Is America a War State?
Thirty years after Bill Clinton ditched the "Peace Dividend," we seem to be in conflict everywhere, with no end in sight. Do we need a fundamental re-think of our foreign policy priorities?
On June 1, Harpers put out a cover story titled, “Why are we in Ukraine?” The authors were professor Christopher Layne, the Robert Gates chair of National Security at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government, and Benjamin Schwarz, a onetime national and literary editor of The Atlantic and former analyst for the RAND Corporation. Both at times have been critical of the projection of American power, but both also have strong bona fides from within the world of American national security policy.
The authors didn’t excuse Vladimir Putin or his invasion of Ukraine, writing that “even if Moscow’s avowals are taken at face value,” the country’s actions could be “condemned as those of an aggressive and illegitimate state.”
Much of the rest of the article, however, is a blistering history of how the United States constructed a radical new foreign policy posture after communism’s fall, obliterating “normal diplomacy among great powers” and replacing it with rapid NATO expansion in all directions, in service of something like a global Monroe Doctrine. The justification for this new unipolar ideal, which was characterized by a cascading series of diplomatic ultimatums and “regime change” invasions for resisters, was best articulated in 1994 by former Senator Richard Lugar, who said, “there can be no lasting security at the center without security at the periphery.”
The Harpers piece doesn’t blame the United States for war in Ukraine, but does tell a story about a foreign policy establishment that wriggled free of our more conflict-averse late seventies and eighties, and created a new expansionism that eschews diplomacy and generates military confrontation almost by design. “Far from making the world safer by setting it in order,” the authors write, “we have made it all the more dangerous.”
There was a time when avoiding war was a chief priority of American liberalism, which would have taken a story like the Harpers piece as a rallying cry. The issue containing the Layne-Schwarz story reportedly did brisk sales, but generated little discussion in media, beyond a tweet from Ann Coulter:
No offense to Coulter, but where are the antiwar liberals? They were numerous once. Recent polls about war and military spending show the same bizarre pattern of neatly reversed partisan attitudes we’ve seen with civil liberties and support of spy agencies.
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