Among Americans, that is. The folks world-wide who have to deal with our choices care a great deal. Among Americans though, nobody really cares. Living in Turkey I hear a lot about how US foreign policy is corruptly guided by the “Jewish Lobby”, and the oil companies.* The more sophisticated among those I talk to claim that US foreign policy is owned and run by the defense industry. There are elements of truth to these critiques, but they miss the bigger picture.
American foreign policy is owned and guided by American foreign policy practitioners. This is usually described as a Military-Industrial complex, but that label over-states the importance of the defense industry. Foreign policy practitioners, defined widely, include literally millions of Americans. Yes, this includes defense contractors, the Department of Defense, and Representatives and Senators whose only concern is the amount of military money they can grab for their constituencies. More importantly, however, this also includes tens of thousands of academics, think tank analysts, consultants and journalists. It is their failure of imagination, not just congressional greed, that has gotten us into our many current messes.
The main problem is not corruption but a lack of ideas. Since 1989 this establishment has been casting around for a reason to continue to exist. The modern foreign policy establishment was forged during the Cold War. The all consuming battle with communism, on ideological, sociological, economic and military fronts created a vast infrastructure.
For 23 years this infrastructure has lacked any clear purpose. It has only had a question: “What are we here for?”. So yes, when Halliburton or Northrup Grumman or AIPAC provides an easy answer the foreign policy establishment grabs it with all the vigor and idiocy of a drowning man. These are not the only entities providing easy answers. The half-baked Wilsonianism of the “Duty to Protect” crowd comes to mind. This is not corruption. This is desperation.
The American public has thus far been content to let the “experts” handle it. They have failed mightily. Post Cold War, the American public has seen foreign policy as just another arena for partisan bickering. The incredible disappearance of the Anti-War movement post-Bush is a great example of this phenomenon. This is a tragedy. As mis-guided as it is, the fact remains that our foreign policy infrastructure is an incredible tool. It could be, and to some degree already is(protecting world-wide shipping, globalization, etc.), a force for good.
The apostles of American Decline are nuts. They are right about the trajectory, but their sense of timing is ludicrous. The US will remain the “Indispensable Nation” for some time to come. Barring fiscal or some other sort of disaster (not impossible, but not as likely as some claim) the 21st century will be an American one as well. It is true that by 2100 our relative economic and military weight will be dramatically diminished. What we do between now and then, however, remains an open question. Will we go the route of other declining empires? Will we choose to lash out, and insist on our privileges in increasingly violent ways, as those privileges steadily wash away?**
There is another option. Abraham Lincoln saw us as the “Last best hope of earth”. We can work towards fulfilling that hope with the time on top that is left to us. The United States has created a hegemony unlike any other in history. There have been unspeakable horrors perpetrated on our watch, but the balance of history is undoubtedly in our favor. There are more people on this planet, living freer and healthier lives, than there have ever been. We deserve some credit for this, as well as the blame for our more publicized mishaps. The peace and freedom (Pax Americana) we have inspired*** has done the world an incredible amount of good. We can use our remaining strength to continue providing these benefits, and convince more people of them. Growing multi-lateral action is a part of this but not a particularly important one. Our economic and moral weight is still large enough that we can do incredible good through solely internal, unilateral changes. All we have to do is do a better job living up to our own founding ideals. If we can do this, 2100 will no longer be a year to be dreaded. We will occupy a respected position as the founder of a greater, happier, and more peaceful world. The Pax Americana will end, but we get to choose how. It can be yet another story of sad, silly decline, or it can be one of transcendence.
So start caring. Read more. Write your god damned congressperson. Vote Libertarian or Green. Stop leaving these decisions to the “experts”. The world you give your grandchildren depends on it.
*To be clear I hear this a lot more from Western Europeans than I do from Turks.
**FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, an absurd world-wide power grab by the US Internal Revenue Service, is a good example of an old-school imperialist play, if you are looking for further reading…
***Almost exclusively non-militarily, you neocon jackasses. American military dominance created the Pax Americana, but most effectively so when it hasn’t been used.
Rob Morris is always complaining about something, most often the Drug War. Read more here.