America's Military is Too Big

tags: foreign policy, military history, war on terror, militarism

Jeremi Suri, a history professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, is the author, most recently, of The Impossible Presidency: The Rise and Fall of America’s Highest Office and the host of the podcast “This Is Democracy.”

For much of its history, the United States was a big country with a small peacetime military. World War II changed that permanently: American leaders decided that a country with new global obligations needed a very large peacetime military, including a nuclear arsenal and a worldwide network of bases. They hoped overwhelming military capacity would avert another world war, deter adversaries and encourage foreign countries to follow our wishes.

Yet this military dominance has hardly yielded the promised benefits. The collapse of the American-supported government in Afghanistan, after 20 years of effort and billions of dollars, is just the latest setback in a long narrative of failure.

The war in Afghanistan is much more than a failed intervention. It is stark evidence of how counterproductive global military dominance is to American interests. This military hegemony has brought more defeats than victories and undermined democratic values at home and abroad.

History is clear: We would be better off with more modest, restrained military and strategic goals. U.S. public opinion seems to have moved in this direction, too. Our country needs to re-examine the value of military dominance.

The reliance on military force has repeatedly entangled the United States in distant, costly, long conflicts with self-defeating consequences — in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places. American leaders have consistently assumed that military superiority will compensate for diplomatic and political limitations. Time and again, despite battlefield successes, our military has come up short in achieving stated goals.

In the Korean War, the overestimation of American military power convinced President Harry Truman to authorize the Army to cross into North Korea and approach the border of China. He hoped American soldiers could reunite the divided Korean Peninsula, but instead the incursion set off a wider war with China and a stalemated conflict. Now, after seven decades of American military deployments on the peninsula, the Communist regime in North Korea is as strong as ever, with a growing nuclear arsenal.

In Vietnam, the “best and brightest” experts around President Lyndon Johnson advised him that America’s overwhelming power would crush the insurgency and bolster anti-Communist defenses. The opposite was true. American military escalation increased the popularity of the insurgency while also creating greater South Vietnamese dependence on the United States. Following an offensive by North Vietnam in 1975, American-trained allies collapsed, much as they did in Afghanistan this summer.

Read entire article at New York Times

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