US: foreign and military policy


Tim Brown writes: Mr. Kofas poses two valid questions for discussion. One, just what are the US's national interests? And two, what, if any, may broader US national interests extend above and/or beyond its geopolitical interests.  Unfortunately, then he slips back into hyperbole by asking rhetorically " Can we make progress as a nation and make a contribution to civilization on all fronts from the arts to medical science by pursuing unilateralist-militarist foreign policy predicated on ever-rising defense spending? Have we lost all perspective regarding the limits of power?" (italics added). When stated so categorically, these questions mirror an old adage:  You can always define victory so as to make defeat seem inevitable. "Civilization" is a slippery word indeed, and "all fronts" opens the way to declaring defeat despite myriad successes. "Yes, but not in _____"(you fill in the gap).
 
My guess is that by foreign policy, Mr. Kofas means only Iraq and nothing else.  If so, then his conclusion that our foreign policy is unilateralist or militaristic is based both on an inaccurate definition of foreign policy and on the selective use of a single case.  The following are also foreign policy objectives:  Free trade.  Democratization. Immigration control. Protection of citizens. Assuring the safety of air and sea navigation. Free and efficient communications. Disease control. I could go on. And, while none of these is militaristic, all can be counted as foreign policy successes.
 
And even in the case of Iraq, and despite all protestations to the contrary, we first attempted to obtain the cooperation of the major powers to isolate the Saddam regime. When that failed, we then tried to work via the UN.  After both these multilateral efforts failed we were faced with a simple decision.  Do nothing effective and let Saddam continue in power, or act as the primary force to unseat him.
 
On rising defense spending, that is not historically true either. Defense spending grew under Reagan primarily  because of the relatively lean budgets of prior years. It was a matter of rebuilding what had been neglected. Initially, Bush simply repeated this pattern. It was only after 9/11 that spending began to grow sharply. Reagan's actions contributed greatly to the collapse of the Russian revolution and its primary sponsor, the USSR.  I would argue that was good, not bad, and more than worth it.  Whether Bush's actions will yield similarly constructive results remains to be seen. But, if  open societies replace most or all the closed ones in the Middle East and elsewhere, again, it will have been worth it. 

RH: We shall see.
 

Ronald Hilton 2005

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last updated: June 9, 2005