Calm down, "Avengers" fansThe scope of this article has nothing to do with gamma radiation or Norse gods (although I'd be happy to have that conversation in the future). No, I'm using the term "superpower" in a geopolitical sense (i.e. "The United States is the world's only remaining superpower") which might not be sexy, but is at least a little more grounded in reality. Perhaps some background is in order:
I am a regular listener to NPR (and I really hope to one day be able to donate to them again, but when you're struggling just to have enough gas to make it to work that's not really an option -- and I feel terrible about it) and in particular the program "On Point" which is usually hosted by Tom Ashbrook. "On Point" is an interview call-in show where Mr. Ashbrook fronts a panel of one or more guests, and takes viewer calls to put questions to them. I like the show because he frequently has guests that are more than a little informed about the topics they cover, but it is not a microphone for strictly liberal ideas. Anyone can make a case, and Mr. Ashbrook leaves the judgement up to the audience. If you have any interest in current events, check it out, I highly recommend it. Lately there have been a LOT of programs about the state of the world and the role of the U.S.A. in the grand scheme of things, and more than a few about the state of our domestic economy and ways to improve it. These realities are not mutually exclusive, and I am in no way, shape, or form a political scientist, but from a historical standpoint I think that there are some frank discussions we need to have.
Defense spending is out of controlWhen were we spending the most on our defense budget? Why, World War II, of course. The decades following "the war to end all wars," the so-called Cold War was no slouch either; every decade saw a solid increase in our defense spending to build up our nuclear arsenal, radically expand our standing military, and to manufacture all of the weapons and vehicles needed to fend off an incursion by the USSR. It's no secret that the Reagan strategy was simply to out-spend the Soviet Union, bankrupting them by forcing them into a war of virtual attrition that their communism-based dictatorship could not support. And we won, so defense spending had to be reduced, right?
Not so. This 2012 Washington Journal article by Dan Matthews is pretty damning. It alleges that defense spending is higher than it's ever been, even after discounting the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That leads to my big question: Who are we trying to outspend now?
No returnsThe sad truth is that during World War II and the Cold War, we were war profiteers. I'm not saying that the ultimate goal wasn't noble (though I think that could be argued as well), but we extended credit to our allies for real material protection against an impending threat, and we made a fair amount of profit from it. With the biggest military threat (the USSR) defeated, there's no real profit to be made from that kind of defense network. As much as the Balkans and Russians might squabble, we aren't directly involved and we wouldn't even attempt to provoke a military conflagration. Our key pressure now is economics in the form of sanctions, but that might be coming to an end sooner than many could predict.
Our strength is our weakness
The most powerful economic country in the world is rising. It hasn't emerged fully yet, but the displacement of economic water as it lifts itself out of the sea is palpable even on this side of the world. It is not the United States. While we spend a good chunk of our blood and treasure trying to remain the world's only military superpower our infrastructure crumbles. The coffers of cities and states across our land are running on empty. Millions of people in the world's last superpower go without healthcare, the ability to buy a home, or even feed themselves. Despite some recovery, jobs are scarce and the most well-paying require a level of education and experience that makes them out of reach for even the most qualified individuals. It's truly a terrifying time for those of us on the bottom of the economic pile. Why are we spending so much to police a world that doesn't want or need a military superpower anymore?
Patriotism starts at home
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: Buckle up, this is going to get a little preachy from this point on) You know what I admire most about the so-called "greatest generation?" You know, the people who lived and fought during World War II? It was their, "We're all in this together" attitude. Okay, so it was only white people who were invited to participate in this particular sentiment, but it was a grand sentiment nonetheless. That's not where we're at now. If you're poor, you're equated to worthless. If you're not racially white, you have no political representation. If you're an employed citizen in the United States, you have given up the right to a livable wage and to drive to work without the threat of bridge collapses, power outages, or potholes big enough to swallow your whole car. Your water well might be poisoned by hydrofracking waste, or an oil or coal company could cause an economic disaster simply by not paying for the minimum safety equipment despite record-breaking profits (and because they've lobbied to keep their legal recompense cap disgustingly low). These are America's REAL problems, because they're happening to REAL people. A $160,000,000 fighter jet that will be obsolete in a few years thanks to new drone technologies isn't going to pay for your grandmother's prescription medication, and it isn't going to dissuade religious zealots from car-bombing a school for girls. It helps no one and hurts everyone. We need to bring the focus back to the US -- back to us.
Where to start...
So rather than elect another Tea Party politician who wants to cut your taxes by literally letting this country rot from the inside out, why not look to people who want to put the government's (read: OUR) resources to the good of its citizens. You want to remain the world's only remaining superpower? Fine -- just cut the defense budget by half. It's no secret that we spend more on defense than the next eight countries combined (a distant second is China). That will free up over a quarter of a trillion dollars of money over the next year alone. And EVERYONE wins -- the US will have to reduce its presence overseas and close military bases, which means that we'll have to take a more diplomatic role in the world, we free up money that can be used to fund building new infrastructure and subsidizing new public works projects, which will lead to more brick-and-mortar jobs and architectural technologies, which we can in turn sell to other developing countries for profit.
Why building is better
Hey, you know what everyone in the world needs? Reliable Roads. Affordable Homes that can protect people from the elements. Clean, disease-free water. Steady electrical power. Schools that can offer education. What are we offering instead? Tanks. Rocket-propelled grenades. Missile defense systems. What if -- and bear with me here -- instead of blowing up Afghanistan we were actually trusted enough to go in, and help them to build an actual infrastructure. Something that they could be proud of and might consider protecting, rather than arming one group of religious nut-jobs over another group. Would it be expensive? Yes, though arguably no less expensive than trying to police an entire state while building a temporary infrastructure. What would the difference be? For one, they would have a hand in building their own country back up. One day those disenfranchised masses of Afghan people might finally start to stand up and get mad at the people who are wrecking all of their stuff and destroying their works, rather than throwing up their hand like they couldn't do anything about it. National pride is built by people who have something more to lose than just freedom. That's kind of the problem here in the States: We don't build anything anymore. We don't take the initiative. We only maintain what we have, we don't look to replace or improve it because we don't have the money. And why don't we have the money? Because we're trying so hard to protect what we have. This is a stupid, sick cycle that will continue until we get over ourselves and instead of professing patriotism actually do patriotic things for our country's people. All of those people.
And you know what the worst part of this is? Anyone that makes this argument will be painted as a biased liberal rather than a rational human being. We have the power America, why not use it for something good?