Daniel L. Davis
January 16, 2017
The National Interest

“Why It Pays to Be the World’s Policeman – Literally,” written by Thanassis Cambanis in Politico, serves as an excellent compilation of the best neoconservative justifications for the overuse of American military power abroad. It also serves as an excellent exposé illuminating the fatal flaws of their logic. Being the world’s policeman does not pay, and indeed, if left unchecked, could one day cost the nation dearly.

The first tactic used by those advocating the aggressive use of lethal military power abroad is to cast the matter in black-and-white, all-or-nothing terms. Cambanis tries to paint all who don’t support expansionist views with the emotionally negative tag of “isolationist.” The absence of a reckless policy of adventurism is hardly isolationist. Its antithesis is intelligent restraint.

There is much wisdom in increasing international engagement in diplomacy and trade while husbanding military strength. Such a philosophy increases global engagement, increases business opportunity for American goods, and ensures that the military instrument will be sharp and ready to defend the country if necessary. That is as far from “isolationist” as one can get. Unfortunately, the word that comes closest to accurately describing the worldview advocated by some neocons is “imperial.”

The definition of imperial is “characterizing the rule or authority of a sovereign state over its dependencies; domineering, imperious.” Cambanis doesn’t hesitate—or blush—in listing the benefits to maintaining an aggressive military-based foreign policy. He writes:

America runs a world order that might have some collateral benefits for other countries, but is largely built around U.S. interests: to enrich America and American business; to keep Americans safe while creating jobs and profits for America’s military-industrial complex; and to make sure that America retains, as long as possible, its position as the richest, dominant global superpower. . . . America’s steering role in numerous regions — NATO, Latin America, and the Arabian peninsula — gives it leverage to call the shots on matters of great important to American security and the bottom line. . . . America’s “global cop” role means that shipping lanes, free trade agreements, oil exploration deals, ad hoc military coalitions, and so on are maintained to the benefit of the U.S. government or U.S. corporations.

To say the United States “runs” the world order, to boast that massive defense spending is a good “jobs program” and that a key function of the U.S. Navy is not the defense of the nation but to give “U.S. corporations” financial security, is the very definition of an imperial power. I find such ideas obscene. More importantly, however, these views are dangerously flawed and overlook some critical facts.

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