President George W. Bush was largely divorced from what one aide famously dismissed as the “reality-based community.” The unnamed staffer told author Ron Suskind that “when we act, we create our own reality.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), now pushing for war against Syria, apparently believes, along with the anonymous White House official, that he is one of “history’s actors,” unconstrained by unpleasant reality.
The United States is broke. This year it is spending a record $3.8 trillion, 40 percent of which is being borrowed. The national debt, now over $14 trillion, could double over the next decade if serious budget economies are not made. However, a host of new expenses are likely: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac continue to lose money, the FDIC continues to close banks and the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation continues to accumulate liabilities. Worse, a realistic assessment of Social Security and Medicare reveals an unfunded liability of more than $100 trillion. Yet all Sen. Graham and his colleagues could come up with this year was an anemic one percent spending cut—and that estimate was based on funny accounting.
All this while America is spending more on the military than at any time since World War II. The United States accounts for almost half of the globe’s military outlays. In real terms “defense” expenditures have doubled over the last decade. Washington is spending so much because most of what the Pentagon does has nothing to do with defense—of America, at least. As a result, the U.S. military is stretched as never before. Washington continues to formally protect prosperous, populous allies around the globe: South Korea, Japan, Canada and Europe. All could defend themselves and their regions, but no matter. Taiwan is an unofficial defense dependent, as would have been the country of Georgia, had Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had his way.
Militarized social engineering is also a constant U.S. avocation. American forces are involved in three, four or five—depending on how one counts—military conflicts. The mission in Afghanistan has gone from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency, with Washington attempting to build a Western-style, liberal society and strong central government where none previously existed. Despite recent signs of tentative progress, America is further away from achieving that goal than when it intervened nearly a decade ago.
The Obama administration wants to stay in Iraq despite the fact that elections have been held, a military has been created and the insurgency has been suppressed. Doing so would create another fragile defense dependent, with U.S. troops on call to combat domestic conflict as well—though on whose side the Americans would fight is not clear. The government continues to move in a more authoritarian direction.
The United States is expanding military operations in both Pakistan and Yemen, mostly through drone attacks. Although the operations are supposed to be directed at terrorist threats against America, in Pakistan, at least, targets have been expanded to local jihadists who, until recently, were focused on battling the Pakistani government in Islamabad. By killing innocent civilians as well as terrorists, Washington has increased hostility against the United States and created more terrorists, some who now want to kill Americans in New York City.
Finally, Libya mixes humanitarian intervention and nation building. The mission was originally justified as necessary to save lives, even though there was no evidence of impending massacres anywhere, including in Benghazi. In fact, Muammar Qaddafi’s forces committed no large killings in any of the cities that they retook, and his oft-cited florid rhetoric was directed against guerrilla fighters, not civilians. Now the administration and European governments, though originally disavowing the objective of regime change, say that Qaddafi must be removed.
After almost three months of war, the United States and NATO have failed to achieve their first objective. In fact, by prolonging the civil war, they are responsible for some of the estimated 10,000 to 15,000 dead. And the allies appear no closer to fulfilling their second objective than when they started: Qaddafi is still fighting defiantly. Moreover, his defeat (assuming it comes eventually) will not be the end.
The opposition appears to be a motley collection of genuine democrats, Qaddafi defectors, radical Islamists and tribal opponents: it is impossible to predict who will win the almost inevitable second power struggle. Washington is not likely to remain aloof, especially it the “wrong” people appear to be winning.