The American Empire

 
Americans have no idea how much money we spend on the military each year. In 2015 we spent 637 billion dollars, which does not include the supplemental budget to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That annual supplemental budget has often topped 200 billion dollars. The 637 billion in the regular defense budget is more than the combined spending of the next nine countries on the list of the highest military spenders, five of whom are our allies. If you combine our expenditures with those of our allies, the total represents more than 70% of world military spending.

In a speech Robert Gates gave as Secretary of Defense in the second Bush administration, he let on that the United States’ navy is larger than the next thirteen navies combined. Again, eleven of those thirteen countries are our allies. The U.S. currently has 800 military bases around the world in eighty-five countries. 250,000 military personnel staff those bases for an annual cost of 156 billion dollars.

This global military presence is unique in history, and its existence speaks louder than the hypocritical words of American exceptionalism that we seek no advantage for ourselves, that our military presence throughout the world is only there for the good of others. As recent history suggests, we use this unprecedented military power to move from enemy to enemy in an attempt to shape the world in our interests.

Such an approach to national security was never more evident than in the administration of George W. Bush. The top priority of the Bush administration was to increase defense spending after ten years of decline following the end of the Cold War. The Defense Department’s budget doubled during Bush’s eight years in office which was separate from the spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Expensive, high tech fighter jets and attack submarines were added in large numbers which had nothing to do with fighting the war on terror.

After 9/11, Bush used the national emergency to achieve the top priority of the superhawks in his administration to achieve regime change in Iraq. These advisors wanted to use America’s military power to remake the world in our image. They replaced deterrence strategy with preemption, the idea that the U.S. would unilaterally decide what countries to attack and then go after them. While Iraq may not possess weapons of mass destruction they concluded among themselves but never admitted to the American public, they have the capacity to produce them which justifies a preemptive strike.

Prior to Bush assuming the presidency, these superhawks, better known as neocons, led by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, published a document in 1997 entitled the Project for a New American Century. The central thesis of this document was to use American military superiority to shape the twenty-first century around American values and interests. They assumed that conquering rogue states like Iraq militarily would be quick and easy and that turning them into a democracy would be a simple matter. President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fell for this strategy hook, line, and sinker.

The results of this imperialistic gamble are now in. The Middle East is in turmoil. Hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have died, thousands of refugees have fled their homes and villages, thousands of American soldiers have died, many more have been injured in ways that will alter their lives for ever, and the economic costs have been staggering. When veterans’ benefits and interest on the mountains of debt generated by the war are added to the supplemental budget appropriations funding the conflict, the cost estimates exceed two trillion dollars. And we are still fighting this war that began on March 20, 2003. The lesson: imperial ambitions do not pay.

Reflect for a moment on these disastrous consequences. The thought that occurs to me is that “there must be a better way.” That thought comes from God, and there is a better way to a more peaceful and stable world order. Let’s call it people power, the use of foreign aid to create jobs, fight illiteracy and disease, promote population control, bring electrification and wells for drawing water to rural areas, build roads and bridges, all of which are designed to assist impoverished people to recreate their lives.

The U.S. Agency for International Development currently promotes such programs. It has a budget of about twenty billion dollars. Let’s add another twenty billion from funds that help third and fourth world countries buy military weapons and equipment from the United States. Such weapons do not enhance people’s lives. We are now up to forty billion dollars annually. Let’s add to it another hundred billion dollars from the bloated defense budget, an appropriation that assumes our imperial ventures are a thing of the past. Such a policy to build up people would, over time, create a new world order that is both more peaceful and economically just.

How does this policy of people power relate to political theology? On the one hand, the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament have no relevance to the contemporary situation in the Middle East except for their inspirational value. Jesus had no political or military power to defeat Rome and bring in a more just society. He expected God to intervene to create a new political order. His teachings on nonviolence, though deeply held, was a strategy to deal with Rome. He knew rebellion would be a disaster in terms of lives lost and economic disruption. In light of these circumstances, the best strategy for the interim before God intervened was to create loving communities which would help members ignore Roman oppression.

The United States lives in a very different world. We have the economic and military power to effect the world order in both positive and negative ways. There are also evil forces in the world that will not work to avoid conflict through compromise and negotiation. It may be the most loving thing to do is to help the victims of these evil forces by defending them militarily.

As the above analysis suggests, the messaging of God’s goodness and love is situational, and yet the God who messaged Jesus two thousand years ago that there was a better way has the same message for us today if we are willing to listen. The way the message is implemented will depend on the specific conditions to which it was addressed. If the strategy of people power that ends funds for the purchase of weapons and dramatically increases aid to empower people living in impoverished countries sounds like a radical departure from current policy, remember that the message inspiring the policy may have come from God. If that is the case, it is a message you can trust.

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