Among the most striking aspects of the current debate over U.S. foreign policy is the almost complete lack of perception among Americans about their country’s actual economic and military capabilities and its international influence. Whether it is Ukraine and Russia, the intensifying Islamist offensive on several continents, or the blatantly Potemkin Middle East peace talks, U.S. political leaders, academics, pundits, and most of the media speak as if today’s America is the America of 1945, 1984, or 1991, times when the United States was a nation of almost unlimited military and economic power and telling international influence.
Today, we are barely a shadow of that powerful nation. Indeed, while Washington under either party speaks as if it is the world’s voice of power and all-knowing authority, we are really the very picture of an overused, late-middle age Madam who eagerly displays her sagging wares but doesn’t seem to realize that she has lost her looks, allure, and persuasiveness, and is much more laughed at than lusted over. When an American president speaks on foreign policy, the world and Americans hear meaningless bravado, absurd prating about freedom and other universal values — quite obviously the only universal value is power — and an endless, self-righteous hectoring that orders all peoples in all countries to abandon their heathen ways and improve themselves according to Washington’s dictates.
And what sort of power is available to back-up the words of recent American presidents. Well, today, there is not much power to crow about.
–America is bankrupt with a debt of nearly $17 trillion and apparently damned to eventual economic catastrophe by an oblivious governing elite that will not control its spending and values office more than country. Our rivals and enemies rest comfortably knowing that America will keep spending and thereby keep degrading its ability to generate economic and/or military power. The absurdity of this situation is apparent in the reality that Washington could not fight a war against China unless Beijing was willing to lend us the money we need to attack her. It also clear in the decision to cut the U.S. Army — to save funds for use in building the Democratic base — to 440,000 soldiers. Knowing that, at best, only 1 of 3 soldiers is a shooter, our rivals and enemies — even if they are as stupid as Washington arrogantly claims they are — know that an army of less than 150,000 combat soldiers is not even remotely akin to a formidable deterring or war-fighting force.
–And speaking of war, we must keep in view that the United States has not won a war since that September day in 1945 when Japan surrendered. Next to the Chicago Cubs, the U.S. military has the longest losing record of any organization in North America. Our recent lost wars, of course, must be attributed to the same politicians in both parties who today are spending us into oblivion. Americans have paid their taxes to support their military, and have sent their kids to join the services. In turn, courageous men and women have given their lives or been maimed fighting often unnecessary but always losing and unconstitutional wars. In truth, these taxes and young citizens have been wasted by politicians who are eager to start wars, but do not care if they win them. Putin’s confidence in moving into Crimea, for example, was in part based on his observation of the callous and cowardly leadership and policies of the Bush and Obama administrations that produced war-losing performances by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
–Finally, we lack the independence of action necessary to protect genuine U.S. national interests — which must be defined as life-and-death issues — and that allows us to decide for ourselves when and when not to go to war. We are, for example, still tied tight to the NATO alliance twenty-three years after the sole reason for its existence dissolved. We are therefore obligated to automatically wage war in defense of Estonia, Poland, and dozens of other countries in which we have no national interest. America is likewise bound to Israel in a way that is even more laughable and humiliating than the scenario Swift created in which the mighty Gulliver was tied down by the Lilliputians. In both these cases — NATO and Israel — America has given away her independence and sovereignty; other much lesser and often irrelevant nations can now decide when she goes to war.
Thus the substantive hand Washington has to play in foreign policy is far weaker than the threatening rhetoric thundering forth from the lips of Obama and Kerry, as well as from those of the again noisy, bipartisan Neocon war-mongers like McCain, Graham, Giuliani, Bolton, Krauthammer, Kristol, and Hillary Clinton. Because they are Democrats, Obama and Kerry now they are lying; the war-loving Neocons, however, actually seem to believe that today’s America still wields the power it held in 1945. And if you want to measure America’s weakness and lack of influence in the near term, watch this just-mentioned bipartisan group and see if they free the incarcerated traitor Jonathan Pollard and send him to Israel as a bribe to keep in motion the never-to-be-successful Israel-Palestinian peace talks. If that happens, the Lilliputians will once again have humiliated and hamstrung Gulliver, and America’s Gullivers once again will have sold out their country.
As always, the Founding Fathers were far better than contemporary U.S. leaders when it came to gauging the extent and limits of American power and then formulating appropriate national-security policy. In the 1790s, for example, George Washington knew that the new United States was — as it is today — broke, militarily weak, and vulnerable to manipulation and domestic subversion by foreign powers. His successful recipe for handling such a situation was called neutrality, and it is just as pertinent today as it was then.
Until (if?) we can recover economically, prevent our presidents from starting wars, rest and refit our military, and rid ourselves of war-causing alliances that eliminate our independence and freedom of action, we should, unless attacked, seek to be a bemused and neutral observer of the world’s broils. We desperately require a prolonged respite because Americans are, as Washington said long ago, “a people … already deeply in debt, and in a convalescent state from the struggle[s] in which we have engaged in ourselves.”