Teddy Roosevelt famously proclaimed in 1903 the American creed should be “speak softly and carry a big stick.” These words have been attributed to Roosevelt’s belief that America was in line to become the “world’s policeman.”
The United States reluctantly has embraced this stance and selectively has tried to impose its will on other nations. The results have been mixed, but one thing rings true: these encounters have sapped the American Treasury of trillions of dollars. With our recent incursion into Libya, it’s time to ask ourselves: Considering our current economic morass, can we afford to retain our role as the world’s policeman?
If we look at the start of the 20th century, the U.S. did not relish the thought of getting involved in a faraway war and despite some arms shipments to the U.K. and other European nations, we tried to avoid the conflict. But when we were finally dragged in, we let everyone know: “We’re coming over and we won’t be back ‘til it’s over over there.”
The cost to the U.S. to support World War I was $233 billion in today’s dollars.
While we tried again to avoid direct conflict in World War II, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor made that impossible. The cost to the U.S. to support WWII was $288 billion in today’s dollars.
After two horrendous world wars, our “world policeman” role was resumed and accelerated with the Korean War costing the U.S. $678 billion and then the Vietnam War costing the U.S. $584 billion.
Now according to figures of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), funding for Afghanistan, Iraq and the Global War on Terror could total between $1.56 trillion and $1.88 trillion for FY2001-FY2020 depending on various scenarios. Just to manage the war in Afghanistan costs the U.S. more than $300 million a day.
Our involvement in Libya will cost billions. A single Tomahawk missile costs $1,000,000 and we fired 120 of them during the first few hours of our involvement.
I’m not suggesting that we become isolationist, but can we afford to spend money we do not have on new conflicts that are not clearly defined?
While it’s encouraging that others appear to be stepping up to take on larger roles, if Gadhafi manages to hang on to power, NATO’s enthusiasm will wane and the U.S. will once again be left holding the bag.
Every political pundit across the liberal-to-conservative spectrum agrees that if Gadhafi is not removed, it will be a significant defeat for American policy. Even if Gadhafi goes, what comes next is fraught with numerous nightmarish scenarios. Either way, the financial cost to the U.S. will be staggering.
And then if the Obama doctrine of intervening in foreign lands to protect citizens from their despotic rulers was ever consistently applied, the cost to the U.S. would be a number not yet invented.
If the U.S. is to go to war, why don’t we engage in a war to expand U.S. exports by providing American companies access to foreign markets through the expansion of trade agreements? History has shown that nations that trade peacefully with each other are far less likely to engage in combat since the relationship has inherent advantages for both parties.
The U.S. only has three free trade agreements in the Middle East (Bahrain, Israel and Jordan). We can do better than that, and in May 2003, the U.S. proposed the Middle East Free Trade Area Initiative (MEFTA), a plan of graduated steps for nations in the Middle East to increase trade and investment with the United States leading to the eventual goal of a comprehensive regional free trade agreement.
If the U.S. really wants to demonstrate its support for the people in the Middle East, passing these far reaching trade agreements will bring a flow of much desired U.S. goods to consumers who crave our products. Wouldn’t it be a welcome change to have people in this troubled part of our world appreciate the U.S. instead of always perceiving us as the “bad guys”?
What’s more, how about a war that brings in money instead of watching it flow the other way? The U.S. needs to engage the rest of the world as a trade partner, not a military combatant.
We simply cannot afford to remain the world’s policeman.
We can afford to be the world’s most sought after trading partner, providing a never ending flow of our goods and services instead.
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