Spotlight on Geopolitics

This autumn’s senatorial elections in the United States could affect the Democrats’ control over the institution. The prospect of a Senate controlled by Republicans has determined America’s leading conservative and neo-conservative think-tanks to join forces against the Obama administration.

The strategy employed by the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative is to portray president Obama as a peacenik that is unwilling to spend zillions to maintain America’s claim to global military leadership. In an op-ed recently published in the Wall Street Journal and freely available on the Heritage Foundation’s website, Ed Feulner (president of the Heritage Foundation), Arthur Brooks (president of AEI) and William Kristol (from FPI) are incriminating Obama’s military budget reduction initiatives which, in their view, will hollow out the US military and America’s ability to continue to play the role of global superpower :

There are some who think the era of U.S. global leadership is over, and that decline is what the future inevitably holds for us. Some even believe that decline offers us a better future, in the model of our relatively pacifist social-democratic allies. But this is an error. A weaker, cheaper military will not solve our financial woes. It will, however, make the world a more dangerous place, and it will impoverish our future.”

Two years ago, however, president Obama was elected by Americans to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to bring back US soldiers and to implement measures aimed at offering universal medical coverage. All that – the Obama administration has addressed, to the chagrin of the conservatives.

The authors paper over the fact that whilst the number of regular soldiers has diminished, Iraq and Afghanistan are practically swarming with private military personnel working for PMC’s, in their hundreds of thousands. In fact, the mercenaries eat up a large proportion of the US’ warfare and foreign aid budget. According to Joseph Stiglitz, 3 trillion dollars have been spent in Iraq and another trillion in Afghanistan, with no apparent return for the hapless American taxpayer. Also according to Stiglitz, the federal debt stood at 6.2 trillion dollars before the two wars started, and reached 10 trillion in 2008 before the crisis hit, as a direct result of military expenditures:

There is no question that the Iraq war added substantially to the federal debt. This was the first time in American history that the government cut taxes as it went to war. The result: a war completely funded by borrowing. U.S. debt soared from $6.4 trillion in March 2003 to $10 trillion in 2008 (before the financial crisis); at least a quarter of that increase is directly attributable to the war. And that doesn’t include future health care and disability payments for veterans, which will add another half-trillion dollars to the debt. As a result of two costly wars funded by debt, our fiscal house was in dismal shape even before the financial crisis—and those fiscal woes compounded the downturn.”

The conservative op-ed implies that the US should instead reduce entitlements and assistance to families, in other words social security payments, and in no way military expenditure. But, as The Economist points out, the military budget of the US is larger than China’s, Britain’s, France’s, Russia’s, Germany’s, Japan’s Saudi Arabia, Italy’s, South Korea’s, Brazil’s, Canada’s and Australia’s combined. This being the situation, even a halving of the US’ current defence budget, which stands at some 780 billion dollars per annum, would not endanger America’s security.

The conservative authors should also gently be reminded that their country had been founded by what we would call today “anti-imperialist” generals, intellectuals, traders and farmers. The American global leadership is being contested in practically all parts of the world today, from Europe to Russia, from China to Latin America. The “New American Century” initiative was a stillborn idea, and multi-polarity is its replacement.

Trade and prosperity, as its two recent wars and the financial crises have proven, on the other hand, no longer depend on America’s military involvement abroad. The European Union, the Chinese and Latin Americans have manifested their desire to take regional security into their own hands, without the need for the US to continue patrolling their sea lanes or meddling into regional conflicts.

(sources: WSJ, The Economist, The Heritage Foundation, Reuters, Le Monde diplomatique, Weekly Standard)

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