A response to some of the critics of my newest AT article


Yesterday, AT kindly published my newest article, “Why not a ‘Fortress America’ policy?”. That article explains why an isolationist foreign policy, as advocated by Ron Paul and his ilk, is not feasible today even if it was feasible during the 18th century.

Some commenters have been very critical of that article. This post will address some of the comments.

One person (Luka) claimed that this article is a red herring, because my claim that a growing number of Americans are calling for such a policy is incorrect. I was even challenged to provide a poll to prove that. As you wish, Luka – just read the result of the 2010 CPAC Straw Poll, which was won by Ron Paul, who delivered a long anti-defense, anti-military, anti-American rant during the 2010 CPAC Conference and called for an isolationist (“noninterventionist”) foreign policy and severe defense cuts. And he won the votes of more CPAC attendees than anyone else.

My claim that during WW2, the Japanese conducted bombing raids over California was also challenged. But they did, and reports of that do exist; moreover, Santa Barbara (CA) was shelled, as was Fort Stevens (OR). The evidence. Regardless of what the Japanese did send over the Continental US, there is abundant evidence that they tried to attack it, so a Fortress America policy was obsolete already as of the 1940s – as I claimed.

Luka (and some other commenters) also wrote that a totally isolationist foreign policy, and a proposal to withdraw American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, are two different policies. They are correct on that point, but I never claimed otherwise. Indeed, in the very article that he commented on, I wrote that whether the US should withdraw its troops from those countries is a separate question from the issue of whether the US should adopt an isolationist foreign policy.

By the by, I DO agree that the US should withdraw its troops from Iraq and that it should extricate itself from Afghanistan ASAP, as those who read my blog frequently can attest. On this very blog, I have called on the DOD to withdraw its troops from Iraq many times.

Luka also mentioned that Afghanistan is not worth the treasure expended on it, that the ROE imposed on the ISAF by General McChrystal and General Petraeus are ridiculous, and that Petraeus is stifling Americans’ First Amendment rights. He’s right on those counts, but I never made claims to the contrary. And Afghanistan is a different question from the issue of an isolationist foreign policy.

President Eisenhower, who said that preventive war was an invention of Hitler, was invoked. President Eisenhower was a textbook interventionist, more of an interventionist than President Bush. He threatened to use nuclear weapons against North Korea and China (to persuade them to sign an armistice suspending the Korean War), toppled Iranian PM Mohammed Mossadeq (a Soviet sympathizer), intervened in Lebanon militarily, ordered American bombers and spyplanes to fly over the USSR to poke the Russians, and planned an invasion of Cuba (which was later incompetently conducted by his successor, President Kennedy).

Tiger1996 asserted that, contrary to my claim, there is no crowd calling on the US government to “withdraw American troops from all foreign countries, end all aid to all foreign governments, and withdraw from all alliances”. He’s wrong. There is such a crowd: the Ron Paul crowd. These people, led by the Dishonorable Ron Paul, are calling on the US government to do exactly that. Those are RP’s official policy proposals, which, I assume, his followers agree with.

Tiger1996 boasted that the US will not keep commitments to defend Eastern Europe. Thus, Tiger1996 has admitted that the US should cede that entire region to a KGB-governed Russia (where, according to the MSNBC, the secret services are no longer controlled by anyone).

Tiger1996 also complained that the US is drowning in debt and is under siege by millions of illegal aliens. True, but this is not the Pentagon’s fault. The DOD is not to blame for America’s debt (annual federal tax revenue, which is about 2 trillion USD, is enough to pay for the annual defense budget (534 bn USD for FY2010) and for the GWOT (130 bn USD for FY2010), but it is certainly not enough to pay for bloated entitlement programs, huge federal bureaucracies and 2,001 federal subsidy programs). Nor is the DOD to blame for the siege being waged by illegal aliens against the US. It is the responsibility of the DHS, not the DOD, to guard American borders and arrest illegal immigrants.

