Would Biden or Trump End America's Forever Wars?Breaking News
tags: foreign policy, war on terror, interventionism
Americans like to imagine that their political disputes stop at the proverbial water’s edge. The opposite has been nearer to the truth ever since the nation’s founders split over whether to support France in its revolutionary wars in the 1790s.
For the past three decades, however, consensus has reigned. Having bested its Soviet rival in the Cold War, the leaders of both the Republican and Democratic parties believed that the US should bestride the world.
That view might now be changing. Beneath the furious volleys between President Donald Trump and his critics, a common understanding has emerged. This year, for the first time ever, the presidential nominees of both major parties are promising to end the “endless” or “forever” wars in which they acknowledge their nation to be engaged.
In an era of severe political polarisation, the rise of endless war as a bipartisan bugbear is a stunning development. It reflects the public’s clear sentiment. Roughly three-quarters of Americans, according to a series of polls this year, favour bringing troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Twice as many Americans say their country spends too much on the military as too little. A mere one in four believes that military interventions in other countries make the United States safer. These days, a president might do more to unite the country by pulling forces back from the world than by deploying them against the next enemy.
Whether American leaders are willing to act accordingly may be another matter. As a trove of documents known as the Afghanistan Papers revealed in December 2019, US officials have long doubted that the war in Afghanistan could be won. Yet that conflict grinds on, now approaching its 20th year.
Those who decided to install the US as the world’s armed superpower understood that something like endless war would be the consequence. During the Second World War, when President Franklin D Roosevelt’s postwar planners sketched out the future, they wanted the US to continue where the British empire left off. In 1941, before the US entered the war, planners devised what one of them, military analyst George Fielding Eliot, described as “a policy essentially offensive in character”, in which the US and Britain, in that order, would station troops around the globe to stop aggressors in their tracks. “America had to accept its imperial destiny, give up its defensive attitude, and accept its responsibility,” advised another planner, Francis Pickens Miller of the Council on Foreign Relations. Incessant conflict, hopefully low in intensity, would be the price of leading the world and preventing a totalitarian rival from doing the same.
There was no conspiracy. The luminaries of mid-century American foreign policy said much the same in public. In 1944, Roosevelt argued that “world order” would require persistent armed enforcement. Like a policeman, the US, preferably in tandem with the United Nations, would act swiftly “whenever and wherever there is a threat to world peace”.
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