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April 07, 2011

Is America Addicted to War?

If you cared about a 235-year-old loved one who kept repeating disfunctional behaviors in situations that didn't justify the behavior, you'd probably ask them about it. Why do you keep doing that? Don't you see that you're in a pattern that's bad for you? Can't you stop yourself? What, What, What are you doing?

In Foreign Policy, Steven Walt asks Is America Addicted to War? It's a legitimate question, and Walt suggests that we are, in fact, addicted to war: we're not making good decisions, we keep doing things we know are going to end poorly, we're not learning from our mistakes.

Walt offers five reasons why Why America Keeps Fighting Foolish Wars-

  • Because We can link
    The most obvious reason that the United States keeps doing these things is the fact that it has a remarkably powerful military, especially when facing a minor power like Libya. When you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you've got hundreds of planes, smart bombs, and cruise missiles, the whole world looks like a target set. It's hard to resist the temptation to "do something!"

  • We Have No Serious Enemies link
    The end of the Cold War left the United States in a remarkably safe position. There are no great powers in the Western hemisphere; we have no "peer competitors" anywhere (though China may become one sooner if we keep squandering our power foolishly); and there is no country anywhere that could entertain the idea of attacking America without inviting its own destruction. We do face a vexing terrorism problem, but that danger is probably exaggerated, is partly a reaction to our tendency to meddle in other countries, and is best managed in other ways. It's really quite ironic: Because the American homeland is safe from serious external dangers (which is a good thing), Americans have the luxury of going abroad "in search of monsters to destroy" (not a good thing).

  • It's the Establishment, Stupid link
    The foreign-policy establishment is hard-wired in favor of "doing something." Foreign-policy thinking in Washington is dominated either by neoconservatives (who openly proclaim the need to export "liberty" and never met a war they didn't like) or by "liberal interventionists" who are just as enthusiastic about using military power to solve problems, provided they can engineer some sort of multilateral cover.

  • Congress has Left the Building link
    The authority to declare war is given to Congress, not the president, but that authority has been steadily usurped ever since World War II, and Congress has not seen fit to assert their role. Modern presidents of both parties clearly feel no constraints about ordering U.S. forces to attack other countries, or even to fully inform Congress as to what we might be doing in secret. The vaunted system of "checks and balances" supposedly enshrined in our Constitution simply doesn't operate anymore, which means that the use of America's military power has been left solely to the presidents and a handful of ambitious advisors.

  • The All Volunteer Force link
    A third enabling factor behind our addiction to adventurism is the all-volunteer force. By limiting military service only to those individuals who volunteer to do it, public opposition to wars of choice is more easily contained. Could Bush or Obama have kept the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going if most young Americans had to register for a draft, and if the sons and daughters of Wall Street bankers were being sent in harm's way because they got an unlucky number in the draft? (more)

And I would add these factors:
  • The military-industrial complex profits from war and funds politicians
  • Demagogues, think tanks, and lobbyists profit from war
  • War is a useful distraction

America needs a 12-step program.


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