This week marks the sixth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, an event some have called the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history. I won't repeat here the tragic statistics of American lives lost and damaged, Iraqi death tolls, and the stories of the millions of displaced who are still trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. Nor will I recount the extraordinary failure of the media to question the rational for war. To those who say they didn't see it coming, I can tell you that two of my colleagues, working from our Bainbridge Island, WA., office, with no access to hidden information or insider sources, provided compelling evidence that undercut every one of the rationales for war, well before the invasion began. That evidence was missing from the lopsided media accounts that dominated the mainstream press.
Today, we have the Obama administration in Washington and a Democratically controlled Congress in large part because the American people have so soundly repudiated this aggressive military posture.
But if we are clear, now, about the failure of the neoconservative agenda of global dominance, the question remains: How should the U.S. relate to the rest of the world? Will we try to hold on to our place as the world's sole superpower -- and if so, can we? Writing in the "Superpower: Get Over It" issue of YES! magazine, John Feffer said that's not what Americans want:
"Americans want their country to stop being the neighborhood bully and instead act like a good neighbor. In this, Americans are not giving voice to utopian aspirations. The polls in fact reflect a new realism. The nation's economy is flagging, our military is over-stretched, and our global legitimacy is exhausted. The public no longer wants to shoulder these various costs of empire."
In the year since Feffer wrote this piece, the global financial collapse has further undercut the capacity of U.S. taxpayers to continue pouring billions into weapons systems, two foreign wars, massive long-term medical needs of veterans, nuclear weapons programs, and, oh yeah, our 700-800 overseas military bases. And ironically, we are discovering that with "asymmetrical warfare," much of this military expenditure offers us plenty of opportunities to kill and destroy, but few opportunities to win the peace.
So, as Feffer describes, we face a choice of future roles in the world. We could insist on claiming the role of empire ...
"Burdened by debt, armed to the teeth, and isolated from the world, the United States would become the "sick man" of North America, as the Ottomans were once labeled in Europe. Like many failing empires, we would be all the more dangerous the weaker we got.
"Or the United States could try something unprecedented. We could turn our back on empire, much as Spain and Portugal did in the 1970s and the Soviet Union did in the late 1980s. But rather than waiting until the bitter end as these countries did, the United States could use its still considerable power to help create a more equitable world order that operates on a truly level playing field."
As we start into the seventh year in Iraq, and begin a military build up in Afghanistan, let's consider that second option -- that we gracefully let go of the empire role. In my December '08 blog, I laid out a five-point plan for doing this.
In these tough economic times, we could start by transferring the spending on budget-busting weapons systems to an investment in the super-efficiency, green energy, and sustainable transit projects that can create jobs now and improve our security by preparing us to live in a climate-constrained world. The Obama stimulus package is a good down payment, but we will have to make a sustained investment if we are to transfer to an economy that can provide lasting peace and prosperity.