In this post, I am going to pose something akin to what legal theorists call a hypothetical. I ask you to accept, hypothetically, a set of facts, so that we may discuss a question of policy without at the same time debating the facts of the case. I am aware that from certain epistemological perspectives, this distinction is impossible to make, and we can discuss that as we go forward.
Assume, contrary to reality, that
is pretty much domestically what you would like it to be. For me, that means assuming that America is a secular democracy with a socialist economy, a very flat distribution of wealth and income, and an operative commitment to policies addressing global warming, an America in which the Yankees are permanently mired in last place [oh well, you can leave that last one out if you insist.] Your ideal America may differ from mine. If you decide to join the conversation, try to sketch your own ideal America as part of your comment so that the rest of us understand where you are coming from. America
In this radically counterfactual case, what should the foreign and military policy of such an
It is no great effort in the real world to criticize every aspect of
’s military and foreign policy. The real America America is an imperial hegemon whose military budget virtually equals that of the rest of the world and whose actions over the past sixty years have again and again supported dictators and tyrants and undermined or actively deposed and defeated progressive forces on every continent except Antarctica. Let us stipulate that, as they say in the trial courts.
But what should the policies of an ideal
be? There are two obvious polar alternative responses to this question. The first response is: America should maintain its military dominance of the world, but use its power to advance democracy and socialism rather than autocracy and capitalism. America should support the Fidel Castros and Mohammed Mosaddeghs and Daniel Ortegas of this world rather than doing its best to overthrow or kill them. America should use its wealth and power to support the Palestinian cause. And so forth and so on. America
The second response is: American should withdraw all of its troops from foreign soil, should reduce its military budget to the minimum necessary to defend itself [from
Canada and , presumably], and should embrace Thomas Jefferson’s call for “peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.” Mexico
Each of these alternatives has troubling consequences that it is difficult to disentangle from the policy. A militarily dominant
will maintain an enormous military establishment whose existence will shape its domestic politics regardless of how well-intentioned its architects may be. Every time such an America projects its power abroad for some indisputably progressive cause, there will be innocent men, women, and children who are killed unintentionally. [It is not only military actions in support of dictators that produce “collateral damage.”] The easy availability of those military options will have a powerfully corrupting effect on those who exercise the use of the armed forces, even though such exercise is, or is supposed to be, guided by impeccably progressive principles. But if, let us say, such an America wishes at a moment’s notice to be able to impose a no-fly zone on Libya during a popular uprising against Khadafy, it will need to maintain aircraft carriers and squadrons of fighters and spy satellites and special ops forces on a permanent footing. America
The alternative is to adopt a non-interventionist policy with a military only large enough to deal with genuine threats to the security of
’s borders. But such an America will have to stand idly by when the forces of revolutionary progress are being pounded into the ground by tyrants. It will be unable to move swiftly and effectively to stop genocidal slaughter by religious fanatics. Such an America will not be the immediate cause of retrogressive tragedies nor will it prop up dynasts and dictators, but it will have to be content merely to watch the slave labor of children and the bondage of women abroad. America
So, what should the foreign and military stance of an ideal
be? I confess that I am genuinely unsure. America