As Washington and China move towards possible war, an Australian has forewarned Americans about how the British Empire lasted so long.
England, observes Owen Harries in the Spring 2001 National Interest, was the “only hegemon that did not attract a hostile coalition against itself. It avoided that fate by showing great restraint, prudence and discrimination in the use of its power in the main political arena – by generally standing aloof and restricting itself to the role of balancer of last resort. In doing so it was heeding the warning given it by Edmund Burke, just as its era of supremacy was beginning: ‘I dread our own power and our own ambition. I dread being too much dreaded.‘”
Notes Harries, “I believe the United States is now in dire need of such a warning.”
Instead of understanding such warnings, however, America is forging a world alliance against itself. Russia is now allying with China and India and Iran against American hegemony. Much if not most of the Muslim world fears and hates American policies, if not Americans. Europe is going neutral and America’s Asian allies want no part in a conflict between China and America. New embassies are built like Star Wars’ fortresses and the U.S. Navy has fearfully cut back shore leave in much of the world.
How did the “world’s only super power” become so isolated and afraid for its citizens overseas?
The “Wolfowitz Doctrine” is named for No. 2 man at the Defense Department and key Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld confidant Paul Wolfowitz – former director of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies, known for his support of NATO expansion and the attack on Serbia.
As the New York Times summed it, Wolfowitz’s doctrine argues that America’s political and military mission should “ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge. With its focus on this concept of benevolent domination by one power, the Pentagon document articulates the clearest rejection to date of collective internationalism.” Its core thesis, described by Ben Wattenberg in the April 12 Washington Times, is “to guard against the emergence of hostile regional superpowers, for example, Iraq or China. … America is No. 1. We stand for something decent and important. That’s good for us and good for the world. That’s the way we want to keep it.”
Unfortunately, many foreigners compare it to the old General Motors claim, “What’s good for GM is good for America.” Even though there is truth to the claim of Americans’ fundamental decency, since Athenian times democracies have been unable to run empires. Foreign policy is made in response to sensationalist TV news and domestic politics, not with a view to national interests, but rather for money and votes for the next election. Witness NATO expansion with all its negative consequences for Russian relations and resultant high-tech arming of China. It was promised in the Midwest by Clinton during the 1996 campaign to gain votes from Americans of East European descent.
Imagine how long the Roman empire would have lasted if there had been a Visigoth or Egyptian lobby pushing its agenda on Roman foreign policy. The Roman Empire resulted in the end of the Roman republic and freedom. The English empire failed when the electoral franchise grew so much that voters could thwart the elites’ rule. Still, many conservatives – who argue that the government can’t run a nursery – have fallen for the concept that it can run the world.
Further confusing American interests, there are also elements in Washington that look at real or imagined threats abroad with great favor. The old military-industrial complex has grown to become the overwhelming military-industrial-congressional establishment. Its power is reflected by the difficulty of closing unnecessary bases and the wasteful weapons purchasing process, as evidenced by ordering weapons before they are fully tested, e.g. the ill-fated Osprey helicopter, manufactured in 42 states and congressional districts. Yet we imagine wars without casualties, with exciting “bang bang” for TV, and with no hurtful consequences for our homeland. Foreigners are not going to oblige us, but more likely will wage wars of terrorism from unknown quarters, possibly even with horrendous biological weapons which are fast being developed.
Ruling the world is not even a “conservative” position. “First,” writes William Ruger for Reason, “it is a policy that will threaten rather than preserve many of America’s traditional values, such as individual liberty, small government and anti-militarism. As most historians point out, war and preparing for war are the soils that nurture the growth of state power, burdensome taxation, conscription, and militarism. If American conservatism should stand for anything, it should be the goal of limited government. Yet the primacist policies (of empire) here guarantee the opposite: a leviathan.” The first “cost” of empire will be the loss of many of our own freedoms and prosperity.
Yet many conservatives are showing a passion for confrontation with China nearly comparable to that in England before World War I, when street demonstrations demanded war with Germany. Indeed another parallel can be drawn for America. England’s efforts to prevent Germany from gaining its “place in the sun,” its “Wolfowitz Doctrine,” led to the end of the British Empire and its “superpower” status, even though it “won the war.” After 1914, for nearly half a century, most Englanders then lived in poverty.
In many ways China’s ascendancy today is comparable to that of Germany back then; so also did the English think that World War I would be over fast and without great pain. And for what? Answering those “crying Wolfowitz,” Craig Smith points out in the May 15 New York Times, China and Taiwan are actually thriving together – not the image one gets from many “conservative” publications.
To preserve our own freedoms and best serve the rest of the world, our foreign policy should be non-interventionist, non-threatening and non-militaristic. With economic strength and a politics of fairness and non-intervention, we can prosper and keep our own freedom. We don’t need an empire and empire won’t bring us security. America is simply incapable of any other consistent foreign policy.
America should be a beacon, because it can’t be a competent policeman.
Jon Basil Utley is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. A former correspondent for Knight/Ridder in South America, Utley has written for the Harvard Business Review about Latin American nationalism and Insight Magazine on preparation for terrorist threats.