Wednesday, November 23


I've been meaning to post this but haven't gotten around to it. George Will this past Sunday on "This Week With George S." --

"We are conducting an imperial foreign policy, that since 9/11 our American foreign policy has been that our national well-being depends upon many projections of power far from our shores for protracted periods of time to effect substantial changes in the world. Now, this is what empire looks like, what we're seeing on television. And the question is, can a modern democracy with instant graphic journalism conduct this kind of foreign policy? And if this was a tipping point, we begin to answer, no. Today. ...Because what Mr. Rumsfeld said to George was, 'Yes, it's a good idea we've gone to war because the world's going to be better off (a) without Saddam, a sufficient reason for going to war, and (b) a second sufficient reason, with a democracy up an running...' Now, building democracies is not peacekeeping, the phrase you used, there's no peace to be kept, this is nation building, and conservatives, these are all conservatives, cannot believe in that."

Ivan Eland would say that Will is correct.

Eland argues that the concept of empire is contrary to the principles of both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives should oppose an American empire, because war is the primary cause of Big Government—including the growth of nondefense spending—which in turn requires increased taxes. Hostile relations with other nations also breed protectionism and controls on financial flows, thus undermining the principles of free trade. Bloated government, high taxes, and restricted international commerce slow economic growth, undermining the prosperity and well-being of American society. Over time, lower U.S. economic growth rates could cause the United States to fall into relative decline, as happed to the overextended, overtaxed British Empire in the last century.

Conservatives worry about the nation’s security, but the United States does not need an empire to ensure it; America has two great oceans as moats, weak and friendly neighbors, and the most potent nuclear arsenal on the planet.

Liberals should oppose an empire, Eland argues, because many of the so-called “humanitarian” military interventions of the United States often have unhumanitarian consequences. The abysmal track record of attempts to bring democracy and free markets to countries coercively shows that such interventions usually fail to restructure fractured and violent societies. In the long term, violations of nations’ sovereignties—even for “humanitarian” ends—undermine international norms against cross-border aggression and encourage separatist groups to revolt. Over time, therefore, more people are likely to be killed than saved by U.S. interventions into failed states. Instead of placing the lives of U.S. soldiers between two opposing sides not yet ready to make peace, the international community should focus on helping nations in which all parties to a conflict are exhausted by war and are ready to stop fighting.

“Humanitarian” military interventionism, Eland argues, also faces strong moral objections: If a military intervention is unnecessary, then killing innocent civilians even accidentally is immoral. Furthermore, foreign wars erode civil liberties at home. Finally, many vested interests—including the arms industry—turn war fervor into corporate welfare. Humanitarian rationales for military intervention are often employed to cloak motives of realpolitik.
The republic’s founders realized that America’s geographical remoteness vis-à-vis other nation-states allowed the luxury of distancing itself from entangling alliances and foreign quarrels, defining its vital interests narrowly, and adopting a policy of military restraint. In an age of catastrophic terrorism, the founders’ original foreign policy is more relevant than ever. Profligate intervention overseas is not needed for security against other nation-states and only leads to blowback from the one threat that is difficult to deter—terrorism. In short, the U.S. empire lessens American prosperity, power, security and moral standing. It also erodes the founding principles of the American Constitution.

Americans have ignored the economic, political and security costs of the burgeoning empire at great peril. As Eland writes in the book’s introduction, “The fuzzy criteria that the U.S. government uses to determine whether American forces should intervene indicate that the American foreign policy is askew. Unlike the empires of old, which limited their military interventions to certain parts of the world, the United States is trying to police the entire globe.

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