Robert Farley and Michael Cohen express their frustration with flawed American policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran.
Michael A. Cohen diagnoses the cognitive dissonance.
The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, and even in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools.
This reality is barely reflected in U.S. national security strategy or in American foreign policy debates. President Barack Obama’s most recent National Security Strategy aspires to “a world in which America is stronger, more secure, and is able to overcome our challenges while appealing to the aspirations of people around the world.” Yet that is basically the world that exists today. The United States is the world’s most powerful nation, unchallenged and secure. But the country’s political and policy elite seems unwilling to recognize this fact, much less integrate it into foreign policy and national security decision-making.
The disparity between foreign threats and domestic threat-mongering results from a confluence of factors. The most obvious and important is electoral politics. Hyping dangers serves the interests of both political parties. For Republicans, who have long benefited from attacking Democrats for their alleged weakness in the face of foreign threats, there is little incentive to tone down the rhetoric; the notion of a dangerous world plays to perhaps their greatest political advantage. For Democrats, who are fearful of being cast as feckless, acting and sounding tough is a shield against GOP attacks and an insurance policy in case a challenge to the United States materializes into a genuine threat. Warnings about a dangerous world also benefit powerful bureaucratic interests. The specter of looming dangers sustains and justifies the massive budgets of the military and the intelligence agencies, along with the national security infrastructure that exists outside government — defense contractors, lobbying groups, think tanks, and academic departments.
There is also a pernicious feedback loop at work. Because of the chronic exaggeration of the threats facing the United States, Washington overemphasizes military approaches to problems (including many that could best be solved by nonmilitary means). The militarization of foreign policy leads, in turn, to further dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of any effort to rebalance U.S. national security spending or trim the massive military budget — warnings that are inevitably bolstered by more threat exaggeration. Last fall, General Norton Schwartz, the U.S. Air Force chief of staff, said that defense cuts that would return military spending to its 2007 level would undermine the military’s “ability to protect the nation” and could create “dire consequences.” Along the same lines, Panetta warned that the same reductions would “invite aggression” from enemies. These are a puzzling statements given that the U.S. defense budget is larger than the next 14 countries’ defense budgets combined and that the United States still maintains weapons systems designed to fight an enemy that disappeared 20 years ago.
We need North Korea to be our one and only enemy. Look how pathetic our enemies have become.