Washington’s Pursuit of Hegemony Undermines American Security
America is safe—so long as we don’t pick the wrong fights.
Not long ago, Joe Biden was running for president, insisting that he could be safely entrusted with U.S. foreign policy. Don’t worry about the infamous 2 a.m. phone call, he implied: He could handle any crisis that came his way.
Alas, that claim was a cruel joke. The world is seemingly overrun by one or more Horsemen of the Apocalypse, as famine, war, and death round the globe. Fewer Americans than ever believe Biden is up to the presidency. Uncle Sam looks like a helpless incompetent, staggering into unnecessary conflicts.
Europe approaches the second anniversary of a war in which the U.S. is deeply involved, openly battling a nuclear-armed power via proxy. Long-standing Middle Eastern antagonisms highlighted by Israel’s increasingly oppressive rule over millions of Palestinians exploded. In this fight the administration heedlessly intervened, deploying the fleet for political effect while leaving American personnel under attack across Iraq and Syria.
Washington continued to intensify military operations near China while planning for a possible conflict over Taiwan, even as Beijing expands its nuclear force. The U.S. is tightening its alliance with South Korea while Pyongyang is enlarging its nuclear arsenal and developing ICBMs to carry those nukes to the American homeland.
The greater the danger, the more delusional Washington’s analysis seems to be. The presumed problem is always that the U.S. is not doing enough. For instance, insisted the Hudson Institute’s Nadia Schadlow: “Chaos is spreading throughout the world as a direct consequence of America's failure to deter Russia, Iran and China. The balance of power in key regions is faltering, leading to instability and global disorder. Like it or not, the U.S. is the only force that can restore equilibrium.”
If only Washington got serious in telling everyone else what to do, all would be well. The bad guys would fall into line. The lion would lie down with the lamb. The world’s peoples would hold hands, singing “Kumbaya” around a really big international bonfire. We all would live happily ever after.
In fact, Americans feel buffeted by global events mostly because their government constantly intervenes. The world is a mess, but it still doesn’t pose much threat to the United States—its territory, people, fundamental liberties, and constitutional system. The only serious danger to America today is a nuclear assault from Russia or China; yet such an attack would result in either nation’s destruction.
The violence that Schadlow cites is occurring away from the U.S., mostly far away. That doesn’t make it unimportant or of no concern. Nevertheless, nothing Russia, Iran, or China is doing threatens a vital American interest and warrants war. The U.S. should stay out of rather than jump into such conflicts.
For instance, Ukraine, although caught in a tragedy, is unimportant strategically. From the original colonies’ fight for independence until the Soviet Union’s break-up, that territory was ruled by Moscow. Never did American policymakers imagine risking war to stage a rescue. The Middle East continues to decline in importance, while Tehran is a military midget with no ability to reach any Americans other than those unwisely placed within its reach by the likes of the former Ambassador James Jeffrey, who admitted misleading President Trump to keep the U.S. dangerously entangled in Syria. The People’s Republic of China is focused on expanding its influence in its own neighborhood, not imposing its will on the U.S. In contrast, Washington is determined to enforce its hegemony most everywhere irrespective of cost.
Of course, American policymakers ritualistically promote the “rules-based international order,” but the concept is a pious fraud—a set of standards created for Washington’s benefit which it breaks whenever convenient, which is often. No other nation sanctions, drones, bombs, invades, and occupies other countries more frequently. After all, that is what the self-proclaimed guardian of the rules-based international order must do!
No doubt, the regimes in Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing are malign. However, U.S. policymakers have never let murderous dictatorships stop them from forming “beautiful friendships.” Consider Iran’s Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, whose brutality brought today’s Islamists to power. American officials even urged the Iranian military to be more ruthless, “to kill as many demonstrators as necessary to keep the shah in power.” Now the Biden administration has proposed turning American military personnel into bodyguards for the Saudi royals, who slaughter foreign civilians and murder domestic critics with equal avidity. Indeed, most of Washington’s Mideast clients tilt authoritarian.
Moreover, American conduct has done much to make antagonists hostile. For instance, despite having been with the KGB, Vladimir Putin demonstrated no animus to America early in his rule. He was the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush after 9/11 and late gave a conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag. However, Putin’s tone was far different in in his 2007 address to the Munich Security Conference, in which he pointed to the allies’ broken promises over NATO expansion and aggressive assaults on Russian security interests. Now Washington is waging a proxy war-plus against Moscow. Yet members of the infamous Blob express shock that Russia has allied itself with China, Iran, and North Korea.
