In the past few days, we have had an announcement from President Obama that US troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year. Well, time to celebrate certainly but what does this imply about the future role of the United States as “force for good” in the world?
In a depressingly upbeat speech, the Leader of the Free World delivered a homily worthy of the Lone Ranger. “Iraqis have taken full responsibility for security” he stated; in other words “my job here is done”. So, after after eight bloody years in which more than 4,000 American service personnel were killed and nearly 32,000 were wounded, the country is now deemed safe for democracy. The truth is however debatable, as during one week in August between 50 and 60 Iraqis were murdered and up to the end of September 2011, over 12,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed by suicide bombers. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/02/iraq-suicide-bomb-toll-revealed
This comes only four months after President Obama announced that all US troops in Afghanistan would withdraw by the year end. That conflict has been America’s longest “war” and one that has that has been proved to be unwinnable as the continued presence of Taliban fighters and drug producers testifies. This was underlined in a recent article in the Guardian newspaper http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/17/us-troop-withdrawal-pakistan-vulnerable showing how US troop withdrawals have left a “security vacuum” in Eastern Afghanistan, leaving Pakistan vulnerable to attacks by insurgents. So at the end of the day, what are the implications of the end of these two, costly adventures for the United States?
Firstly, we have to put them into both a financial and a political domestic context.
As of October 22, 2011, the gross debt of the US was $14.94 trillion, of which $10.20 trillion was held by the public and $4.74 trillion was intragovernmental holdings. The annual gross domestic product (GDP) to the end of June 2011 was $15.003 trillion (July 29, 2011 estimate), with total public debt outstanding at a ratio of 99.6% of GDP, and debt held by the public at 68% of GDP. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_public_debt
In addition, the war in Iraq is deeply unpopular with the American people, the majority of whom believe that going to war in the first place was a mistake. http://www.gallup.com/poll/1633/Iraq.aspx
Now, a pair of U.S. senators are calling for full review of the costs of overseas military bases, saying that closing dozens of the foreign facilities could save billions in wasteful spending. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday introduced legislation to create a new commission to “scrutinize the necessity of the United States’ current overseas basing structure” and do a cost-benefit analysis of closing multiple overseas bases.
Earlier in the week, the pair sent a letter to the congressional supercommittee charged with trimming $1.2 trillion in government spending, urging them to make significant cuts in future overseas military construction projects. In particular, the letter called into question U.S. military projects in Europe and on Guam, saying the Defense Department has not justified the need for billions more in base spending there. In a statement, Hutchison called the commission an important step toward ending unnecessary military spending. “With today’s historic levels of debt, we need to move quickly to identify ways that we can bring our military training capabilities home, create American jobs in military construction and save taxpayer dollars without sacrificing the security needs of U.S. forces and the American people,” she said. http://www.g2mil.com/OBCL.htm
So, are we seeing an and to the sixty-odd years that the United States has attempted to keep the world in order by sending in its military every time it has felt threatened? My feeling is that it will continue to make its presence felt if it considers a person, a group or a state a “clear and present danger” to its security or national interests but those occasions when that happens will I believe, be far fewer and further between in the future than in recent decades.