I should like to initiate a discussion on this blog of a question that has for a long time puzzled and concerned me. To put it as simply as I can: What should be the overall foreign and military policy of the United States? In order to engage fruitfully with this question, we need to specify its underlying assumptions. Let me state the three assumptions I shall make:
1. I begin by taking the rest of the world as it is now, not as it would be had the foreign and military policy of the United States been markedly different in the last half century.
2. I assume that America is a capitalist economy in an advanced stage of technological and financial development, not, for example, a socialist society.
3. I assume that it would be possible, against all the evidence and everything I know, for an elected Administration to make fundamental changes in American foreign and military policy, even if those changes severely damage the economic interests of America’s great corporations.
The third assumption carries us into the realm of fantasy, I know, and afterward, it might be interesting to ask a quite different question, namely what the foreign and military policy of a socialist America ought to be [although that too takes us into the land of fantasy.]
I pose this question because most of the really useful thinking on the left concentrates on domestic policy, for a number of structural and historical reasons. I recognize that many readers will disagree with this assertion, but I do not believe that most of what is considered left criticism of American foreign and military policy proceeds from a carefully thought out response to the question I am posing.
What are the possible answers to my question? I can see at least five.
First, the default answer is that America should continue to pursue the basic outlines of the policy it has pursued, in Republican and Democratic administrations alike, over the last seventy years. That is to say, America should act as an imperial hegemon advancing the interests of world capitalism.
Second, America should continue to act as an imperial hegemon, but instead use its economic and military power to advance socially and economically progressive policies abroad, even when doing so damages the profitability of American corporations.
Third, America should seek to vest its military power, and that of its allies and enemies, in a world state or organization charged with maintaining the peace and pursuing whatever social and economic policies the world community of nations can agree on.
Four, America should withdraw its military forces from the more than one hundred nations in which they are now stationed, reduce its expenditure on military forces appropriately, and reshape its remaining military forces to serve purely defensive missions. It should use the size and reach of its economy to serve and protect the interests of Americans, and leave the rest of the world to whichever imperial hegemons emerge to take America’s place.
And Five, America should adopt the “Fortress America” stance of the fourth option, but maintain sufficient military assets to project its force, on a case by case basis, whenever and wherever considerations of morality and progressive socio-economic principle suggest that intervention would be beneficial.
Given the assumptions within whose scope this question is posed, my initial inclination is to opt for the second or fifth answer, but I confess I am quite uncertain. I am also uncertain that this is a useful theoretical exercise, but I cannot articulate a more useful one.
What do all of you think?