Dale G. asserted that the US military no longer needs conventional weapons and conventional weaponry programs because, supposedly, America’s enemies will not use them and China is not a threat to the US. He’s wrong. China is a threat to the US (it has brought down an unarmed American EP-3 plane over the Pacific Ocean, harrassed an unarmed American ship, and blinded an American satellite, and supports anti-American regimes around the world); and countries hostile to the US, including China, NK and Iran, possess large conventional arsenals that the US military must counter. A missile shield will not be enough.

Pavan rightly remarked that most post-WW2 military interventions of the US were promiscous interventions for unimportant causes. But this doesn’t prove that the US should now adopt a noninterventionist policy, only that it should intervene only when American national interests are threatened. Moreover, he was wrong to claim that Korea is still a mess, as is Vietnam. South Korea is now one of the 25 richest countries in the world, a true democracy, one of the best friends America has. (And contrary to the claims that it’s a parasitic client of the US, it drafts EVERY able-bodied SK male into its military.) Vietnam has a growing economy; its government is now slowly alinging itself with the US.

SD531 wrongly claimed that there is no evidence that an isolationist foreign policy is becoming popular with the American public, denied the fact that the Japanese did attack California, and falsely claimed that a growing number of Americans is only realizing that “we do not have the moral right to dictate to the rest of the world how it should live”.

But the foreign policy of RP and his fans is not just about that – they want the US to completely withdraw from global affairs and not intervene abroad anywhere, anytime, even if American interests are threatened. Period. Nor did I ever call on the US to impose its culture on the rest of the world. So SD531’s response is a straw man argument.

Jacksprat claims that the US has spent “untold trillions of dollars” to defend foreign countries. The burden of proof is on the claimant, yet, Jacksprat has not provided any proof to back his claim. For your information, Jacksprat, the US has not spent trillions of dollars defending any foreign country. The US military budget is used to defend the US and wage the GWOT, not to defend foreign states.

Alcyoneus wrongly claimed that I misused the term “isolationist”, saying that an “isolationist” believes in a noninterventionist foreign policy as well as anti-trade economic barriers. But this is exactly what Ron Paul and his fans believe in. They want to withdraw the US from all significant free trade agreements (including NAFTA and the GATT) and from the World Trade Organization. They dream of a new Smoot-Hawley Act. So they do meet the definition of “isolationists” – they believe in a policy of noninterventionism as well as anti-trade economic barriers.

Alcyoneus also wrongly claimed that the US government “transfers wealth from middle class US taxpayers to bolster the security and wealth of foreign peoples”; that the US is subsidizing the defenses of foreign countries; that the American middle class is “paying through its nose to defend the free world”; and that the US defense budget is allowing foreign countries to maintain lower defense budgets.

All of these 4 claims are utterly false.

Firstly, the DOD budget is not used to defend exclusively foreign countries nor to subsidize their militaries. It is used to defend the US and American national interest. The reason why the US needs a 534 bn USD annual defense budget is that the US has a number of militarily-strong enemies that would’ve been hostile to the US regardless of what foreign policy the US adopts, including an expansionist, belligerent, aggressive China, as well as Putinist Russia, Chavezian Venezuela, Islamist Iran and Islamist Syria. There are now relatively few American troopers in Europe (a few AF wings, one Corps, a few ships, and some other units), so the US is clearly not subsidizing the defense of foreign countries.

Secondly, the American middle class is not being “taxed to its noses” to pay for the US military. The FY2010 defense budget constitutes 3.65% of GDP; the total FY2010 military budget constitutes 4.5% of GDP. During the entire Cold War except FY1948, the US spent a larger proportion of GDP on its defense. Of every tax dollar spent by the US government, only 18.5 cents are spent on the US military or the GWOT, and the rest is spent on purely civilian agencies and programs. The FY2010 defense budget constitutes only a 1,739 USD expenditure per capita, while the American GDP per capita is 46,000 USD, which means that each American spends less than 3% of his or her personal income on defense.

