuals can support them if they see fit and speak out. If Iranians want money to support their cause, it is the right of any American to support them if the cause is just and the actions to support it are just. Knowing these things may not be easy, but that is what conscience requires. Pressures should build up from below, not from above by the concerted state actions we are used to seeing.
The evidence is in. State interventions solve nothing. They lead only to further conflicts. No person needs to sit on his hands in the face of international evils. There is plenty of work to be done to identify them. People can organize and speak out. They can apply moral pressures. Some international organizations do this already, and they make a difference. People can communicate with other peoples as individuals (including voluntary groups) and support them in many ways, even including smuggling, supplying arms, and fighting There are many ways to effect changes. Muscular state policies have failed. What is left except the actions of individuals? If this sort of free market foreign policy sounds visionary and strange, it is. This is what bin Laden is doing. He is conducting his own war against the United States and its citizens. But his actions are terribly wrong and unjust. I am not commending private marauders, pirates, terrorists, and thieves that prey upon innocents. I am commending private actions that are just, and that creates a large constraint and poses difficult problems for anyone who uses force.
Patience means that the state (not necessarily individuals) takes a much longer-run view than it is accustomed to and sits still and waits for the natural forces of change to occur. It means the state sees what its leaders think is evil or bad and does not do anything about it through sanctions, threat, armed force, interventions, and alliances. The state should simply not be leading the country into foreign adventures. The situations the state and the country face are not like calling the police because our neighbor gives his wife a black eye. A state that acts like a policeman in foreign nations faces resistance from other states and peoples. The state’s international tools are limited, and the ones we have been taught to think work do not work well over the long haul. There is no end of injustices in this world, and the state cannot successfully commit the American people to rectify them militarily or by the standard means that have gotten us into so much trouble in the past.
Militarism must end
Americans have shed enormous amounts of blood. They have spent enormous wealth. Why? Defense or national security was only part of it and not even the major root cause. One intervention led to another and yet another on a growing scale. That was the main reason. The main reason was that U.S. policy is militarism. According to one definition, militarism is a national policy of maintaining large armed forces and being willing to use them aggressively to defend or promote national interests. This describes America. U.S. militarism is destroying America.
President Eisenhower in 1961 warned the American people: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist." Immediately thereafter, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon committed the nation to the Vietnam War. Every President since has committed the nation to intervention and war in foreign lands. There is no end in sight. For wrong reasons, Americans now support what Ike foresaw would be a "disastrous" rise and misuse of power. The returns are coming in. They are defeats. American militarism will end or else America will end.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.