While we wait for the Arab peoples eruptions to settle into recognizable governments, there is little we can do to preserve our commercial and political arrangements in their world. Our first response to the demonstrations in Egypt was to send a battleship with 800 troops on board several days after most Americans had left. This ‘gunboat diplomacy’ is an indication of 19th Century thinking in response to 21st Century events.
The the effort to establish worldwide influence (hegemony) by force is militarizing our society and limiting our future. For all who love peace, who want to build collective security through the United Nations, and to focus on laying the foundations for our nation’s future, the top priority must be to end our addiction to the failed promise of military domination. It should also be the top priority of those who want a reasonable national budget, a healthy economy and the funds available to deal with national and world problems.
In the National Interest
Over and over again we are told that our huge military and its worldwide distribution is in the ‘National Interest.’ This phrase is constantly used and never explained. Sometimes it means defense, sometimes it means profitable trade or access to markets and cheap labor, sometimes it means protecting energy sources, or outdated promises to defend a friendly nation. Its vagueness makes it the ideal garment to cloak any action. It should always be questioned; we must ask, what does national interest mean in this case?
Is it in our national interest to maintain over 900 foreign military bases? Why do we need them? “In fact, the purpose of our overseas bases is to maintain U.S. dominance in the world, and to reinforce what military analyst Charles Maier calls our ‘empire of consumption.’ The United States possesses less than five percent of global population but consumes about one quarter of all global resources, including petroleum. Our empire exists so we can exploit a much greater share of the world’s wealth than we are entitled to, and so we can prevent other nations from combining against us to take their rightful share.” –Chalmers Johnson in his valuable book, Dismantling the Empire.
In an effort to maintain hegemony (influence) or empire (dominance) we have been increasing the military budget, bases, technologies and plans for future wars. Meanwhile, 15 million American families suffer from being unemployed, millions more are homeless, one in five children are disadvantaged by poverty, our states are facing bankruptcy, etc. Our national infrastructure is failing and we are not making the investments necessary to maintain a decent future for our citizens.
On the Op-Ed page of the New York Times on 2-19-11 there is a chart comparing the best and worst of 33 advanced nations. The U.S. is among the “Worst of the worst” in income inequality, food insecurity, life expectancy, prison population, and math scale score. We are among the worst in unemployment. We are among the best only in level of democracy, well-being index and student science score.
The Results of Our Giant Military
Our huge national debt, primarily caused by our constantly rising military expenses, are now resulting in budget cuts of programs for working people, the sick and the poor. At the same time we are failing to invest in green energy systems that could replace fossil fuels and reduce the impact of damaging climate change.
Who is served by hegemony? Large international corporations, that are in search of energy and other resources, including minerals, cheap labor and open markets. For these giants, the presence of the U.S. military makes it easier for them to operate. The public pays for the military and its wars, while the corporations are the major beneficiaries.
The total GDP of the European Union now exceeds that of the United States. In those nations the percentage of GDP spent on the military averages 1.6 %. Ours in 2010, counting only the Pentagon and DOE, was over 5.4% of GDP. Our total military expenditures are greater than the rest of the world taken together.
What do we Get for Our Money?
In spite of our overwhelming military presence and its many “Command” areas, the Chinese economy is growing much faster than ours. China is buying the resources it needs worldwide, from oil in the Sudan to food-growing land in Africa. We could have bought vast quantities of oil for the money spent on war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Furthermore, such purchases would not have inflamed Islamists and attracted more suicide bombers as our wars, bombings and drone attacks have done.
The fact is that our reliance upon a huge military to advance the “interests” of the United States has been a failure. It has drained our human and financial resources at home, and created new hostilities abroad. It is time to abandon the goal of world domination and to accept the fact that in a changing world there are new centers of power that can more effectively be approached as potential partners in building a more secure world and limiting the damages of climate change.
A New Peace Agenda
The American peace movement should work to discredit, criticize, expose and oppose the ineffective and unaffordable model of world hegemony, empire and domination. By attacking the root idea we can achieve greater cuts in military spending than by just opposing the wars and their weapons. We must eliminate most foreign bases and all super embassies. We must create new and more dramatic ways to reach out to all Americans with the truth that our world military presence and support of dictators encourages terrorism, while encouraging democracy and greater economic fairness will reduce the impulse to inflict terror.
Finally, the peace movement must project a vision of our lives and tax money invested in the welfare, education and opportunities of our children. We want to rebuild the national infrastructure for the future of the United States. We want our nation to lead the world in the production of alternative energy systems and, after replacing our own fossil fuels, export them (rather than deadly military equipment) to a world threatened by climate change.
If the Arab peoples living under dictatorships can change their societies, surely the American people can change their national priorities by peaceful action in the framework of our democracy.
Peter G Cohen, artist and activist, is a veteran of W.W.II, a grandfather and concerned citizen. He now lives in Santa Barbara.