What's Wrong with the U.S. Global Empire?

Some questions are not meant to be answered. They are really requests phrased as questions. Here are a couple that I have received, followed by what is really being requested if one reads the entire contents of what was written:

Question: Why do you write for that Rockwell fellow?

Request: You should not write for Lew Rockwell because he is a libertarian nut who hates the state and the military.

Question: Why don’t you move to another country?

Request: You should move to another country (like France) because you are anti-American for not supporting the president and the war in Iraq.

Some questions, however, are genuine:

“I was wondering if you could please give me a few reasons why you think it is a negative thing to have a US presence in that many countries around the world.”

I recently received the above question, which is apparently a belated response to my articles last year on the U.S. global empire: “The U.S. Global Empire,” “The Bases of Empire,” and “Guarding the Empire.” There I documented that the U.S. has an empire of troops and bases the world over and explained that what makes U.S. hegemony unique is that it consists, not of control over great land masses or population centers, but of a global presence unlike that of any other country in history.

The question raised is an important one, and since the question seemed genuine — the questioner did not preface or conclude his question with the charge that I was a pacifist, a liberal, a communist, or a traitor because I don’t support the war in Iraq and don’t think it is right for our military to have troops in almost every country on the planet — I am now answering it in the form of this article.

So what’s wrong with the U.S. global empire? In answer to the above query, I came up with ten things. The responses are not in any particular order, and could certainly be expanded upon further.

1. What’s right about it? This is perhaps the most important response because it puts the question right back where it should be — on those who support the U.S. global empire. If someone is going to advocate some activity, he should be responsible to explain why it is necessary or why it is a positive thing. It should not be left up those who don’t advocate that particular activity to explain what the potential negative effects are. Are there any really positive things that result from the United States having its troops scattered around the globe? I mean things that could never be achieved by some other way. I can’t think of any. This does not mean that no one benefits from the U.S. global empire. The military industrial complex benefits. Nationals contracted by the U.S. military in their country to work on U.S. military installations benefit. Stockholders in companies that serve as defense contractors might benefit. But do the American people as a whole benefit?

2. It is unnatural. It is not natural for the United States (or any country) to have an empire of troops and bases that encircles the globe. Why should any U.S. troops ever leave American soil or American territorial waters? Suppose that the countries of Tunisia, Sweden, and Kenya announced that they were going to build military bases in the United States. Or suppose that the countries of Pakistan, Cameroon, and Bolivia announced that they were sending troops to the United States. These would be viewed as acts of aggression. Yet, why is it that the American people think nothing of the United States garrisoning the planet?

3. It is very expensive. The money factor cannot be ignored. Even without fighting a war, it costs a lot of money (the American taxpayers’ money) to pay, house, feed, and provide medical care for thousands of American soldiers. Then there are the expenses for weapons, ships, tanks, fuel, etc. Robert Higgs has recently estimated that “the government’s total military-related outlays in fiscal year 2006 will be in the neighborhood of $840 billion — or, approximately a third of the total budget.” In Old Right conservative John T. Flynn’s “A Rejected Manuscript,” from Forgotten Lessons, a collection of his essays, he explains that “the oldest of all rackets for spending the people’s money is the institution of militarism. It creates a host of jobs — at low wages — in the armed services plus the far better paid and numerous jobs and dividends in the industries which produce the arms, provide the sailors and soldiers with food, clothes, medical care, and, juiciest of all, the weapons of war.”

4. It is against the principles of the Founding Fathers. Sending troops overseas, building military bases in foreign countries, and making alliances is foreign interventionism, pure and simple. The Founding Fathers recommended a noninterventionist foreign policy, and for good reason. George Washington warned against “permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” He also said: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible.” Thomas Jefferson stated: “I am for free commerce with all nations, political connection with none, and little or no diplomatic establishment. And I am not for linking ourselves by new treaties with the quarrels of Europe, entering that field of slaughter to preserve their balance, or joining in the confederacy of Kings to war against the principles of liberty.” John Quincy Adams would certainly not have approved of current U.S. foreign policy since he said that “America . . . goes not abroad seeking monsters to destroy.” Were they transported to the twenty-first century, would Washington, Jefferson, and Adams even recognize the American republic today as the same country in which they served as president?

5. It fosters undesirable activity. As I pointed out in my article “Should a Christian Join the Military?” Chalmers Johnson, of the Japan Policy Research Institute, in his seminal work Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, has described the network of bars, strip clubs, whorehouses, and VD clinics that surround U.S. bases overseas. The former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines “had no industry nearby except for the u2018entertainment’ business, which supported approximately 55,000 prostitutes and a total of 2,182 registered establishments offering u2018rest and recreation’ to American servicemen.” At the annual Cobra Gold joint military exercise in Thailand: “Some three thousand prostitutes wait for sailors and marines at the South Pattaya waterfront, close to Utapao air base.” Johnson has also chronicled the excessive crime rates among American servicemen stationed in Okinawa — “the 58-year-long record of sexual assaults, bar brawls, muggings, drug violations, drunken driving accidents, and arson cases all committed by privileged young men who proclaim they are in Okinawa to protect the people from the dangers of political u2018instability’ elsewhere in East Asia.”

