Blind faith—adhering to a proposition with no reasonable justification of its truth—is more dangerous for politicians than it is for religionists.
True believers may acknowledge their blind faith in religious dogma, while foreign policy wonks seldom acknowledge their blind faith in political dogma. Yet many legislators and administrators—as well as columnists and academics—adhere to the dogma of “military supremacy,” which dominates U.S. foreign policy.
American taxpayers, who have invested heavily in that dogma, may have serious questions about whether it works. The evidence?
“The chief lesson to emerge from the battlefields” since 9/11: “the Pentagon possesses next to no ability to translate military supremacy into meaningful victory,” according to Andrew Bacevich. As a retired colonel, now teaching at Boston University, Professor Bacevich speaks with some authority.
For several decades, blind faith in military supremacy is responsible for a waste of lives and vast resources, resulting in an unprecedented annual military budget that exceeds all other military budgets combined: $700 billion. That’s enough money to feed, clothe, educate, and provide health care for every person in the world for several years, according to the UN Development Office.
How often must that comparison be acknowledged before it results in serious debate about U.S. foreign policy? How long will it take for the President and Congress to acknowledge that these wasted resources are an essential cause of our present economic recession?
So get ready for more hocus-pocus from lobbyists for sustaining this unprecedented military outlay when Congress debates the possibility of reducing it. We’ll hear variations on a Republican senator’s saying that he would never approve any reduction in military spending that might increase the vulnerability of our troops. If Congress were so concerned about the vulnerability of our troops, why does it keep sending them into wars—Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan—that ended in either defeat or stalemates?
What have any of these misadventures—and many other secret and public interventions—to do with “security”? As the Vice-Chancellor of a major university in India told me, America’s security in recent decades has come to be based on alliances with some of the world’s most authoritarian rulers. It’s “security” purchased at the expense of victims of harsh dictatorships in Indonesia, Central America, Pakistan.
Not surprisingly, people risking their lives for democracy (most recently in Egypt) are critical, sometimes vehemently so, of our foreign policy.
For fear of being accused of “America-bashing,” perhaps one must acknowledge that many people in the world admire the U.S. for its achievements in governance. Increasingly, however, young people risking their lives to resist tyrants abroad, particularly in the Middle East, view the U.S. with suspicion. Too many Americans dismiss these critics, rather than ask why our good name is tarnished among people desperate to claim their rights as citizens.
What must be done? Ample evidence from recent history suggests that violence is not the only route to social change. And our foreign policy of risky interventions, CIA subversion, drone deaths of innocent citizens, has undermined rather than encouraged the building a global civic culture.
Again and again, nations have demonstrated that democratic governance must be built from within, not imposed by a dominating power from without. Change takes place when citizens demand it through a host of nonviolent methods and strategies, perhaps the only effective means of achieving it.
In recent years, we have witnessed dramatic change through nonviolent means even among people under despotic governments—in the Philippines, Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and Latin America. In his brilliant research and scholarship on nonviolent theory and strategy since 1971, Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution have documented and evaluated these movements—pointing out what works and what does not work and why in particular contexts.
In addition to the successful nonviolent campaigns of the past twenty years, with ordinary people bringing down dictators or resisting foreign domination, there have been accomplishments within the U.S. itself, as well. The twenty-year campaign to close the School of Americas, Ft. Benning, Georgia, through legislative and direct action, is a model for such initiatives. Father Roy Bourgeois and SOA Watch first exposed SOA’s training of Latin American recruits in torture, then convinced several of their governments not to send officers for military training at Ft. Benning.
Enamored by guns at home, Americans tolerate our government’s reliance on the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction. As a foreign policy, it resembles the “corporate security” dramatized in the film, "Social Network." Among people embracing a domination system, the essential ingredients of a humane culture—art, morality, social justice, family life—are minimized or irrelevant. In that film, as in our lives, topdown management, like military supremacy, functions as a religious faith.
Isn’t it obvious, in light of the consequences, that blind faith in military supremacy is misplaced? As a foreign policy, it simply doesn’t work. “Washington knows how to start wars and how to prolong them,” as Professor Bacevich concludes, “but is clueless when it comes to ending them.”
Michael True, Emeritus Professor of Assumption College, lives in Worcester, Massachusetts.
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