This is an excerpt from my recent piece for The Diplomat.
Former Defense Department officials Michèle Flournoy and Janine Davidson’s new article, “A Plea for Smart, Forward U.S. Military Engagement,” may contain some surprises for followers of contemporary history. The piece begins:
The recent global economic downturn has generated doubts about American resilience and our ability to lead in the world. Far from being a nation in decline, however, the United States’ global standing remains unmatched and the imperative for it to lead in today’s tumultuous environment is clear. Those who assume that in order to recover economically the United States must close its overseas bases and bring its military forces home misunderstand the role the U.S. military plays in promoting global prosperity.”
This argument is problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, the global economic downturn was itself linked in no small way to U.S. global leadership. Second of all, the economic profligacy of U.S. military endeavors—such as the one that created the tumultuous environment in Iraq—has been abundantly documented. In 2007, the Washington Post reported the American Friends Service Committee’s finding that the war was costing $720 million a day, a sum that “could buy homes for almost 6,500 families or health care for 423,529 children, or could outfit 1.27 million homes with renewable electricity.”
Considering economist Robert Higgs’s estimate in 2006 according to which over 90 percent of U.S. public debt resulted from past military spending, it would seem that closing overseas bases and repatriating personnel would certainly not hinder economic recovery.
As for the global prosperity that Flournoy and Davidson have tasked the U.S. military with promoting, it is useful to recall New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s—perhaps unwittingly perceptive—observation in The Lexus and the Olive Tree:
Indeed, McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.”
Click here to continue reading at The Diplomat.