How military superiority made America less safe

“since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the reason that brought forth US global supremacy has ceased to exist. There was an original argument for the United States shouldering the immense burdens of global military dominance: Without it, totalitarian powers would conquer much of the Earth. That would be terrible for the world, the thinking went, and it could be bad for the United States.

The problem, though, is the pursuit of military dominance since then has created a lot of enemies of the US that didn’t need to be enemies of the US. We’ve engaged in bad behavior ourselves and stimulated it in others.

I worry that — in a world where the foremost threats to the American people are pandemic disease and climate change — America will continue to define its biggest threats in military terms, even if they aren’t.”

“Since 1991, I think almost everybody has lost out, aside from the major defense firms and some ruling elites. America’s strategy has been incredibly destructive for people throughout the greater Middle East, and of course, the Iraq War resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians.

And I don’t think the American people have won out, either. I think that we have gotten less safe and more fearful as a society as a result of constantly being told by leaders of both parties that the whole world is out to kill us and that that’s why we’ve got to go to war to kill them first.

Look, the argument that US military power contributed to world order was very real. The Bretton Woods system played an important role in stabilizing global capitalism. But since the 1970s, and especially the 1990s, I think it’s hard to argue that US military dominance somehow underpins everything else.

It’s very difficult to see how applying sanctions on dozens of countries and waging continual warfare in the greater Middle East somehow serves the general interest of capitalism. Maybe it serves the interests of particular firms, but not the system of capitalism.” 

“What I’m opposed to, first and foremost, is military dominance as an end in itself. That’s what I think it has become in our own time, and I don’t think it began that way. That doesn’t prohibit the US from being a robust power: It’s going to be a great power and it’s going to have a strong military. We should absolutely be able to defend ourselves. I’m not even closing the door on things like humanitarian intervention, either.

What we have to ask, though, is if the US has used all this power wisely and judiciously. It’s clear that we haven’t, and it’s making all of us in America and around the world less safe. Just think of this: Roughly 80 percent of all US military interventions have occurred after 1991. Can we really say the millions at home and abroad have had their lives improved by that? I don’t think so.”

“I’d lead a systematic policy of disentangling the US from regions where its interests are either not vital, as in the Middle East, or not really imperiled, like Europe. I absolutely believe in the capacity of Europeans to manage their own affairs. The United States does not need to be the protector of Europe.”

“we have to be cautious in observing how China continues to rise and how it behaves. It has not had a record of territorial conquest with anything like the record of past US adversaries, like the Axis powers or the Soviet Union. That’s a good thing, though you wouldn’t know it from all the cries about China’s desire to dominate the world emanating from Washington, DC.

A President Wertheim — and please let your readers know I’m rolling my eyes as I say that — would recognize the US has an opportunity to cautiously retrench its position militarily in certain regions as it ramps up cooperation on the issues that really matter. I’d encourage allies and partners in the region to step up to counterbalance China. We still have time to allow that process to happen, and that’d be a good thing since it takes two great powers to make a great-power war.”

“What I am fearful of right now is that it’s almost impossible for many people in the foreign policy community to envision circumstances in which the United States could ever pull back from a region. I worry about the United States putting itself on the front lines of any potential conflict, which could mean a great-power war. We should avoid being in that situation in the first place if we possibly can.”

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