Thirdly, the only federal budget used to subsidize foreign countries is the budget of the Department of State. It includes many foreign aid programs, including the Foreign Military Financing Program. But the total cost of these programs is less than 40 bn USD per year.

Fourthly, the European allies of the US began to severely reduce their defense budgets during the 1990s, when the US was doing the same. They halved their defense budgets during the 1990s (as did America), and after 9-11-2001, they continued to do so. They will maintain small defense budgets (or reduce them further) regardless of what policy the US adopts. If the US withdraws all of its troops from Europe, they will not increase their defense budgets – they will probably surrender to the first enemies who will attack them. Hell, as early as the 1970s they shouted “better red than dead”.

Alcyoneus challenged me to prove that the crucial interests of the US require the defense budget of the current size and a globalist foreign policy. He chose the wrong person to challenge.

The crucial interests of the US require that 1) no one dare to even consider attacking the US; 2) no country dare to try to dominate any important region (e.g. the Pacific Rim and the ME), because an unfriendly country dominating over a crucial region would constitute a serious threat to the US itself (because of, i.a., oil). To meet these goals, the US needs a strong military and a foreign policy that will ensure that no one will close the world’s sea lanes, and it needs to ensure that China will not dominate anything, Venezuela and its allies will not dominate Latin America (the US cannot tolerate communist dictatorships in its own backyard – you too, Raul Castro), and Iran will not dominate the Middle East.

So the US must not only defend its territory and its citizens, but also to prevent foreign countries from dominating crucial regions of the world, such as the Pacific Rim and the Middle East. It also needs to guard the world’s sea lanes. (That goal obviously requires a strong Navy.)

A reader calling himself “kennon” also alleged that the US spends billions of dollars every year subsidizing the defenses of foreign countries. That claim is false and has already been debunked. He also ridiculed my claim that the US should’ve taken out Hitler before 1939. He asked whether I believe that the US should adopt an assassination-based foreign policy. I do not, but during the first decades of the Cold War, the US did maintain an assassination-based foreign policy. For example, the CIA tried to assassinate Fidel Castro over 600 times. As for Hitler, he could’ve been taken out by an assassin or by the US military. There were several opportunities to kill him, the best of which was the 1938 Czechoslovak crisis. As of 1938, in the Wehrmacht, there was a conspiracy called the Septemberverschworung. German generals believed that Hitler was wrongly leading Germany and an unprepared Wehrmacht to war with Czechoslovakia, France and Britain over the Sudetenland, a war that they believed would end disastrously for Germany. Therefore, they planned to assassinate Hitler as early as the free world would intervene, and then propose a compromise to the West. Unfortunately, Britain surrendered to Hitler in Munich, and the US was isolating itself from the rest of the world.

Kennon also called America’s allies “ungrateful”. Which allies are ungrateful? Eastern European allies, whom Barack Obama has surrendered to Moscow? The South Koreans, who warmly embraced Secretary Gates whe he visited their country? France, whose President never misses an opportunity to thank the US for the liberation of France (“Thank you America, France will never forget!”)? Britain, which has always stood with the US since WW2 and has sacrificed hundreds of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Kennon is also apparently unaware that many of America’s allies, whom American taxpayers supposedly subsidize, draft all of their able-bodied males into the militaries. E.g. South Korea, Israel, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. (Israel even drafts women into its military.) Kennon, have you even served with the US military?

A reader calling himself “Jon 2, 3, or 4″ claimed that for a century, the US has been the world’s policeman, at a huge cost in wealth and lives.” He’s wrong, because 1) the Civil War cost more men than the two world wars and the Vietnamese War combined; 2) the FY2010 US defense budget constitutes(ed) only 3.65% of GDP; 3) since 1987, total American military spending has never exceeded 6% of GDP.

More later, folks.

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