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The U.S. today, the Soviet Union in the 1980s

Postscript

Another great power once let its infrastructure decay, its deficits rise and its economy hollow out as it poured its national treasure into its military and getting stuck in an unending war in Afghanistan.

October 13, 2012
  • Aircraft carriers enable the U.S. to project military power globally.
Aircraft carriers enable the U.S. to project military power globally. (Mohd Rasfan / AFP/Getty…)

Responding to the Op-Ed article Tuesday, "America eternally 'at war,'" which noted a series of post-Cold War military failures and standoffs by the United States despite the country's profligate spending on defense and its relative lack of major enemies, reader John Arndt of Torrance wrote:

"Tom Engelhardt contradicts his entire thesis in his first sentence when he complains that the U.S. has become a great power without a significant enemy. The sole reason there isn't a significant enemy is because of the great power of the U.S. military. It doesn't even cross the minds of our enemies to consider challenging the U.S. military. If we downgrade our military, then someone may just start to consider it.

"He also states that 'nothing seems to work out in an imperially satisfying way.' That is because imperialism is never our intent — peace is. Peace through strength."

Tom Engelhardt responds:

I see where Arndt is going and, looking at the global landscape, there seems to be a certain logic to it: They're so small because we're so big.

But I'd prefer to look to the landscape of history for my lessons, filled as it may be with its own strange illogic. So consider this parable. Once upon a time, for hundreds of years in fact, there were successions of great powers, always in twos or threes, competing for hegemony over ever-larger regions of the planet: Spain, France, England, Germany and Japan, to name five.

In 1945, only two were left, the United States and the Soviet Union, so mighty that they came to be called "superpowers" and vied for dominance on a global scale for half a century. When the weaker, less wealthy of the two, the Soviet Union, began to falter, its leaders let its infrastructure decay, its deficits rise and its economy hollow out. Meanwhile, it poured its national treasure into its military and getting stuck in an unending war in Afghanistan.

Sound familiar? After the Soviet Union had simply disappeared in 1991, U.S. leaders, wreathed in self-congratulation and proclaiming victory, skipped the "peace dividend." Instead, having watched with amazement as their enemy imploded, they then made the most curious of choices. They decided to follow what I've called elsewhere "the Soviet path."

Today, our national treasure pours into the military, the rest into the ever-expanding universe of national security and militarized projects of all sorts. Our infrastructure decays, our deficits soar, our economy hollows out and, eerily enough, after 11 years, we still find ourselves stuck in a war in Afghanistan.

So no, Mr. Arndt, when you survey the present landscape and find but one gigantic, heavily militarized power that doesn't even win its wars against the most minor of enemies, it is not good news, and it certainly doesn't add up to my definition of peace through strength.

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