September 13, 2004 issue Copyright © 2004 The American Conservative
The Retreat of Empire
by Pat Buchanan
When U.S. Marines were ordered to withdraw from Fallujah last April, I titled my column “Fallujah: High Tide of American Empire.” For the pullback meant that America was either unwilling to take the casualties to crush the Sunni resistance in Fallujah or unwilling to pay the price of Arab rage if they won a bloody battle.
Whatever the motive of the generals in ceding Fallujah, it was a retreat. The Islamic world saw it as such. Since then, fighting in the Sunni Triangle, Sadr City, Najaf, and the Shia cities of the south has escalated.
When Baghdad fell, Gen. John Abizaid estimated the number of enemy insurgents at about 5,000. After a year in which thousands of the enemy have been killed or captured, estimates of the number of insurgents have been raised to 20,000. Rumsfeld’s query has been answered: we are creating more enemies than we are killing.
Without more American troops and more years of fighting, we will not win this war. We can only stave off defeat.
Now President Bush has announced he is pulling 70,000 troops out of Europe and Asia over ten years and bringing most of them home, though some may be reassigned to Eastern Europe or Central Asia.
Why the redeployment? Because of grumbling in the ranks and on the home front over too many tours of duty too far from home.
As has been written here before, we are not an imperial people. We do not have the will or perseverance for empire. We have no desire to rule other nations. Now the “white man’s burden” is beginning to weigh on our military and imperil the re-election of a president who, at the instigation of the neocons, has foolishly committed American power and wealth to some enterprise called “the world democratic revolution.”
Reality has begun to intrude on the reveries of America’s elite. With the United States now dependent on imports for over half our oil consumption, the price has shot up to $45 and $46 a barrel. Putin’s smashing of the Yukos oil cartel, guerrilla attacks on Iraqi pipelines, turmoil in Venezuela, and tensions with Iran seem certain to keep it in that vicinity.
The $55.8 billion June trade deficit points to a deficit for 2004 of $670 billion, with a deficit in traded goods of over $700 billion. No nation can sustain trade deficits of 6 percent or 7 percent of GDP.
Who is financing them? China, Japan, and the nations of East Asia who are lending America the dollars to buy their goods, so Asia can steadily enlarge its share of U.S. markets it is stealing from U.S. producers. Even a falling dollar has failed to rein in these soaring deficits. We are consuming more than ever. But less and less are the goods we consume produced in the USA.
Not only are we borrowing 6 percent of GDP to finance our trade deficit, we are borrowing another 4 percent to finance a budget deficit estimated at $440 billion. You cannot run an empire on borrowed money. Just ask the cousins who bankrupted themselves fighting world wars and maintaining the world’s largest empire until it came crashing down after 1945. We, their creditors, inherited the estate.
But there are reasons other than economic that it makes sense to roll up the American empire and bring the troops home. North Korea now has nuclear weapons. U.S. forces on the DMZ are now less a deterrent to war or a spear point to liberate North Korea than hostages against U.S. pre-emptive strikes on Pyongyang’s nuclear facilities. And with Kim Jong Il brandishing nukes, the day cannot be too far off when South Korea and Japan realize that their security and immunity to nuclear blackmail require that they, too, join the club. In a world of proliferating nuclear weapons, invading armies are less instruments to intimidate than inviting targets. No nuclear nation ever had its homeland invaded. If Iran, too, becomes a nuclear nation, Bush Doctrine threats of U.S. pre-emptive strikes will ring hollow, and the mullahs know it.
The only objection to Bush’s redeployment is that he did not order all the divisions back home now. There is nothing in Eastern Europe vital to U.S. security. As for Central Asia and the Gulf, there is only oil and, at $45 a barrel, everybody over there from mullahs to monarchs is happy to sell it to us. All we need over there is a navy over the horizon to enable us to open up the Gulf to shipping should some regime seek to shut it down.
Looking at America’s vital interests—defense of the homeland, freedom of navigation to Europe and Asia, keeping the Gulf open, being able to retaliate by air or sea to attacks upon us—what is the need for all these bases on foreign soil that serve as magnets to terrorists and incitements to anti-Americans?
September 13, 2004 issue