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.
It costs big money to pay for all that, and we don’t have it. So we borrow it, mainly from China. It’s not bad enough that we seem to be stuck playing the role of the world’s cop, but we have to go into hock to do it. Even Brett Favre isn’t that obsessed.
That’s not even the worst of it, though. We’re borrowing the money from countries that are cleaning our clocks in international trade. China, Japan and South Korea, all of which run enormous trade surpluses with the United Stares, are the largest purchasers of our national debt. You’ll remember Japan and South Korea are two countries whose national defense we lavishly subsidize. Germany is another country which runs a huge trade surplus with the U.S. and has its defense needs subsidized by us. So is Saudi Arabia.
Everybody who thinks this is crazy, raise your hand.
Of course, there will be those who say we’re only doing what’s necessary to keep our country safe. Really? China spends less than 20% of what we do on national defense. You think anybody’s going to attack China? I sure don’t see it.
But what about 9/11? We were attacked. Here’s what. We tell all the countries that provide funding and havens for terrorists that if we’re attacked again, the Congress of the United States will declare war on them. Just like we used to do in the old days. Military action won’t be initiated by a resolution; the president won’t tell us to go shopping and leave the dying to others. Hostile nations will have to deal with the full might and wrath of the American people. They’ll be the ones dying. We will kill them from the air — as we did in Serbia — and we won’t lose a man to roadway bombs. A message like that is known as deterrence, and as we saw with the Soviets, it works.
It’s time for the old cop to retire. We have a national debt to pay off, and if there’s any money to spare we can use it here at home. Boy, can we use it here at home.
Let the rest of the world take care of it self. That’s what George Washington advised.