This post is less an attempt at proposing a position than at provoking discussion. Militarily the United States has an enormous amount on its plate. We continue to have more than 130,000 troops in Iraq. In accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush Administration with the Maliki government, that number will decline until all U. S. forces depart Iraq no later than the end of December, 2011.
In addition we have 36,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. If Gen. McChrystal’s request for additional troops is satisfied, that number will double.
That’s really just a small part of the complete picture. We have hundreds of military bases in dozens of countries around the world. A good point of departure for determining where U. S. forces are and how many are deployed is here. Our bases range in size from the mammoth bases in Germany, Okinawa, and Korea, each with tens of thousands of U. S. military personnel, to small facilities like the one we keep in Peru with a relative handful of U. S. personnel.
Altogether this provides the United States with an ability to project force unparalleled in human history. Our military spending is commensurate with that and by nearly any reckoning we spend more on our military than any other country. Indeed, our spending exceeds that of the next fourteen largest spenders by a considerable margin, 41.5% of all military spending.
Whether we should be spending that much or will continue to spend that much is a matter of lively, sometimes bitter, discussion. Although I think its a reasonable subject for discussion, that’s not the question I’d like to raise here. My hydra-headed question is does our degree and manner of projection of force promote our grand strategy?
The obvious purpose of our military is to defend our country. Americans differ on just what that means. Some Americans believe fervently in defending our country if we’re attacked but they limit their support of the projection of force to just that. I won’t mince words: I think that’s foolishly limited. If there is one lesson we should have learned over the last 150 years of our history, it’s that we don’t want to fight a war within our own borders and in my view construing defense so narrowly that it’s limited to defending ourselves when we are attacked at home makes that prospect more likely rather than less. That does mean that we must remain willing to fight our wars in our people’s countries.
Other Americans believe in a much more expansive of defense, a view in which nation-building and the promotion of democracy including with the use of force is seen as part and parcel of our national defense. I see Gen. McChrystal’s emphasis on counter-insurgency and nation-building in Afghanistan as the latest manifestation of that view.
I’m equally skeptical of that view. I believe that it seriously underestimates the difficulty of the task and overestimates the patience of the American people in supporting it. I also think that our very ability to project force uniquely disqualifies us for the task of nation-building. Our power alone will cause other people to be suspicious of us and our motives.
I’d like to see both the military and civil arms of our foreign policy aligned towards advancing the neoliberal agenda we’ve pursued since the end of World War II. In my view our grand strategy should promote free trade, the free flow of capital, and the free flow of information and we should de-emphasize military force in our relations with other countries. Just as our navy promotes the freedom of shipping traffic on the seas, our State Department should continue to negotiate bilateral free trade agreements. In my view, too, some arm of the federal government whether military or civil needs to take the free flow of information on the Internet much more seriously than we currently seem to.
I think we should maintain our navy as consistent with those objectives and reduce the size of our army and air force.
In dealing with the challenges immediately at hand, I’d like to see us withdraw our forces from Iraq faster than we’re doing now and, if possible, negotiate some sort of lasting military commitment to the country on our part. I’d like to see us take a view of Afghanistan more along the lines of Rory Stewart’s, an approach with both military and civil aspects but which requires our taking a longer view.
Rather than continue this meandering post, I’m going to stop here. I welcome your comments and your views on whether we are successfully promoting our grand strategy and just what that strategy should be.