The World’s Policeman?
Its a fair bet to make that the majority of Americans don’t think the United States should be the world’s policeman anymore.
There are basically two reasons folks might think that:
- We should not impose our will on other countries
- We can’t afford it
Reason one has always been with us. It is a traditional liberal anti-war reasoning.
Generally speaking, liberals think that it is our moral responsibility to let self-determination run its course outside the USA. Conservatives generally believe it is our moral responsibility to do what they perceive as right and lead countries by the nose to Democracy.
Conservatives are very hawkish on national defense.
Liberals don’t favor nation building as strongly as conservatives.
We Can’t Afford War Anymore
The second reason is new. It is kinda interesting how that one came about.
Throughout most of American history the cost of war has been the leading cause of debt growth in this country from which we never fully recover.
It started with the Civil War. Then the Spanish-American War added to it; followed by WWI, WWII and a smattering of wars after them that made significant contributions.
But that has changed.
What Is Driving Debt Growth Now?
In this millennium, despite all the wars and military conflicts we have been in for so many years, war is NOT the primary driver of our nation’s debt growth. Logically, with all that activity you’d think that war was driving debt growth, but it is not.
According to the Congressional Research Service, a government agency, total war expenditures since 9/11 up through 3/18/2011 is about $1.3 trillion but debt growth has been more than 5.5 times that amount since then.
Most of the $3.72 trillion added to the National Debt since Barack Obama took office was mostly from excessive and ineffective government spending during the Great Recession.
Debt growth today is driven more by social programs and economic uncertainty. It is almost as high, percentage-wise, as during the Great Depression.
Robert Gates Speaks to NATO
Today, the New York Times published an article on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ final policy speech made yesterday:
“Blunt U.S. Warning Reveals Deep Strains in NATO” – NYTimes, 6/11/2011
He was unusually sharp in his criticism of our NATO partners. He warned of “a dim if not dismal future” and “irrelevance” for the NATO alliance unless member nations step up to the plate and contribute more. In the past the United States pretty much did everything and never said much about it; perhaps because we wanted to run the big show.
That being true, then why say something now?
The $$ Cost of War
What is different now is the United States can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman.
Gates specifically sited costs, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds”. Most of the remaining article discusses how much the U.S. materially and monetarily puts into NATO and how far out of balance that is with respect to our NATO partners.
And this is not the first time in recent months that the cost of military operations was used as a reason to back away from a conflict. Cost is one of the reasons President Obama used for backing out of Libya after boldly calling for Gaddafi’s ouster when it looked like he was on the verge of collapse. But then when Gaddafi put up a fight, Obama backs down and in the confused mess that followed then coerced NATO into taking control.
Cost is probably why we’ve done so little to stop Bashar al-Assad’s brutalism in Syria.
And now we have Gates identifying the price tag of war as a reason that NATO partners need to do more for their own defense. A legitimate reason, for sure, but if we were still powerful economically then neither Obama nor Gates would have said a peep about cost.
The bottom line is that we are so mired in debt and our deficits are so gigantic that they are beginning to choke off even national defense spending.
This puts conservatives into a quandary.
Conservatives know that it is the right moral thing to do to support the Arab Spring Movement and fight the War on Terror. Liberals don’t like dictators or terror either so both might actually be on the same side this time.
But the conservative belief in a strong defense and spreading democracy is now at odds with their equally strong belief in fiscal responsibility.
Liberals, who have never thought twice about the cost of a any government social program whatsoever, are fundamentally clueless about this nation’s fiscal crisis. That is why Democrats, with their tiny little kahunas (See Rep. Andrew Wiener), have only proposed superficial cuts in spending and won’t do more before November 2012 unless the economy tanks again.
Conservatives better understand just how desperate the situation is and that drastic action needs to be taken now. That is why Republicans have the kahunas big enough to make meaningful spending cut proposals and take the heat from the liberal media.
For conservatives, the question is which belief is stronger – fiscal responsibility or strong national defense?
Conservatives want to bring democracy to the Middle East but also know it’s cost conflicts significantly with being fiscally responsible.
If conservatives remain steadfast that there should be no cuts in defense then it will undermine their chances for success in the 2012 elections. Inflexibility on modest tax increases will undermine their chances to.
Republicans don’t need to abandon their principles, but do need to give a little ground in order to gain the backing of the average American and win BIG in 2012.