Paris is lovely -- mixed sun and clouds, the weather trending warmer. Yesterday was Pentecost, a national holiday, and the streets were deserted when I walked at six a.m. This morning shopped at the market. I shall make skate tonight -- a very Parisian meal, I feel.
From time to time, readers report having difficulty posting comments. This is terra incognita to me, I am afraid. Wallace Stevens sent me an extremely interesting comment by e-mail after finding himself unable to post it. With his permission I reproduce it here:
Your question "What should the foreign and military policy of the United States be?" is an important one. I think it is pretty clear what it should NOT be. But I think that in order to address what it should be, we first need to address the notion of "imperialism,"--the term that forms the context in which you raise the question.
Ancient imperialism was a pretty transparent and unapologetic question of theft--the hauling away of booty and the collection of tribute. Yes, there may have been the odd road, or bridge, or public bath coming back the other way, but there was never any real accounting of the "balance" of such exchanges. And any improvements to local infrastructure reflected the priorities of the metropolis, not the needs of the colony or vassal state, although some of the improvements were no doubt welcome. (Older readers of this blog will recall a very funny segment in the Monty Python film "The Life of Brian" on this issue.) The ancient model of empire was replaced by the commercial/capitalist empire in which the colonies became both captive sources of raw materials, and captive markets for finished goods?the two sides of the profit equation--through various monopolies awarded by the imperial government. It was no longer a simple matter of "loot." We are now talking about businesses that made useful things and sold them. But the colonies did not control the exploitation of their natural resources or collect royalties for use, and they were forced to buy only goods made in the metropolis. Military power was a means of maintaining and extending these arrangements.
None of the above is true today. Whatever is taken by the US from other countries is bought and paid for with an equivalent basket of US goods and services. And if a given country does not want enough of what the US has to offer in exchange for what it produces, the difference is paid for with US debt--i.e., future claims on US goods and services. Further, such exchanges are based on prices determined by market forces, some competitive, some, like the price of oil, which is largely dependent on Saudi production, not so competitive, that, in the context of a global, capitalist market place, US military might cannot control.
Today, the US certainly has the military capabilities and swagger of an imperial power of old. But it is not at all clear to me what actual good it does the US. For example, the price of oil--a critical commodity for the US and other industrialised societies--seems completely out its grasp. (You can imagine the rhetoric and reaction in the 19th century if a small, relatively lightly defended state like Saudi Arabia controlled the supply and therefore the price of coal: A bunch of "wogs" holding the civilised world to ransom, time for gunboats in the harbour, etc., etc. Not only are all the President's horses and all the President's men incapable of doing anything about the price of oil, but also, supposing they WERE to act, what would the US government do with this power? Force the Saudis to cut back production further (thus benefiting the oil companies by raising prices), or force them to increase production (thus aiding the Western economies as a whole and the (vastly larger) non-petroleum capitalist interests)? To this one might add that higher prices, which discourage consumption, might not even be in the interests of the oil companies over the longer term. So, what to do, even supposing you were able to act?
The Japanese, the Swiss, the Canadians and others, who have little to no capability of "projecting power," have discovered that you don't need a huge military presence in order to prosper. All you have to do is stand on the shore waving hard currency and the tankers will come to you!
Yes, there are pirates (sea-born and cyber) and other potential disrupters of the free and peaceful flow of goods, services and capital. But even Japan has enough of a navy to take on the threat of pirates at sea. As for the cyber pirates, well, aircraft carriers aren't much help. What about organized states that might disrupt trade? Here it is ironic that "enemies" like Iran today, and Iraq pre-2003, are EMBARGOED. The US, and the West more broadly, actually forces them to withdraw their critical raw material?oil--from the market.
I want to get to your question. In particular I like Gene's alternative #5. But I have gardening duties and will have to sign off for now.