Another Century of War?

Most 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:

In 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?

Professor 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.”

In 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.

Furthermore, 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.”

Kolko 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:

All 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.

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

This 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.

He 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.

American 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:

We 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.

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

Should 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.

Kolko 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.”

Kolko 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:

A 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.

He further states:

The 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.

This 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.

October 11, 2003