In an article for the National Review, Arthur Herman argues that the president’s proposal for a reduction in military spending would put the military “on the road to second-class status” and does not properly account for the instability around the world that directly affects national security and strategic interests. What the new guidance for defense spending actually indicates is that for the first time since the end of World War II an American leader is grappling with the insecurity brought on by an overextension of our armed forces and the way defense companies have hijacked our budgetary process.
In his article, Herman says, “Obama’s been trying to reassure Americans all this won’t endanger our national security or our strategic interests. Everyone in or out of uniform who’s free to speak knows better….” Furthermore, he contends that “…President Obama doesn’t understand that our military’s role isn’t just fighting wars. It’s providing a strong strategic presence that will influence events in our favor – and away from that of adversaries and rivals.”
It is, perhaps, this second point that is the main thrust of the argument against the administration’s proposed budget cuts. Without the level of spending the Pentagon is used to, it may not be able to maintain its influence over the internal politics of other nations.
What seems to be truly worrisome for Obama’s critics is that this represents a shift in thinking. Obama is moving the country away from the role it has occupied for half a century – that of world police agency.
In the wake of World War II, while Europe was trying to rebuild itself, two powers emerged, and with it a new global balance split along the Iron Curtain. Thus began the Cold War and it has defined our foreign policy ever since, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under this new reality, the West looked to the Americans to provide a check against the influence of the Soviets in other nations.
The lasting effect of the Cold War on American foreign policy is a long-standing belief that our military must be used as a force to promote and defend democracy, even if it means occupying foreign lands. It is precisely this mentality that has led to the unquestioning support for military budgets purported by Herman and others, and has also contributed to the rise of extremists resorting to terror.
Obama’s decisions about where and what to cut from the bloated defense budget signals a shift in America’s understanding of its role in the world as global politics changes. For the last 50 years, the country has used its superior military force to effectively impose its will. Now, the presence of troops on foreign soil is creating an atmosphere of anger and hostility.
The problem with the hawkish attitude of people like Herman is that they view what happens in foreign countries only in light of American perspectives. As a campaign ad for Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) said, “The reality is that our military presence on foreign soil is as offensive to the people that live there as armed Chinese troops would be if they were stationed in Texas.” Paul goes on to argue that the foreign policy that led to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were tantamount to empire building.
At the core of Paul’s is argument that it is entirely understandable why foreign citizens would view the U.S. with hostility. The country is occupying their lands. Those who resort to terrorism do so in an attempt to grab power. What is disconcerting is the level of acceptance extremists are able to garner from average, non-militant citizens.
The reasons for this are multiple, but one is that the U.S. is viewed as an occupier and is unwelcomed by the average person living in a foreign country. This was highlighted by the fact that, as Alan Krueger wrote in The American, terrorist participants are less motivated by want of education or economic opportunity, and more by an informed belief in the mission of the terrorist organization.
The key change in foreign policy in this country is that Obama’s new defense budget recommendations are the first step away from an imperialistic, over-reaching foreign policy that serves only to weaken America. Herman and others who wish to protect the foreign policy initiatives of the Cold War cannot envision an America that puts diplomacy and inclusion ahead of military force as a way of checking growing threats around the world. Obama and Panetta should be applauded for the bold step they have taken, and their budget reductions should be accepted as a sign that the U.S. is working to meet the new challenges facing us going forward.
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