Abandon the Pursuit of Primacy Before It’s Too Late

Even though the pursuit of primacy keeps leading the U.S. into one ditch after another, the pursuit continues because its supporters cannot imagine giving it up.

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The AUKUS deal for nuclear-powered submarines has come under a lot of fire in Australia this week:

Stephen Wertheim makes a compelling case that the Iraq war was the result of pursuing a strategy of primacy, and the US has still not abandoned that pursuit:

After the 9/11 attacks, the architects of the invasion sought to shore up US military preeminence in the Middle East and beyond. By acting boldly, by targeting a galling adversary not involved in 9/11, the United States would demonstrate the futility of resisting American power.

As “shock and awe” gave way to chaos, insurgency, destruction, and death, the war should have discredited the primacist project that spawned it. Instead, the quest for primacy endures. US power is meeting mounting resistance across the globe, and Washington wishes to counter almost all of it, everywhere, still conflating US power projection with American interests, still trying to overmatch rivals and avoid curbing US ambitions. The results were damaging enough during the United States’ unipolar moment. Against major powers armed with nuclear weapons, they may be much worse.

When the US has waged disastrous, unnecessary wars in the decades since WWII, supporters of primacy will later dismiss the wars as “mistakes” that tell us nothing about the larger strategy that they were serving. These wars have been written off as unfortunate aberrations rather than the predictable results of pursuing dominance. Though they were once promoted by the government as central to the strategy of their time, wars in Vietnam and Iraq in particular are now conveniently remembered as blunders that have no implications for the larger US role in the world. This works out nicely for defenders of the status quo, since they don’t have to revisit any major assumptions and they feel no need to make adjustments to the strategy. Even though the pursuit of primacy keeps leading the US into one ditch after another, the pursuit continues because its supporters cannot imagine giving it up.

One reason why so many policymakers and analysts refer to the Iraq war as a mistake rather than calling it a crime is that they don’t really believe that the US is or should be bound by the same rules that constrain others. According to this view, other states may wage aggressive wars that demand universal condemnation, but the US only ever makes “mistakes” while “leading” the world. As far as its supporters are concerned, a strategy of primacy can’t be discredited because it is deemed necessary for the sake of world order. The fact that it routinely produces instability and disorder does not trouble them. Primacists take it as an article of faith that the world would fall into chaos if the US abandoned the strategy. However much harm it causes to the US and the world, that is viewed as the cost of doing business.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

4 thoughts on “Abandon the Pursuit of Primacy Before It’s Too Late”

  1. March 21, 2023 Rand Paul Continues Efforts to Return War Powers to Congress, Introduces Amendment to Repeal 2001 AUMF

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, continued his longtime efforts to return war making powers to Congress by introducing an amendment to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).


    December 6, 2002 How the USA PATRIOT Act redefines “Domestic Terrorism”

    Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52) expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “”domestic,”” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “”dangerous to human life”” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and if they do not, may be regarded as international terrorism.


  2. We also need too reconsider our inclusion with the Quad 4 (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) This new base is the protection for the Quad 4 after all.
    Resurrected in 2017 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Summit in Manila, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue –popularly known as the Quad– formed primarily to contain China’s assertive rise across the Indo-Pacific, was seen as an important policy move that would affect the region. But since the war in Ukraine, its messaging has been somewhat diluted.

    The United States of America –a member of Quad– and its European allies are distracted by the war in Europe. Now they see Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not China, as their main enemy. Meanwhile, Australia and Japan –the two other members of Quad apart from India– are close US allies and, as a result, are in tune with Washington.
    One thing is evident: all four democracies that make up the Quad are together in the Indo-Pacific battle to checkmate a rising and belligerent China. Yet, none of the Quad members will admit it publicly. It is not a military alliance like NATO. The military component in the Indo-Pacific is the AUKUS – the Australia, UK, and the US formationhttps://www.outlookindia.com/international/will-the-quad-live-up-to-its-sound-and-fury–news-271238
    One must note that Japan is increasing its military budget faster than their rate of inflation.
    TOKYO — The lower house of Parliament approved Tuesday a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes a record 6.8 trillion yen ($50 billion) in defense spending, part of Japan’s effort to fortify its military as China’s influence in the region grows.

    The 2023 defense budget, up 20% from a year earlier, includes 211.3 billion yen ($1.55 billion) for deployment of U.S.-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles that can be launched from warships and can hit targets up to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) away.
    Isolation sure is sounding nice nowadays …..

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