More Militarism Puts America on the Road to Ruin

Whatever is wrong with U.S. foreign policy, it isn’t going to be fixed by giving more funds to the Pentagon and killing “crows.”

Walter Russell Mead ends his latest column with some random assertions, mindless talking points, and a call for violence:

Crows cluster where scarecrows fail. If Team Biden wants a world with fewer challenges to the American order, it must restore respect for American power, competence and will. Step one would be to submit a serious defense budget to the Congress, one that demonstrates American resolve to support our friends and deter our adversaries in key global theaters.

Step two is to kill some crows.

Mead still subscribes to a discredited worldview according to which the U.S. overawes other states through sheer might and resolve, and if there are ever any problems in the world it is because the U.S. has not thrown enough money at the military and killed enough people. This is the sort of deranged analysis that would have been quite popular around 2003-04, but it is wrong and it has nothing to offer us today. It is nothing more than crude militarism. Whatever is wrong with U.S. foreign policy, it isn’t going to be fixed by giving more funds to the Pentagon and killing “crows.”

The U.S. has spent more than twenty years killing people all over the world ostensibly in the name of security and counterterrorism, but obviously it hasn’t made the world more stable or secure. It definitely hasn’t reduced the number of terrorist groups in the world. The military budget is higher in real terms now than it has been at almost any point in American history and it is equal to the next seven top military budgets combined (most of which belong to allies), but somehow we still need a “serious” budget that will fill adversaries’ hearts with fear. No matter how big the budget gets, it will never satisfy the militarists and they will always spot some new threat that “requires” it to grow by another half trillion dollars.

An $850 billion military budget request is not “shockingly inadequate” by any reasonable measure. It is obscene and excessive. We can only guess how many trillions Mead’s militaristic agenda would involve since he never bothers to specify how much he thinks is needed. Portraying one of the largest military budgets on record as a signal of “retreat” is ridiculous even for Mead.

It never seems to occur to the militarists here that their counterparts in other countries will respond to higher military spending with more of their own. Attempts to intimidate other states through displays of power more often provoke the other states to respond in kind. All that this does is speed up existing arms races and further ratchet up tensions. Killing people in the name of “restoring deterrence” often leads to a cycle of attacks and reprisals that achieves nothing. Even when it “works,” dominating others through the threat and use of force breeds resentment and hostility that will sooner or later come back to bite the dominant power.

The pursuit of dominance invites opposition and balancing. The more that the U.S. seeks to lord it over current and potential adversaries, the more incentives they have to band together and cooperate against the U.S. The more overstretched the U.S. is by its pursuit of dominance everywhere, the easier it becomes for other states to resist and push back.

Mead would have the U.S. accelerate down the road to ruin killing people in various countries as it goes. No one has to like or support anything Biden is doing to understand that this isn’t the answer. Nothing could be worse for the United States’ fortunes over the long term than to exhaust itself with more fruitless militarism.