Follies: America's New Global Empire
Xulon Press, 2006
To say that Doug Bandow is prolific would be an
understatement of enormous proportions. He turns out a weekly column for Antiwar.com
and contributes to two blogs – 4Pundits
and Citizen Outreach. Bandow is
also the author of several books – Korean
Conundrum: America's Troubled Relations With North and South Korea (with
Ted Galen Carpenter), Tripwire:
Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World, The
Politics of Envy: Statism as Theology, Perpetuating
Poverty: The World Bank, the IMF, and the Developing World (co-edited
with Ian Vasquez), The
U.S.-South Korean Alliance: Time for a Change (with Ted Galen Carpenter),
Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Politics (with Marvin Olasky). For
those of us who strive (and often struggle) to write, it's tempting to envy
Bandow's seeming ease discussing – with style and wit – an array of issues (if
he were ruggedly handsome too, we'd have to hate him). His voice is one of the
few of reason and sanity that rises above the shrill din of partisan politics
of the Iraq fiasco, it is fashionable to blame the Bush administration for being
the Ziegfeld of
America's foreign policy folly. True enough, Iraq may be the height of U.S.
recklessness – an unnecessary war against a phantom threat that has given jihadists
a convenient target in their own neighborhood, has created greater anti-American
sentiment throughout the Muslim world, and threatens to break the U.S. Army
– but such recklessness did not begin with the Bush administration. In Foreign
Follies: America's New Global Empire (Xulon Press, 2006), Doug Bandow
has collected essays spanning more than a decade to demonstrate that U.S. foreign
policy run amok predates the current White House, though the Bush administration
has made things worse. (There is, of course, the now obligatory chapter on Bush's
disastrous Iraq policy – the mother of all unnecessary military interventions.)
According to Bandow, the problem is a direct result of the end of the Cold War:
"With America's emergence as a hyperpower enjoying a unipolar moment,
as the globe's only superpower – and on and on, as some would-be imperialists
regularly remind the rest of us – more than a few policymakers in Washington
want to take advantage of the country's opportunity to reorder the globe by
force, if necessary."
The idea that the United States could reshape the world was based on the notion
that with the Soviet Union in the dustbin of history, Washington could do as
it pleased with no opposition and without cost. But as the saying goes, there
is no such thing as a free lunch. While Democrats can rightly make the case
for the costs and consequences of unnecessary intervention with regard to Iraq,
they won't like that Bandow also makes the case with respect to humanitarian
intervention (itself an oxymoron when conducted by force of arms by the U.S.
military), which was the hallmark of the Clinton administration:
"The response by some advocates of humanitarian intervention is:
well, what about Hitler? If he was merely killing his own people, and not
conquering other countries, shouldn't we still have intervened? That question
cannot be answered without considering various countries' relative interests
at stake, capabilities of intervening, and costs of acting. The very same
question could be asked of Stalin and Mao, both of whom slaughtered more
people than did Hitler. Should the U.S. have intervened to halt the starvation
of the Ukraine or great purges in the U.S.S.R.? Should Washington have deployed
military forces to stop China's disastrous Great Leap Forward? Humanitarianism
without regard for consequences and costs is good intentions run amok."
Bandow isn't bashful about pointing out the problems with a humanitarian interventionist
policy, such as the criteria for intervention:
"We must be prepared either to say that Somali lives are more valuable
than those of Armenians, Bosnians, and Liberians, or to garrison the globe for
He doesn't pull any punches pointing out the hypocrisy of such a policy:
"When white Europeans are dying, the Clinton administration acts.
When black Africans are dying, Washington talks. Such is the hypocritical
cynicism that passes for foreign policy today. …
"The administration's reluctance to act does seem extraordinary,
given the president's promise, offered barely a year ago when he visited
the Balkans, to stop ethnic cleansing anywhere in the world. But residents
of East Timor soon learned what frightened civilians in Sierra Leone are
realizing today: he was only kidding."
Finally, interventionists of all stripes won't like the conclusion Bandow comes
"America should not be the 911 number for the rest of the world."
During the Cold War a case could be made for the United States needing to act
as a counterbalance to Soviet expansionism and respond to crises that erupted
around the world. But "the end of the superpower competition means the
world is no longer a zero-sum game, with a foreign 'loss' benefiting America's
adversaries." Yet the United States continues to subsidize the security
of our rich allies in Europe who are no longer menaced by the threat of Soviet
tanks rolling through the Fulda
Gap. And because NATO keeps expanding rather than being disbanded, the United
States is obligated to defend the likes of "Poland, Hungary, Romania, the
Baltic States, Ukraine, and whoever else ends up on a NATO wish list."
Similarly, the United States need not put its security at risk for South Korea
and Japan, both of whom can afford the military expenditures necessary to defend
themselves against North Korea. In fact, it makes even less sense against a
nuclear-armed North Korea – putting Los Angeles at risk of nuclear incineration
(though Pyongyang has pledged to shut down its nuclear program as a first step
toward disarmament) to keep the North Koreans from crossing the 38th Parallel.
And if our friends in Europe and Asia are rich enough to pay for their own
defense, then certainly too are the oil-rich nations of the Middle East. The
United States does not need to defend countries such as Saudi Arabia to assure
access to oil. As Bandow points out, "Saudi Arabia needs America more than
America needs Saudi Arabia." President Bush and Crown Prince Abdullah may
have held hands at the president's ranch in Texas, but the Saudis are fickle
friends at best. For example, Bandow writes that in 1996, "the
Saudis refused, despite U.S. urging, to take custody of bin Laden from Sudan."
We can only imagine how different things would be had they done so. Moreover,
as Bandow observes:
"There were many causes to September 11, but a contributing factor
was America's willingness to make common cause with the morally decrepit,
theocratic monarchy in Riyadh. Observed Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
the price of the commitment has been 'far more than money.' America's presence
'in the holy land of Saudi Arabia' along with the bombing of Iraq were 'part
of the containment policy that has been Osama bin Laden's principal
recruiting device, even more than the other grievances he cites.'"
Ultimately, the reason Bandow's book is so important is because he understands
the inextricable link between unnecessary U.S. interventionism and the threat
of terrorism. Indeed, in "The Price of Giving Offense," written in
August 1998, Bandow is almost prescient:
"Washington still needs to decide whether U.S. interests are important
enough to warrant intervention. And that requires remembering that intervention
"The cost of terrorism is high enough today. As weapons of mass
destruction spread, however, the price could become staggering.
"Imagine the use of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons at the
World Trade Center, in the heart of New York City's financial district. As potential
terrorists' power grows, interventional gains will become increasingly foolish."
Sadly, U.S. policymakers "delude themselves that Washington is suffering
only because it is busy promoting, as the President [Clinton] claimed, 'peace
and democracy' around the globe."
Even sadder is that President Bush makes the same ill-conceived argument. Note
to President Bush: If you are still having a
reading contest with Karl Rove, put Doug Bandow's Foreign
Follies at the top of your reading list.