ART HOBSON: The permanent warfare state

United States needs a less militarized foreign policy

Posted: March 6, 2018 at 1 a.m.

The Trump administration recently released a National Defense Strategy that tries to justify a new massive military buildup throughout the world. While continuing our campaign against terrorists, the plan's focus is China and Russia, which "want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model." The plan doesn't mention America's efforts to expand NATO up to Russia's borders despite Russian fears of encirclement. It pleads for much more money without explaining why present spending, already more than the next eight nations combined, is insufficient.

America's militarized foreign policy does us and the planet more harm than good. In Syria, for one important example, our enthusiasm for changing Assad's dictatorial regime helped spawn and prolong the Sunni civil war against the Shiite government. This U.S.-supported war has raged since 2011, killing half a million, creating more than 5 million refugees and destabilizing the Mideast and Europe. Predictably, Russian forces intervened on Assad's side in 2015, ensuring the failure of regime change. Our misguided efforts to support the rebels only prolongs that conflict.

America did the right thing by allying with Russia and others to defeat Islamic State's occupations in Iraq and Syria, but made disastrous mistakes by trying to replace existing regimes in Iraq, Syria and Libya. The Middle East's problem is conservative culture and extreme religion; it cannot be fixed by U.S. military adventures. We can help fight terrorist organizations, but we have no business engaging in domestic wars against existing governments, be they dictatorial or democratic.

Wars have enormous unintended consequences. For example: America and Russia, allies in the war against Islamic State, are thrown into dangerous proximity on opposite sides of the ongoing civil war. In the eastern oil-rich province of Deir el-Zour, we back rebel-allied Kurdish fighters while Russia backs government-allied Syrian forces. On Feb. 7, government forces attacked Kurdish fighters, and the U.S. Air Force responded with three hour of pummeling that included F-15 jets, B-52 bombers, gunships, attack helicopters and drones. One consequence was five Russians killed and 25 more wounded. Will Russia and America be dragged into a war over Syria?

Korea, where a misstep could cost millions of lives, is another example. The U.S. would love to replace Kim Jong Un's vicious regime. Ironically, this U.S. regime-change effort is the reason Kim feels so compelled to possess nuclear weapons! He knows that only the threat of nuclear retaliation can deter a U.S. attack.

Kim's fears are well founded. It's eye-opening that Victor Cha, President Trump's original choice for ambassador to South Korea, was then told he would no longer be nominated for the job, and that simultaneously Cha published an opinion article in The Washington Post explaining why a preemptive attack by the U.S. on North Korea would be extremely dangerous.

President Trump demands North Korea's denuclearization. But this won't happen because Kim feels certain it would invite U.S. regime change. North Korea is a nuclear power, and this fact won't change. They have some 50 nuclear warheads that could be launched toward South Korea or Japan, and they will soon have one that can destroy, say, Chicago. However, there's no way Kim would use it unless he's severely threatened, because U.S. retaliation would destroy him and North Korea. We could have prevented this standoff years ago by supporting the world's desire to get rid of nuclear weapons. There is a serious international effort today to do this, but we are not only not interested, we are actively opposed.

It's hard for Americans to accept facts. It's time to call off the threats and accept North Korea as the world's ninth nuclear power while working toward banning nuclear weapons. North-South relationships have improved recently. At the Olympics, Kim's sister delivered a message to South Korea's President Moon expressing Kim's desire to meet with Moon. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was attending the games, was much dismayed by this outbreak of rationality. He repeatedly ignored North Korea's delegation, denounced its "tyrannical" nature, and called for the thousandth time for it to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions.

America is not the leading nation it once was and has no business telling the world how to run its affairs. The only major national indicator in which we clearly lead the world is military strength. We rank toward the bottom of rich nations in, for example, homicides, incarcerations, capital punishment, sexually transmitted diseases, income inequality, poverty, literacy, health and housing.

Everybody would be better off if America had less military strength and more domestic strength.

Commentary on 03/06/2018