Of course, Washington’s counterproductive policies don’t excuse other governments’ misconduct. What if the danger increases? Schadlow complains that “Since the mid-2000s the U.S. and its allies have forgotten the central goal of geopolitics: to maintain the balance of military power and thereby deter revisionist powers in critical regions.” Yet the best way for Washington to limit threats against the U.S. would be to abandon its attempt to control events up to every other state’s border—and sometimes beyond. It is one thing to prevent other nations from dominating critical regions. It is quite another to impose its will there instead.
Washington’s chief strategy should be to help friendly states protect themselves. After the Cold War ended, American policymakers should have promoted new power balances that did not rely on the U.S. military. Americans would be more secure if its allies took on roles commensurate with their capabilities. In Europe and the Middle East, at least, Washington’s presence is not necessary to deter adverse military action. Even in Asia friendly states are capable of exacting a very high price for any Chinese aggression.
Yet Europe’s dependence continues nearly eight decades after the conclusion of World War II, even though NATO’s European members possess a larger collective population and economy than Russia. As the alliance incorporated the former Warsaw Pact nations, Europeans continued to wail and whine about the threat posed by Moscow, insisting that America do more, ever more, on their behalf. Now, with war raging in Ukraine, European governments are still determined to rely on the U.S., seemingly forever.
Schadlow complains that Washington did not deter Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But the U.S. never purported to do so. In Europe Washington protects nations by including them in NATO. The U.S., and its European allies, refused to add Kiev because they were not willing to fight for it. Hence Moscow was not deterred from invading Ukraine.
However, this doesn’t mean Russia is prepared to attack other European states. First, Moscow has shown no interest in further aggression. Second, the bloody war in Ukraine demonstrates that Russia could not conquer multiple European countries, let alone the continent, if it wanted to do so. Third, nothing suggests that Washington would not fulfill its treaty obligations to other European states, however improvident the offer and difficult the task. Fourth, and most important, the Europeans can afford to do whatever they believe to be necessary for their defense.
As for the Middle East, nothing there is worth protecting by America. The international oil market has diversified, the U.S. has become the globe’s leading energy producer, and successor governments would have little choice but to sell their resources. Moreover, Washington could significantly increase oil supplies by dropping counterproductive sanctions on producing nations.
Israel is a regional superpower well able to defend itself and doesn’t need U.S. support. The greatest threat to Israel is internal, its inability to remain democratic while enforcing military rule over millions of Palestinians. Moreover, its mistreatment of the latter has helped turn Americans into terrorist targets. Perhaps worst is the collective kowtow of successive U.S. administrations to the Saudi royals, a tyrannical medieval throwback to absolute monarchy. The best news of late is not the Abrahamic accords, which reinforce all parties’ worst tendencies, but the modest détente between Tehran and Riyadh, which occurred despite, not because, of Washington’s efforts.
Although the People’s Republic of China dominates East Asia, it is no colossus, suffering from slowing growth, economic weakness, demographic decline, political uncertainty, and regional animosity. Indeed, over the last century Beijing has been at war with Russia, Japan, India, Korea, and Vietnam. Its neighbors should mimic China’s military strategy versus the U.S., one of anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD.
Most important, Taiwan should seek to lower tensions by prolonging the ambiguous status quo while preparing to exact a high price against any Chinese attempt to invade. Other nations in the region, which have consistently underinvested in defense, should also do more militarily, working together rather than expecting the U.S. to be ever on station. Especially South Korea, with more than 50 times the GDP and twice the population of the North, and Japan, which for decades has limited its defense outlays.
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Schadlow wants the U.S. “to restore balance in the world.” The right global balance of power would not treat America as the world’s defender of last resort. Rather, the U.S. should offload defense responsibilities onto populous, prosperous allies, which heretofore have treated the Pentagon as a foreign welfare agency.
The U.S. should start by reducing its presence in Europe, allowing the Europeans to step up. Washington also should stop underwriting destructive behavior by Middle Eastern governments that foment conflict and spawn terrorism. Finally, American officials should help Asian states arm themselves for their own defense, while eschewing war over Taiwan and the gaggle of contested islands which provide the region’s primary flashpoints.
Washington’s primary duty is to keep America safe, not make other nations comfortable. With the world aflame it is time for Washington to formally drop any pretense of being Globocop. Uncle Sam’s first responsibility is the security and welfare of the American people.