Column: U.S. needs to take care of its own business
The U.S. should “relinquish unquestioned domination of the world’s politics and economy.” — Jimmy Carter
“We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient, that we are only 6 percent of the world’s population, and that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity, and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every problem.” — John F. Kennedy
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Nonetheless, we have just about bankrupted ourselves trying.
We have employed our military abroad more than 70 times since 1945, and also engaged in innumerable instances of not-so-covert CIA interference in the affairs of other sovereign nations.
The latter include instances of overthrowing democratically elected governments we considered too leftist.
And the truth is that in none of these instances have we had any long-lasting success in achieving our goals. We have, instead, uselessly wasted an enormous amount of treasure and human lives while creating more and more enemies all over the globe. We have created these enemies because almost all of our high-handed meddling has had unforeseen and unfortunate, often tragic, consequences.
We now have about 1,000 military bases abroad (the exact figure depends on the number of smaller bases included), well over 300,000 U.S. military personnel deployed abroad, 1.6 million Americans working in defense industries, and the good Lord knows how many working for the CIA and other surveillance/intelligence government agencies and private contractors.
Including the Pentagon budget, homeland security, the budgets of 16 intelligence agencies, veterans support and interest on war debts, U.S. military spending currently absorbs almost half of all federal expenditures.
And sadly, weapons production has for decades been taking the lion’s share of government-sponsored research and development. What has been neglected is sufficient research into new antibiotics for the increasing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant nightmare bacteria, alternative energy research and a host of other important technologies.
We have at the same time managed to go from the world’s leading creditor nation to the world’s leading debtor nation within the space of a single generation. In fact, our trade deficit is now close to $500 billion per year. This has coincided with massive deindustrialization in almost all non-defense industries, much of this traceable to the so-called “free trade” agreements.
The only thing “free” about these agreements is the freedom granted to multinational corporations to escape from any control by national governments in order to exploit the cheapest labor abroad while ignoring all environmental, public health and social needs.
Then there is the very discouraging fact that in addition to huge spending on ill-conceived military adventures abroad, we have now got a system that wastes a lot of money on ineffective high-tech weaponry that keeps going simply because it has been spread among so many congressional districts that it keeps getting supported, even against Pentagon objections, because politicians want to keep the money flowing into their districts. The incredibly ineffective and wasteful F-35 program is the poster child here.
Meanwhile, we keep supplying our infantry with rifles of much inferior reliability to the AK-47 favored by most foreign troops. Providing the infantry with better rifles would cost relatively little and save many lives. But that’s not a big enough program to spread around enough districts to get meaningful congressional support.
The irony is that we keep getting beaten by enemies like the Taliban and ISIS that have no navies, air forces or high-tech weaponry.
A considerable number of knowledgeable people, in and out of government, are now wondering if the all-volunteer military isn’t a mistake. If we had still had a draft that threatened to send the children of the rich and powerful to war, we probably would not have invaded Iraq. And besides not spending tons of our money, we would not have created the kind of anarchy in Iraq that allowed, if not caused, the rise of the Islamic State.
The result of it all is that the U.S. has become a huge debtor with a failing infrastructure that no longer leads the world in education, technology, income equality, health outcomes or anything else of real long-term value. Instead, we lead the world in the percentage of the population imprisoned and the average volume of debt our college students acquire, dubious distinctions to my mind.
Some 22 percent of our children live in poverty. And that poverty, with all its attendant family and health dysfunctionalities, is the real reason that our 15-year-olds rank 17th in reading literacy, 24th in science literacy and 31st in math literacy compared with other developed OECD countries.
Studies show that U.S. schools with low poverty still rank among the world’s high performers. Obviously we need to stop badgering schools and teachers with one supposed panacea after another and instead tackle the income inequality at the base of our all our education problems.
We need to stop trying to run the world and, as our grandmothers used to admonish us, mind our own business.
Mary Boland’s column normally appears on the third Saturday of each month. We screwed up last week and failed to run it. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.
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