Refusal to Set Military Priorities Creates Strategic Bankruptcy

The U.S. government is financially bankrupt and can ill afford to police the world.  Unfortunately, U.S. policymakers refuse to reconsider even the most antiquated security promise.  The result is strategic bankruptcy as well.

In the aftermath of World War II the U.S. effectively took over the defense of much of Asia and Europe, fought or supported combatants in several Third World proxy wars, engaged in nation-building, and otherwise routinely intervened around the globe.

Despite a changed world, the U.S. continues to defend now wealthy Asian and European client states.  American military personnel continue to die fighting in Third World conflicts, only in different nations.  Washington continues to attempt to micromanage the globe.

On the day President Barack Obama announced America’s return to Iraq’s conflict, Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas said Air-Sea Battle was the Pentagon’s new war-fighting doctrine in the Korean peninsula.  Is there anywhere America is prepared to say does not warrant military intervention?

For a time President Barack Obama followed his predecessors in acting as if there were no limits to U.S. capabilities.  However, the so-called “pivot” to Asia suggested that the administration finally realized some choices had to be made.  Yet Washington’s commitment of more resources and attention to Asia appeared to have little effect on American policy elsewhere in the world. 

Administration officials continued to treat a U.S.-dominated NATO as essential.  The war in Afghanistan went on.  Last year the president proposed to launch air strikes against Syria, backing away only after failing to win congressional approval.  

More dramatically, Russia’s absorption of Crimea prompted manifold administration efforts to “reassure” the Europeans, including shifting ground, air, and naval units to the region.  Washington even appeared open to proposals for adding permanent U.S. garrisons to NATO’s eastern-most members. 

Now the president is sending limited ground forces to Iraq, with the added possibility of air and drone strikes.  He may find it hard to limit U.S. involvement in a complex and evolving conflict. 

Yet military officials are discussing their war doctrines for Korea.

U.S. foreign and military policy has a mad quality to it, suggesting that involvement everywhere should be forever.  If President Obama is unwilling to keep America out of any conflict in any part of the world, he should at least set priorities within regions. 

In the Middle East, for instance, the president should halt incremental escalation in Syria.  The battle is tragic, but no one knows what would emerge if Bashar al-Assad is ousted.  Almost certainly fighting would continue, reprisals would be made, and radical forces, such as ISIS, would be empowered. 

In Europe Ukraine remains far from the continent’s population and economic centers which the U.S. spent decades defending.  Kiev’s situation is unfortunate, even tragic, but the country matters not strategically to America.  There should be no thought of military involvement by the U.S or NATO. 

In Asia there is no more dramatic disparity than on the Korean peninsula, where the South has a GDP and population respectively forty times and twice those of the North.  The Republic of Korea could deploy a military capable of deterring North Korea.  Instead of concentrating on defense, in the past Seoul has shipped cash, food, and other goods north in an attempt to buy goodwill—even as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was building nuclear weapons. 

As I point out in my latest article on National Interest online:  “These should be just the start.  In a world of diminishing resources—Washington faces a debt tsunami in the years ahead, with more than $200 trillion in accumulated unfunded liabilities—the U.S. no longer can be expected to solve every international problem, especially through military means.  American policymakers should begin to make tough choices.  Now.”