You’d think after sixty-four years on the beat, after being wounded countless times and seeing innumerable friends die, an old cop would be allowed to retire with dignity, generous benefits, and warm wishes.
You’d think so, but when was the last time you heard one of the United States’ allies tell us, “Old friend, you’ve carried the burden of being the world’s policeman long enough. Under your protection, we’ve grown strong and rich. It’s time for us to look after own defense and keep a sharp eye on our corner of the world. Now’s the time to take care of your own.”
The answer to that question would be: never. In 1945, in the aftermath of World War Two, there really was only one superpower: us. The rest of the industrialized world was in rubble. People were starving; economies were shattered. The hangover from the years of slaughter and devastation would be long and painful.
In that context, it was enlightened self-interest to help old friends and former enemies get back on their feet and rebuild their societies. It was a Herculean task, but we accomplished it. Then we went on to make sure the Soviet Union didn’t overrun all of Europe and much of the rest of the world.
And what did we get for our troubles? Another century older and deeper in debt.
Even the Republicans, who under Ronald Reagan and the two Georges Bush ran up two-thirds of our national debt, have begun complaining — with a Democrat in the White House — about the government spending far more money than it receives as revenue. But neither the GOP nor the Democrats has given a moment’s thought to letting the world’s cop answer his final roll call.
Part of the reason for this might be called the Brett Favre Syndrome. Having known glory for a long, long time, it’s wrenchingly hard to let go. Stay in the game and you can tell yourself that time will never pass you by; you’ll just keep burnishing your record.
And the United States has stats no one will ever approach. In 2008, the U.S. spent $711 billion on defense. That’s more than China, Russia, the European Union, Japan, and South Korea combined. We have 737 military bases around the world; 38 of them are medium to large bases. The latter number is more than either the British or Roman empires had at the pinnacles of their power.
As of 2005 we had 116,000 troops in Europe, 40,258 in South Korea, 40,045 in Japan, and in 2009 there are still 117,000 troops in Iraq and 68,000 in Afghanistan, with possibly a lot more on the way to Afghanistan.