Mission Creep[Note that this post is meant to generate discussion and welcomes disagreement, especially without being disagreeable.]
These thoughts were prompted by Ron Paul ad, against interventions abroad and for bringing 'em home. Some would call this an isolationist position. That does not bother me; I wonder whether isolationism is necessarily bad. Put another way, what are the benefits of foreign intervention? [We all know the costs pretty clearly].
My friend Manoj pointed out that even isolationist candidates for president become more interventionist once in office. He attributes this to geopolitical reality. I wonder about that too. As a project manager, these transformations strike me as classic examples of "mission creep." And I'm not alluding to the creeps in charge of the mission :-)
Looking at recent interventions –
- Kuwait: We went in to defend Kuwait at the request of its Emir. Taking that at face value, what did we gain for the lives lost, the bodies shattered and the money spent? Gratitude? Oh, please! There are no permanent allies or permanent adversaries; only permanent interests. Our interest in Kuwait is confined to oil - at an affordable price and delivered in quantity, on schedule that we require. Absent that, Kuwait matters no more to the American taxpayer than Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kirbati or Kyrgystan. But, after driving Saddam out of Kuwait, we did not stay there and pump enough oil, free, to compensate our efforts. So what did the intervention accomplish?
- Iraq: We went in to a country that did not pose a direct threat to the United States. [Israel is, please note, a separate country. It is not our responsibility to defend Israel. Help them on your own, if that is your desire. You don't commandeer my tax dollars for your desires.] In fact, Iraq was fragmented along the lines of Sunni Arab, Shia Arab and Kurds; we could easily have let them battle one another and saved the almost 5,000 lives lost and over 30,000 bodies maimed (http://usliberals.about.com/od/homelandsecurit1/a/IraqNumbers.htm), not to mention over $800 million. So what did the intervention accomplish?
- Afghanistan: Yes, they had sheltered Osama. So we could have just gone in, blasted where he thought he was hiding out, perhaps a few more places to which we thought he fled, and killed a whole lot of people that we thought were his supporters. We would have been in our rights (IMHO) to cross any "international" borders in doing so. Any country that objects to our attack on its soil had better take care not to give aid and comfort to our enemies; else, they can all go to hell and get lost. But, after neutralizing Al Qaeda, we insisted on expanding our mission to include nation building, civil society improvement, governance, etc., etc. [That was not in the original mission. A change in scope should have required the administration to go back to Congress and the American people, to obtain a fresh authorization.] We are now leaving, with the clear probability of a Taliban resurgence, and with a more radicalized youth clamoring for revenge against us. So what did the intervention accomplish?
To start at the beginning, let us ask what our interests are, where other countries are concerned. I am going to leave aside emotional mumbo jumbo about countries of origin, cradles of civilization / democracy, brewers of fine lager, etc., etc. My focus, as an American citizen and taxpayer, will be on what we need from other countries, in order to protect the quality of our lives.
Here's my list [I look forward to reading yours]:
- Respect for our territorial integrity. That means, they don't fish in our coastal waters, hordes of their people don't immigrate illegally into our country, their smugglers don't bring in contraband into our country, etc.
- Non-intervention in our domestic affairs. That means, their PACs, or citizens, don't try to influence our elections. Yeah, I know some people will see this as a restriction on free speech; I reject that point of view categorically. I see the right to free speech as applicable to our citizens (and perhaps permanent residents, but not to foreigners living or visiting here).
- Fair [Reciprocal] Trade. That means, if we don't burden their exports with tariffs, they don't burden ours. If we don't subsidize our exports in a way that is predatory to their domestic economy, they don't do it to us, either. In other words, a level playing field bilaterally.
- Fair (Reciprocal) Treatment of Citizens. That means, if we don’t take hostage their diplomats who are stationed in our country, they treat our diplomats with the same respect.
- No threats to civil aviation / shipping. That means, their citizens don't become pirates and attack our ships in international waters; their citizens don't hijack our aircraft; their government does not capture our aircraft if it stops on their territory to take on fuel or passengers. And so on.
One can go on and on; I won't J The point is, none of the above explicitly requires a foreign country to have the same form of government as we do, or even a form of which we approve. In the long run, every society gets the type of government it deserves. If there is civil war in Sudan, anarchy in Somalia or total dictatorship in Myanmar, that is the concern of the respective people, not ours -- as long as they do not impinge on our interests (see list above).
Before I am accused of bigotry against Africans / Muslims / some other group, let me loudly declare that I am not prejudiced; I will leave my friends to defend me from such charges. Suffice it to say that I would be equally non-interventionist if we are talking about a Catholic-Protestant civil war in Northern Ireland or a Fleming-Walloon civil war in Belgium.
So, where is the justification for intervening militarily in another country? Oh, we want to test a new weapons system? I am sorry, that is not a legitimate reason to spend my tax dollars or kill / maim my neighbors' children. However, I will offer an alternative below.
Now, for completeness, I will note that we should, vigorously, defend ourselves against anyone [state or non-state entity or individual] who threatens our security. Tactical nuclear weapons have a role to play; what is more important is having the right means of delivery. Drones have a role to play; but remember to develop defenses against them, as well. It won’t be long before someone else has drones.
I happen to agree with Ron Paul's ad that we should bring our troops home. I would go further:
· Merge most of the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. Station troops along the land borders -- Canadian as well as Mexican -- and focus on minimizing illegal immigration and import of contraband.
· Task the Navy & Coast Guard with similar protection along all our coasts -- Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.
· Break out a few special forces -- Navy Seals, Green Berets, etc. -- into a Department of Offense, constituted as a separately owned entity of the US government – even more loosely owned than USS. Treat them as a Profit Center, with no tax payer funding, but with full congressional oversight. Let them work as “sovereign mercenaries” for paying customers – eg., Emir of Kuwait or King of Saudi Arabia. They can even test new weapons, under contract to the weapon’s manufacturer, but with no backing from the government.
Admittedly, my last bullet is only an initial suggestion and needs much discussion and refinement. Anyway, let the fireworks begin! :-)