For too long, America’s democratic globalist elite has behaved as though the United States were surrounded on all sides by vicious enemies, who could invade and destroy our country at any given moment. Derek Leebaert refers to these American “leaders” as “emergency men.” These are people who have little, if any, skin in the game and yet are always quick to assert that the United States must deploy its forces in some “shithole” country in the middle-of-nowhere, far removed from America, both in terms of geography and national interest.
Given the way that many of America’s emergency men (and women) talk about the various interventions they support, one might think that a chaos state, someplace like Somalia or Afghanistan, shares a border with the United States. Such a narrative aims to convince voters that if American forces are not in constant conflict in these distant places, then the forces of darkness will creep across our borders and attack us here.
Such foreign policy “experts” love to mention the 9/11 attacks as proof that geography is irrelevant. They love to remind us that it was from dusty Afghanistan where the most heinous attack on American soil was plotted. Globalization and open borders, they suggest, have erased America’s natural geographical advantages. So we can no longer rely on the two major oceans to separate us from existential threats abroad. America has to maintain a massive military-industrial complex that must constantly be deployed abroad in order to make sure another 9/11 does not happen here.
There was some truth to these claims.
But, as always with the democratic globalists, there was also a great exaggeration. Fact is, 9/11 did not happen in a vacuum. According to the damning 9/11 Commission Report, there was a retinue of catastrophic intelligence failures that allowed the ragtag cadre of al Qaeda successfully to accomplish their horrific goals on 9/11—not least of which was the fact that America’s immigration services allowed several of the 9/11 terrorists to overstay their student visas. It’s very telling that, since 9/11, the country has not endured similar attacks. Yet democratic globalists, like Max Boot and Bill Kristol, truly believe that America’s 18 year-long war in Afghanistan and the quixotic invasion of Iraq have prevented another 9/11.
There are a variety of reasons for why al-Qaeda or other terror groups have been ineffective in replicating their success on September 11, 2001. One of them is that the United States is a very hard place to reach. And, once here, it is a massive, difficult target to hit. The elites who argue that the United States cannot simply rely on its geography to protect it from existential threats are correct: we cannot be an isolationist country (and we never were). But the emergency men who proclaim the end of geography sound just as irrational as those (many of them are the same people, mind you) who asserted that history had ended when the United States won the Cold War.
For these elites, America’s geography is akin to that of the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, which existed in central Europe for several hundred years, and was ruled by the Habsburg dynasty. As former Trump Administration State Department official, A. Wess Mitchell, wrote in his recent book, The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire, aside from the Carpathian Mountains and the Danube River, the Habsburg Empire constantly was threatened by its neighbors precisely because so much of the Habsburg frontier lacked natural barriers. This explains why the Habsburgs always found themselves in the middle of whatever geopolitical crisis was afflicting Europe and with little reprieve.
Due to the geographical realities that the Habsburgs faced, they maintained a large standing military and possessed a professional intelligence and diplomatic bureaucracy. The freedom and liberty of their citizens were always subordinated to the constant need for national security. The Habsburgs expended much of their wealth on maintaining constant vigilance over what their many aggressive neighbors were up to. Even when there were no apparent threats to the Habsburg territorial integrity, the Habsburg state existed in constant fear that they could suffer a crippling invasion at any moment. Their political and economic policies were crafted around the concept of a state under constant siege.
In other words, theirs was neither a free nor an entirely prosperous society—unless, of course, you belonged to the elite.
America Has Beautiful, Defensible Borders
Blessedly, the United States has little in common with the Habsburg Empire. Yet, since the 20th century, the United States has behaved as though it, too, has indefensible borders and is surrounded on all sides by foreign rivals seeking to tear the country apart. It’s always been the case that new and frightening technologies conceivably could overcome the realities of America’s geography. Although, in most cases, geographical realities remained a dominant factor in whether such technologies truly could be an existential threat to the United States.
During the Cold War, the advent of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) meant that the distant Soviet Union could threaten the continental United States with nuclear annihilation (and the United States, in turn, could do the same to them) without ever having to invade the country.
Yet, neither the United States nor Soviet Union ever crossed the threshold of firing nuclear weapons at one another for the express reason that both sides knew such a measure would mean their mutual obliteration. The one time that the Cold War nearly turned hot, was when the Reds moved nuclear weapons into America’s hemisphere, by placing them in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Once the situation was ameliorated, the threat remained, but it was reduced to a more manageable level. In other words, geographical proximity mattered.
After the Cold War, things like the advent of the Internet, the increasing reliance on satellites for society’s most basic functions, and an array of other new technologies have increased the threat the United States faces from distant enemies. Although, given enough time and resources, America’s defenses either have been upgraded or are being modernized to better defend against such attacks.
The sky has not yet fallen and foreign armies are not now marching down Main Street a lá “Red Dawn.” America’s fortuitous geography makes the country much easier to defend than the old Habsburg Empire was. But America’s permanent bipartisan fusion party still insists that the United States must be involved in as many foreign conflicts as it can be, in order to better protect the United States. Thus, a forward presence is required to disrupt, preempt, and defeat foreign threats. For this very reason, today, the United States military maintains a military presence in over 200 countries.
The Armed Forces of the United States have fought more conflicts in the supposedly peaceful post-Cold War era than it ever did when the Reds were marching across the world. Given the disastrous impact that most of America’s post-Cold War conflicts have had on American national security, a deeper reassessment of America’s military commitments is needed.
In 2014, the RAND Corporation conducted an analysis of American security alliances and found that there was a “sharp increase in 1992, after the end of the Cold War, in both bilateral and multilateral [security] agreements.” This, despite the fact that the United States faced no peer rival in the world; that it was the most peaceful period in the 20th century; and that there was little need for such increased commitments—particularly in light of the cost to the American taxpayer such new alliances would require and the strain such new agreements would place on America’s military.
The United States’ geographic separation from its rivals gives American policymakers the time they need to formulate and execute cost-effective strategies that will best protect the national interest without squandering our resources. This is the exact opposite of how American leaders have acted over the last few decades. And, the results have caused irreparable harm to our nation. Therefore, the United States does not need the sort of entangling foreign commitments that it has taken on since the heady days of the Cold War. It does not need to look like an Old World, European empire whose foreign policy is defined by constant security threats and stifling military alliances.
The United States is not the Habsburg Empire—and it thankfully never will be.
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