5
Apr

Is America Addicted to War?

Written on April 5, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Foreign Policy

The top 5 reasons why we keep getting into foolish fights.

By Stephen M. Walt

The United States started out as 13 small and vulnerable colonies clinging to the east coast of North America. Over the next century, those original 13 states expanded all the way across the continent, subjugating or exterminating the native population and wresting Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California from Mexico. It fought a bitter civil war, acquired a modest set of overseas colonies, and came late to both world wars. But since becoming a great power around 1900, it has fought nearly a dozen genuine wars and engaged in countless military interventions.

Yet Americans think of themselves as a peace-loving people, and we certainly don’t regard our country as a “warrior nation” or “garrison state.” Teddy Roosevelt was probably the last U.S. president who seemed to view war as an activity to be welcomed (he once remarked that “A just war is in the long run far better for a man’s soul than the most prosperous peace”), and subsequent presidents always portray themselves as going to war with great reluctance, and only as a last resort.

In 2008, Americans elected Barack Obama in part because they thought he would be different from his predecessor on a host of issues, but especially in his approach to the use of armed force. It was clear to nearly everyone that George W. Bush had launched a foolish and unnecessary war in Iraq, and then compounded the error by mismanaging it (and the war in Afghanistan too). So Americans chose a candidate who had opposed Bush’s war in Iraq and could bring U.S. commitments back in line with our resources. Above all, Americans thought Obama would be a lot more thoughtful about where and how to use force, and that he understood the limits of this crudest of policy tools. The Norwegian Nobel Committee seems to have thought so too, when they awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize not for anything he had done, but for what it hoped he might do henceforth.

Yet a mere two years later, we find ourselves back in the fray once again. Since taking office, Obama has escalated U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and launched a new war against Libya. As in Iraq, the real purpose of our intervention is regime change at the point of a gun. At first we hoped that most of the guns would be in the hands of the Europeans, or the hands of the rebel forces arrayed against Muammar al-Qaddafi, but it’s increasingly clear that U.S. military forces, CIA operatives and foreign weapons supplies are going to be necessary to finish the job.

Yet Americans think of themselves as a peace-loving people, and we certainly don’t regard our country as a “warrior nation” or “garrison state.” Teddy Roosevelt was probably the last U.S. president who seemed to view war as an activity to be welcomed (he once remarked that “A just war is in the long run far better for a man’s soul than the most prosperous peace”), and subsequent presidents always portray themselves as going to war with great reluctance, and only as a last resort. Read more…

Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy, is the author of Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy and, with co-author John J. Mearsheimer, The Israel Lobby. He blogs at walt.foreignpolicy.com.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on April 4, 2011.

Comments

dedra August 9, 2011 - 6:28 pm

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