Is it time to double-down in Afghanistan? Is it time to send more Americans to a long, hard slog in a country whose synonym is “quagmire”? As our economy is being outsourced, our debt monetized, and our infrastructure crumbles, will we march deeper into a thankless nation-building campaign, an Asian Little Bighorn that’s resisted every empire from Alexander to Moscow? Or is it time to re-think America’s international military commitments? Though settled by European kingdoms seeking empires, the United States wasn’t founded to become an empire. Individuals fought against the empire-building tyrants until their determination and resolve won independence against all odds.
George Washington warned us to avoid foreign entanglements. Thomas Jefferson outlined the essential principles of our government, which included this advice concerning foreign affairs: “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations entangling alliances with none.”
The temptation to empire captured the American imagination in the 1890s, a time when Europe was rushing to gobble up the last places open for colonization or carving up those areas unsuited for colonies into spheres of influence. Under President McKinley, the United States entered the scramble for colonies in the Spanish-American War, winning Puerto Pico and the Philippines. Teddy Roosevelt followed McKinley, walking softly while carrying a big stick in the form of the Great White Fleet and multiple intrusions into the sovereignty of Latin American countries. After being re-elected on the promise to keep America neutral, President Wilson proclaimed America must fight to “Make the World Safe for Democracy,” an adventure that cost over 300,000 casualties and that actually expanded the empires of England, France, and Japan. After the war, the Congress of the United States re-asserted control by rejecting the international entanglements of the League of Nations Treaty, returning to the traditional American foreign policy of freedom of trade and freedom of action.
Under FDR, America fought an undeclared naval war against Germany in 1940 and ’41 and imposed draconian embargoes against Japan prior to Pearl Harbor. Once we were attacked, we had to defend ourselves. However, when World War II ended not with the defeat of totalitarianism but instead with the expansion of it, the guiding light of America foreign policy seems to have been permanently extinguished. As the British Empire sailed into the sunset, we filled the void, taking up the role of leader of the West in the Cold War. For forty-six years, we faced the Soviets until they collapsed. Then, instead of coming home, we spread our wings even further, embracing Eastern Europe and promising to send young Americans to fight for Estonia and Slovakia, among others.
Not only is it against the founding principles of America to establish and maintain an empire of far-flung outposts; we cannot afford to be the policeman of the world. We cannot afford to build nations for people who don’t want them. How did a peaceful nation of free citizens become the advocate of pre-emptive attack and endless occupation? How much blood and treasure will we invest in Iraq and what will be the result? Either a permanent occupation to see the result we want or an eventual pull-out resulting in a Shi’a ally for Iran. The war in Afghanistan was obviously defensive and retaliatory in nature, given the Taliban’s support and collusion with Al Qaeda. But eight years later, what’s it all about? Are we really dedicated to building a modern nation for tribal people who have no sense of nationhood? Are we walking into the same trap that brought the Soviets to their knees?
It isn’t only our current hot deployments that are problematic. Never slow to criticize President Obama when I believe he’s wrong, I won’t be slow to commend him when I think he’s right. I believe cancelling the missile defense shield in Eastern Europe is a good move. How would Americans feel if Russia proposed building a missile defense shield in Mexico to protect them from Venezuela when Venezuela doesn’t have missiles that’ll reach Mexico and Venezuela isn’t a threat to Mexico?
Currently, the United States has armed forces in over 130 countries. We’re committed to defend most of these countries against aggression. Where were these allies on 9/11? Where are they in Afghanistan? Why do we have treaties binding us to go to war to defend those who refuse to support us when we’re attacked? If these policies are counter-productive, are there any alternatives?
Close the foreign bases and bring our troops home. Station them on the border to protect us from the ongoing invasion of illegal immigrants who’re overloading our systems. If we need to project American power, use the carrier battle-groups designed for that purpose. Protect America and rebuild our infrastructure. When asked what to do with the American military after World War I, Will Rogers said, “Get ’em all home, add to their number, add to their training, then just sit tight with a great feeling of security and just read about foreign wars. That’s the best thing in the world to do with them.” Jettison the empire to save the republic!
Dr. Owens teaches history, political science, religion, and leadership for Southside Virginia Community College. © 2009 Robert R. Owens. Contact Dr. Owens: http://robertrowens.com. Dr. Owens is available for speaking engagements.
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