Five Reasons Why America Keeps Fighting Foolish Wars
1. Because We Can. The most obvious reason that the United States keeps doing these things is the fact that it has a remarkably powerful military. When you’ve got hundreds of planes, smart bombs, and cruise missiles, the whole world looks like a target set. So when some thorny problem arises somewhere in the world, it’s hard to resist the temptation to “do something!”
2. The U.S. Has No Serious Enemies. The end of the Cold War left the United States in a remarkably safe position. There are no great powers in the Western hemisphere; we have no “peer competitors” anywhere (though China may become one); and there is no country anywhere that could entertain the idea of attacking America without inviting its own destruction. We do face a vexing terrorism problem, but that danger is probably exaggerated, is partly a reaction to our tendency to meddle in other countries, and is best managed in other ways.
3. An All-Volunteer Force. A third enabling factor behind our addiction to adventurism is the all-volunteer force. By limiting military service only to those individuals who volunteer to do it, public opposition to wars of choice is more easily contained. Could Bush or Obama have kept the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going if most young Americans had to register for a draft, and if the sons and daughters of Wall Street bankers were being sent in harm’s way because they got an unlucky number in the draft? I very much doubt it.
4. It’s the Establishment, Stupid. A fourth reason we keep meddling all over the world is the fact that the foreign-policy establishment is dominated either by neoconservatives (who openly proclaim the need to export “liberty” and never met a war they didn’t like) or by “liberal interventionists” who are just as enthusiastic about using military power to solve problems, provided they can engineer some sort of multilateral cover for it.
These world views are developed, promulgated, and defended by a network of think tanks, committees, public policy schools, and government agencies that are all committed to using U.S. power a lot. This is a wealthy, privileged, highly educated group of people and most of them are personally insulated from the consequences of the policies they advocate (i.e., with a few exceptions, their kids don’t serve in the military). Advocates of intervention are unlikely to suffer severe financial reverses or face long-term career penalties if some foreign war goes badly; they’ll just go back to the same think-tank sinecures when their term of service is over.
And since the mid-1960s, American conservatism has waged a relentless and successful campaign to convince U.S. voters that it is wasteful, foolish, and stupid to pay taxes to support domestic programs here at home, but it is our patriotic duty to pay taxes to support a military establishment that costs more than all other militaries put together.
5. Congress Has Checked Out. The authority to declare war is given to Congress, not the president, but that authority has been steadily usurped ever since World War II. Although the Constitution could not be clearer on this point, modern presidents clearly feel no constraints about ordering U.S. forces to attack other countries, or even to fully inform Congress as to what we might be doing in secret.
[From article by Stephen M. Walt, Harvard University]