6. It increases hatred of Americans. One need look no further than the “welcome” our troops have received in Iraq. Of the 1,569 American military deaths in Iraq, 1,102 of them have occurred since the capture of Saddam Hussein. (The actual figures may in fact be higher — which means that more senseless deaths of Americans have occurred since the writing of this article). Why was Osama bin Laden so upset with the United States? He was outraged by the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, after two U.S. soldiers were acquitted by a U.S. military court in South Korea of negligent homicide in the deaths of two Korean schoolgirls, Koreans demonstrated, burned American flags, chanted anti-American slogans, and demanded that U.S. troops leave the country. Hatred of the United States is not a result of our freedoms and our values, it is a direct result of our intervention into the affairs of other countries and our military presence around the world.

7. It perverts the purpose of the military. The purpose of the U.S. military should be to defend the United States. That’s it. Nothing more. Using the military for any other purpose perverts the purpose of the military. The U.S. military has no business attempting to bring democracy to the world, remove dictators, spread goodwill, fight communism or Islam, guarantee the neutrality of any country, change a regime that is not friendly to the United States, train the armies of other countries, open foreign markets, protect U.S. commercial interests, provide disaster relief, or provide humanitarian aid. The U.S. military should be engaged exclusively in defending the United States, not defending other countries, and certainly not attacking them. What are U.S. troops doing overseas when the border between Mexico and the United States is not even secure?

8. It increases the size and scope of the government. There is no way a country can have hundreds of bases and thousands of troops overseas without a substantial and onerous bureaucracy at home. Cold warrior William F. Buckley admitted as much in his 1952 article in The Commonweal, “A Young Republican View”: “We have to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged given our present government skills except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.” Buckley went on to recommend that we support “large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington.” It is no wonder that the “conservative” Buckley was branded by Murray Rothbard as “a totalitarian socialist,” and rightly so, for intervention abroad cannot but follow intervention at home. The practice of “national greatness” conservativism abroad and “leave us alone” conservatism at home, as espoused by Michael Barone, Andrew Sullivan, and assorted neoconservatives, is an impossibility. As Justin Raimondo explains: “It doesn’t work that way. We can’t have an Empire abroad, and a Republic at home (except in name only) for the simple reason that the tax monies it takes to build mighty fleets and bases all around the world, to police the earth and humble the wicked, must be enormous. Furthermore, the sheer power it takes to direct these armies, to say whether there shall be war or peace on a global scale, is necessarily imperial, and cannot be republican in any meaningful sense of the word. For this sort of power, i.e. military power, must be highly centralized in order to be effectively wielded: an interventionist foreign policy necessarily turns the President into an Emperor, as Congress has learned partly to its relief and often to its sorrow.”

9. It makes countries dependent on the presence of the U.S. military. This is especially true in countries where U.S. troops have had a presence for decades. Consider the case of Germany. The United States recently sought to punish Germany for leading international opposition to the war in Iraq by withdrawing some U.S. troops from German soil. The planned withdrawal of troops was designed to harm the German economy and make an example of Germany. But even if troop withdrawals are not retaliatory in nature, the fact remains that the local economies in the occupied countries suffer because they become dependent upon the presence of the U.S. military. The threat or even the mention of troop withdrawals causes unnecessary contention between nations.

10. The United States is not the world’s policeman. It’s a dirty job. It’s a thankless job. It’s an impossible job. And no, someone does not really have to do it. Why, then, do we even try? We cannot police the world. We have no right to police the world. It is the height of arrogance to try and remake the world in our image. Most of what happens in the world is none of our concern and certainly none of our business. If the people in a country don’t like their ruler, then they should get rid of him, not look to the United States to intervene. Actually, though, most of the time it is the United States that institutes a regime change. If Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims want to terrorize each other — it is a tragic thing, but nothing the United States should get involved in. If India and Pakistan want to endlessly debate the Kashmir Question, then let them endlessly debate it. Why should we get involved? What would we think if India or Pakistan tried to intervene in a border dispute between the United States and Mexico? If the Hutus and the Tutsis battle it out in Africa — it is a terrible thing but none of our business. If an individual American feels that strongly about either side, he can pray for peace, he can send money to the side he favors, or he can go to Africa and enlist in the Hutu or Tutsi army and fight. If North and South Vietnam have a quarrel — it is not worth the lives of over 58,000 Americans (the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC now lists 58,245 names), the wounding of 304,000 Americans, and the disabling of 75,000 of those wounded (over 23,000 were totally disabled) to intervene. It is not worth the life of one American. It is strange how advocates of U.S. wars, interventions, and militarism consider opponents of these things to be un-patriotic and anti-American when those who are for non-intervention are the ones concerned about the life of even one American being used as cannon fodder for the state. Being the world’s policeman also entails bribing countries with foreign aid — a subject I have explored elsewhere.

Does this U.S. global presence mean that the United States has an empire? It is an empire in everything but name. Supposedly sovereign, free, and independent countries can’t even have an election without the United States intervening. Yes, there is a high probability of fraud in some foreign elections. But not only are foreign elections none of our business, how would we feel if China, Kenya, Belarus, or Botswana sent “observers” to supervise our elections because of the high probability of fraud?

“Today,” as neoconservative Charles Krauthammer maintains, “the United States remains the preeminent economic, military, diplomatic, and cultural power on a scale not seen since the fall of the Roman Empire.” Yes, and if we are not careful we will go the way of the Roman Empire. The U.S. government’s foolish interventions have caused much of the world to view America as the new evil empire. Krauthammer also claims that “the international environment is far more likely to enjoy peace under a single hegemon. Moreover, we are not just any hegemon. We run a uniquely benign imperium.” Until, of course, a country disagrees with us — then it is bombs away.

What’s wrong with the U.S. global empire? Everything.