By Ivan Eland
As President Obama visits still-communist Vietnam, a former American rival, in his “pivot to Asia” to recruit more countries to shelter against a rising China, the trip only serves to illustrate the global American Empire’s overextension. At the same time, he is opening missile defenses in Europe, quadrupling U.S. military spending there, and deploying more military forces near Russia—all of which will have the effect of continuing to provoke that already insecure country. Also, Obama has failed to withdraw U.S. ground forces from Afghanistan, inserted them into Iraq and Syria to battle the terror group ISIS, and continued his accelerated air wars over Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Libya. Finally, the president sent the top general in the Army to Africa to showcase U.S. efforts to train 38 countries to battle terror groups that could attack Europe, including affiliates of ISIS and al Qaeda. These U.S. military forces may be valiantly battling threats to the Empire, but most of them pose very little threat to America.
In fact, in many cases—especially vis-a-via terrorists—U.S. military action may be making the largely local problems worse. For example, in Yemen, journalists have documented that the number of fighters of the al Qaeda affiliate there actually increased after U.S. forces, seen as “foreign infidels,” started bombing. Also, retaining non-Muslim U.S. and Western occupation forces on Muslim soil in Afghanistan and Iraq after initial invasions respectively led to a resurgent Islamist Taliban and the creation of al Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into ISIS. Furthermore, U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan destabilized surrounding areas, such as Syria and the nuclear-armed state of Pakistan, respectively. Similarly, the U.S. and Western overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in Libya destabilized not only Libya (allowing chaos to reign and an ISIS affiliate to arise), but many of Libya’s weapons and fighters migrated to Mali and other parts of Africa. Hence contributing to the alleged need to send the Army’s top general to coordinate with 38 countries in battling Islamist terror groups in Africa.
All of these post-9/11 brushfire wars led that general—Gen. Mark A. Milley—to make an astounding statement: “Today, a major in the Army knows nothing but fighting terrorists and guerillas, because he came into the Army after 9/11. But as we get into the higher-end threats, our skills have atrophied over 15 years.” MIlley continued that the U.S. Army has forgotten how to fight more sophisticated enemies, such as Russia or China. So instead of being capable of deterring potentially larger threats to the United States (even this requires some imagination), the U.S. military has become bogged down in never-ending, faraway brushfire wars, which make the usually low probability threat of anti-U.S. terrorism worse.
Even in the case of Russia and China, rich U.S. European and East Asian allies—with combined GDPs of at least five times and about the same size as the threat, respectively—should take over the first line of defense, as presidential candidate Donald Trump has implied. However, if these allies can’t contain these regional threats, the U.S. military should be configured and prepared to be a backstop of last resort in case of any emergency—a defense posture that worked in World War II.
Reconfiguring U.S. forces to let regional allies’ militaries fight guerrilla and terrorists, as well as be the first line of defense against major potentially hostile powers, would allow the United States to form a coherent strategy of being a “balancer-of-last resort.” Such a more restrained policy could save bucket loads of money and help pay off the nation’s $19 trillion debt. That massive debt has impaired robust U.S. economic growth for far too long and threatens the long-term status of the United States as a great power. Recently, the British, French, and Russian Empires became financially overextended and all collapsed. The same could happen to the more informal American Empire of permanent and entangling alliances and overseas military bases—and the armed interventions and huge amounts of military and economic aid to foreign countries needed to maintain it. In other words, as the American Constitution stipulates, the U.S. military needs to defend the country, not maintain an overseas empire that causes global instability and undermines American security.
This article was published at Huffington Post and reprinted with permission.