Monday, June 14, 2010

The End for the American Hegemon: Circling the Last Helicopters

Mark Steyn made an observation on the Dennis Miller Show the day after the Obamacare debacle was set in stone that the establishment of a government-run healthcare system meant that the good old days of America underwriting global security would soon be over. And sure enough, rumblings to slash the scope of military commitments and thereby reduce governmental expenses, only to free up cash to be scooped up by the incoming national health service, are already upon us.

Who could guess that the end of American hegemony - its status as sole superpower -  would be brought about not by a red dawn but rather by two thousand papercuts garnered from a healthcare bill whose contents are only beginning to shock and horrify the American people?

One of the signalers of the sea change from Team America: World Police to a pacifist neo-isolationist nanny state has come from an unusual corner of the Interwebs - the iconically libertarian CATO Institute. Chris Preble of CATO co-wrote an article in Politico calling for cutting military expenditures that caught the attention of banking queen Barney Frank, who lapped it up like one of his Puerto Rican houseboys. As Preble's CATO article How to Cut Military Spending explains, it linked America's "economic health" to its ability to sustain military expenditures, implying that it may be time for the United States to scale back and draw down. Congressman Frank immediately picked up the ball and ran, establishing an eerily named "Sustainable Defense Task Force" that drafted a report Debt, Deficits, and Defense describing how to deconstruct our military.

Don't get me wrong - I am completely sympathetic to the argument that we should reduce the burden on the American people for providing security for the globe. Many of the same states that free ride on Americans' willingness to fight true evil around the world, such as communism and now radical Islam, have been the first ones to criticize the United States for all manner of concocted infractions against "human rights." This includes countries like France, Britain, and Germany who directly benefited from American participation in NATO and other postwar organizations. It certainly is time to stop subsidizing the Europeans' socialist experiments - but my objection to those who argue to do so now is that the reason should not be to run a failed social experiment of our own.

That is why libertarians, who may certainly mean well enough in asking other nations to pay their own fair share for ensuring international security, should not partner with liberals who have opposite reasons for making an argument for American retraction. Not only do liberals want to see American influence weakened for its own sake, and many because the U.S. has until recently been a strong capitalist country that has "corrupted" the world order with its shining example of the success of liberty and economic freedom, they want to cut the military simply to free up funds to blow on demented social engineering programs.

The liberals may be right that America is in decline.  They should know, they have helped to bring it about since the 1960s.  As libertarian Christopher Preble wrote in a separate article "Fiscal Imbalance and Global Power":

"Our long-term fiscal imbalance, which increasingly amounts to a massive intergenerational wealth transfer, is clearly a sign of our decline. But it is a decline that has been a long time coming."

And the timing of the calls to reduce the scope of our military responsibility should give a libertarian pause. It may be said that "the enemy of our enemy is our friend," but there are other enemies to consider besides adventurist neocons who are intent on abusing American military power to accomplish vague political agendas across the globe. The questionable and at times bizarre actions of President Obama suggest that American decline is more than being "managed," it is being not-too-subtly prodded along. Waiting in the Eurasian wings, that grand chessboard of geopolitics, are the predatory states of Russia and China.

It should be said that although Obama has been surprisingly staunch in his willingness to maintain American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan (to the objections of only a few of the hardiest whimpering pacifists), his strength in terms of how the "overseas contingency operations" are being run has been less than impressive. Weak ROEs, the prosecution of terrorist-punching soldiers, and a childish testiness about nomenclature suggest that Obama's foreign policy sympathies may be, let's say, non-traditional.

The conditions under which the United States withdraws from the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan are crucial - there should be no "last helicopters" out of the Middle East to taint the image of America's willingness to oppose its enemies no matter where they are. But if America retreats from its international commitments in a position of weakness, even economic weakness, this will only encourage its enemies and adversaries to act more aggressively against its interests. The U.S. indeed should have withdrawn from or scaled back its commitments abroad, a long time ago, before it ran up hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, and before the Europeans, the Japanese, and the South Koreans became attached to the post-Cold War gravy train.

The hard lesson that goes unsaid in CATO's articles, and one that would not be missed at say, The Mises Institute, is that our fiscal policy has been a house founded on sand since the monetary system became total fiat in 1971.  Not only did the transitory power of the Fed's printing press seductively lure the American people into an illusory impression of the condition of the nation's finances, it did the same for the sustainability of the respective finances of the nation-states of Europe. There may indeed be last helicopters out of Eurasia, but it won't be our troops fleeing some desert hell-hole; they will be piloted by "helicopter Ben" and his spendthrift minions at the Fed.

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