Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

American Empire

David Brooks says that the budget deficit will kill us all in our sleep.  Unfortunately, this means we will not be able to kill as many wogs.  Booman responds that of course we need to cut defense spending.  Even if we gut defense spending, we will still be the indispensable country.

I agree that our defense spending is far too high for a country with our budgetary issues.  I think Booman misses the basic Keynesian role that defense spending has in our economy.  We can't gut the defense budget overnight without plunging the country back into recession.

From my reading of Brooks' piece - admittedly cursory - I would wager he's using worst case scenarios on Medicare to make his point about health care spending and future deficits.

But ultimately, yes, the question comes down to whether we want to spend money on domestic welfare or foreign wars.  Do we want health care for all Americans or a permanent pro-consular role in the Middle East?  We can't have both.

Defense spending is obviously unsustainably high right now.  We can cut it dramatically and still insure our security from other state actors.  Terrorists?  Probably not so much, as they remain undeterable.

But it is also clear - and I credit Brooks for seeing this - that much of the opposition to Hagel from the GOP is that Hagel is notably unenthusiastic about fighting land wars in Asia.  The reason Obama picked a Republican SecDef is to allow him cover to start paring away at the bloated military budget - a budget most generals themselves find to be bloated.

The debate that we need to have is more basic: What do we see as America's role in the world in the 21st century?  The Bush Wars - for lack of a better term - are the last gasps of the old hegemonic, imperial world view.  Invading and occupying countries are not and should not be on the preferred options menu.  How can America exert external influence without massive and unsustainable military spending?

The problem is that this will require a foreign policy of nuance and subtlety.  The foreign policy of Bush 41 rather than Bush 43, if you will.

The modern GOP is simply incapable of nuance and subtlety.  They are the people who hated Kissinger and Carter for dealing with the Soviets.  For them, the calculus is simple: Kill bad guys.  Put another way, "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun M1 Abrams tank."

America will not remain the hyperpower it was briefly after the end of the Cold War.  The economic stupidity of the EuroZone and the internal limitations of the Chinese mean that we have a few more years being the "indispensible nation", but those days are numbered.  We are about to enter a world where we are the first among equals in a multi-polar world, but are no longer immune from the pressures of the rest of the world.

I expect heads to explode in certain rightward precincts of the American polity.

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