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To End Endless Wars, We Must Give Up Hegemony

It is far better if the U.S. give up on hegemony and the militarism that goes with it on our terms.

Stephen Wertheim explains what is required to bring an end to unnecessary and open-ended U.S. wars overseas:

American war-making will persist so long as the United States continues to seek military dominance across the globe. Dominance, assumed to ensure peace, in fact guarantees war. To get serious about stopping endless war, American leaders must do what they most resist: end America’s commitment to armed supremacy and embrace a world of pluralism and peace.

Any government that presumes to be the world’s hegemon will be fighting somewhere almost all of the time, because its political leaders will see everything around the world as their business and it will see every manageable threat as a challenge to their “leadership.” A government that imagines that it has both the right and responsibility to police the entire planet will find an excuse to mire itself in one or more conflicts on a regular basis, and if there isn’t one available to join it will start some. U.S. military dominance should have at least guaranteed that we remained at peace once our major adversary had collapsed at the end of the Cold War, but the dissolution of the USSR encouraged the U.S. to become much more aggressive and much more eager to use force whenever and wherever it wanted. Wertheim provides an answer for why this is:

Why have interventions proliferated as challengers have shrunk? The basic cause is America’s infatuation with military force. Its political class imagines that force will advance any aim, limiting debate to what that aim should be.

Using force appeals to many American leaders and policymakers because they imagine that frequent military action cows and intimidates adversaries, but in practice it creates more enemies and wastes American lives and resources on fruitless conflicts. Our government’s frenetic interventionism and meddling for the last thirty years hasn’t made our country the slightest bit more secure, but it has sown chaos and instability across at least two continents. Wertheim continues:

Continued gains by the Taliban, 18 years after the United States initially toppled it, suggest a different principle: The profligate deployment of force creates new and unnecessary objectives more than it realizes existing and worthy ones.

The constant warfare of the last two decades in particular has corroded our political system and inured the public to the idea that it is normal that American soldiers and Marines are always fighting and dying in some foreign country in pursuit of nebulous goals, but nothing could be more abnormal and wrong than this. Constant warfare achieves nothing except to provide an excuse for more of the same. The longer that a war drags on, one would think that it should become easier to bring it to an end, but we have seen that it becomes harder for both political and military leaders to give up on an unwinnable conflict when it has become an almost permanent part of our foreign policy. For many policymakers and pundits, what matters is that the U.S. not be perceived as losing, and so our military keeps fighting without an end in sight for the sake of this “not losing.”

Wertheim adds:

Despite Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about ending endless wars, the president insists that “our military dominance must be unquestioned” — even though no one believes he has a strategy to use power or a theory to bring peace. Armed domination has become an end in itself.

Seeking to maintain this dominance is ultimately unsustainable, and as it becomes more expensive and less popular it will also become increasingly dangerous as we find ourselves confronted with even more capable adversaries. For the last thirty years, the U.S. has been fortunate to be secure and prosperous enough that it could indulge in decades of fruitless militarism, but that luck won’t hold forever. It is far better if the U.S. give up on hegemony and the militarism that goes with it on our terms.