In a recent column,
Thomas Friedman, probably the most influential "internationalist" --
read: proponent of U.S. interventionism in faraway places -- has finally
discovered that the United States must soon turn inward and put
domestic economic growth first because of its massive public debt, huge
federal budget deficit, and looming fiscal crisis caused by a dramatic
automatic escalation in entitlements spending.
Eureka, the foreign policy rapture has begun!
The real problem with
Friedman's piece is not him reaching a conclusion that was obvious even
before the onset of the Great Recession of 2008, but that he laments
how dangerous the world will be without the steady guiding hand of the
Friedman writes, and
most Americans will be eager to believe, that the diminished
interventionism of the now "frugal superpower" will be bad for the world
"[T]he most unique and important
feature of U.S. foreign policy over the last century has been the
degree to which America's diplomats and naval, air, and ground forces
provided global public goods -- from open seas to open trade and from
containment to counterterrorism -- that benefited many others besides us.
"U.S. power has been the key force
maintaining global stability, and providing global governance, for the
last 70 years. That role will not disappear, but it will certainly
Then Friedman, whose muse is Michael Mandelbaum of Johns Hopkins University, quotes Mandelbaum as opining:
"When Britain could no longer
provide global governance, the United States stepped in to replace it.
No country now stands ready to replace the United States, so the loss
to international peace and prosperity has the potential to be greater as
America pulls back than when Britain did."
But have the British
Empire and the American Empire been all that good for the world? The
world somehow got by before they came along.
The American public and
many of its foreign policy experts praise the British Empire for
ensuring stability, when they probably should examine its violent and
often brutal colonial subjugation of what it regarded as inferior races
for economic gain.
Adolf Hitler admired the British Empire, but thought it too brutal.
As for the American
Empire, it is littered with foreign policy interventions that caused
more international problems than they solved.
American entry into
World War I led to a string of disasters that the world has never fully
recovered from. Without the decisive U.S. entry into the first European
war in its history in contravention of the Monroe Doctrine, a win by
Germany, then merely a constitutional monarchy with a bombastic king,
in a 10-round decision would have led only to the incremental
adjustment of European borders to German advantage.
Instead, U.S. entry to
tip the balance of the war inadvertently brought about an allied
victory that rubbed Germany's nose in the dirt -- demanding a war guilt
clause for a conflict in which blame should have been shared across
Europe, requiring harsh reparations on an economically drained nation,
and deposing Kaiser Wilhelm II.
The latter demand paved
the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler, who exploited the war guilt
clause, reparations, and the economic depression to rise to power and
attempt to conquer Europe. World War II was merely a resumption of World
War I two decades later.
The likely U.S. entry
into World War I also kept the Russian provisional government
(succeeding the fallen czar) involved in the conflict -- increasing the
probability of winning and providing much needed aid to do so.
Had the Russian
government sued for peace earlier, Vladimir Lenin could not have used
the unpopular war to bring a communist government to power. The
post-World War II Cold War was borne out of the ashes of World War I.
During that Cold War,
the U.S. created the national security state, the first large peacetime
army in American history, and a far-flung empire of military bases,
unneeded alliances (especially after the advent of nuclear weapons to
protect the homeland), foreign military interventions, and large
amounts of foreign aid.
Instead of spending much
money and many lives (in brushfire wars in the developing world) to
conduct an expansive worldwide Cold War against communism, a cheaper
approach to accelerate the Soviet Empire's collapse -- as many empires
have fallen over the course of history, by financial exhaustion -- would
have been smarter.
With a less
interventionist and less costly U.S. foreign policy, Soviet finances
would have been depleted even faster than they were by the costs of
providing aid and governance to basket cases they took over in the
During the Cold War, the
U.S. also encouraged the spread of radical Islam around the world to
counter godless communism, including providing aid to the anti-Soviet
mujahedeen to "give the USSR another Vietnam." As an unintended
consequence of supporting such Islamic militancy, the U.S. created the
biggest threat to its homeland since the War of 1812 -- al-Qaeda.
Indirectly, the U.S.
also helped encourage another strand of radical Islam in Iran. In 1953,
it helped overthrow the democratically elected Mossadegh government in
Iran, which led to the restoration of the autocratic shah. Radical
Islam has gained support in many Muslim countries because the only
dissent that is permitted against authoritarian governments is in the
The United States has
supported such autocrats, for example, the shah's Iran and Egypt's
Mubarak today. The shah's oppression led to the radical Khomeini
revolution and to Iran being a problem to its neighbors.
The United States then
helped Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran as a counterweight and
eventually built up another future enemy. And these are only a few of
the many examples of ill-fated U.S. meddling in faraway, non-strategic
countries and regions of the world.
Of course, as Friedman
alludes, the United States created the system of open trade, yet trade
happens naturally and U.S. efforts merely institutionalized it. An era
of free trade had preceded restricted markets during World War I and
the Great Depression.
But to accurately
portray U.S. interventionist empire-building, especially after World
War II, is not to "always blame America first." In fact, disagreeing
with the government's foreign policy is different from hating
American's society and way of life.
The founders of the
United States, who are regularly idolized by most Americans, would roll
over in their graves at the mutation of their traditional, peaceful,
and restrained foreign policy into a militaristic, globe-girdling empire
that is exhausting the country economically and ruining the republic
that they created.