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The US Cannot Afford To Be The World's Police

Submitted by James E. Miller via Mises Canada,

The recent shooting at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic extremists has reignited the debate on how to handle the threat of terrorism. The renewed talk is understandable.

As horror extraordinaire H.P. Lovecraft wrote, the “oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” It’s natural to be anxious about bodily harm, especially when the media amplifies the threat, whether legitimate or illegitimate.

While some lawmakers – mostly Republicans – propose measures to strengthen America’s security complex, the Pentagon recently announced the closure of 15 military bases in Europe. The plan is expected to save up to $500 million a year. The bases will be returned to the countries they inhabit. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel assures there won’t be any job losses however.

Republican critics argue the move is premature in the face of escalating terror threats and an emboldened Russia run by its power-hungry leader Vladimir Putin. At the same time, these detractors correctly point out that the U.S. must start tightening its belt. An $18 trillion debt is a national embarrassment.

The question for these conservative lawmakers is: If not now, when will fiscal responsibility actually be practiced?

The American military presence in Europe is a leftover of the Cold War and the threat of communism’s spread. Yet the Soviet Union collapsed two decades ago. Marxist ideology is now seen as a failure. Putin’s provocations aside, the West is no longer threatened with losing its way of life to the Communist Manifesto.

Europe may be crumbling under the weight of its own super-state economic controls, but it is far from facing another war to end all wars. The real threat to its stability is the lack of assimilation by immigrants from Northern Africa who are not fully vested in the liberal culture of the continent.

The rise of nationalistic parties like the UK Independence Party in Britain and National Front in France reflect a growing anger by working class voters. As Europe tries to reorient itself in a more globalized, more open world, United States military bases aren’t going to restore order within its borders.

Security hawks in the U.S. remain wary about base closures, fretting about elongated times to mobilize in case of an imminent threat to our allies. They presume American armed forces are needed for any conflict across the Atlantic. Any reduction in presence, these saber rattlers declare, is treasonous appeasement. Their speciality is calling any and all retreat “a Neville Chamberlain moment.”

All this fist-shaking about exiting the global stage amounts to a bunch of empty defamation.

America’s global presence isn’t waning. In recent years, President Barack Obama has announced plans for a military buildup in Asia to confront possible threats like a growing China. Drone strikes continue to pound the Middle East and Africa, with a recent strike killing an Al-Shabab leader in Somalia. Clearly, Washington’s imperial reach is not heeding the advice of the late senator and noninterventionist Robert Taft.

The conservative philosophy is supposed to be about reverence for tradition and a prudent outlook on human affairs. But modern conservatism is popularly defined by maintaining a large U.S. military presence across the planet. The position, which was injected in the mainstream thanks to Bill Buckley and his reputable magazine National Review, is in many ways incongruous with actual conservatism.

History proves a government can’t be fiscally responsible and the policeman of the world. All great empires were befallen by the inability of resources to keep up with ambition. From Alexander the Great to Rome to the great British Empire, hegemony doesn’t last forever. The U.S. government guarantees security to over 35 countries and has troops stationed in over 146 countries.

Does such an astounding presence – completely unmatched by previous empires – really sound all that sensible?

The countries with a notable U.S. military presence aren’t just protecting themselves under the banner of our mighty armed forces; they are slagging on their commitments to their own safety. As conservative commentator Pat Buchanan asks “Why do we tax ourselves to defend rich nations who refuse to defend themselves? Is the security of Europe more important to us than to Europe?”

If conservatism is truly about promoting individualism and fiscal responsibility, there is little sense in picking up the tab for nations that can and should meet their obligation for self-defense.

A safer world shouldn’t depend on the generosity of one superpower. Sovereignty and cooperation do better in keeping the peace rather than one country unilaterally patrolling every inch of Earth.

Shutting down a dozen bases in Europe won’t curtail the leviathan-like footprint the American government imprints on the world. But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.

The threat of Islamic terrorism remains very real in the West. It’s also not as cut-and-dry as Fox News makes it out to be. The kind of people who would pitilessly kill children to establish a caliphate are evil. That’s without question. But their motives are part driven by zealous ideology and part revenge for over a century of domination by Western powers.

Understanding that complexity, and that restraint often prevents the type of problems that aggression is supposed to solve, helps deepen a conservative mind. Immediate repulsion and rash action are the stuff of radicalism. Republicans should remember that next time they viscerally denounce the president’s latest foreign policy proposal.