The weeks between the two party conventions and the first of the presidential debates are a good time to consider what two candidates share. From their acceptance speeches and other statements each has made throughout the campaign, President Obama and Governor Romney believe America’s power depends on a strong military force, well-armed and well-prepared, although there are differences in their stated policies. Recent history suggests that an aggressive military policy may not be in the best short-, medium- or long- term interests of the United States, so why is this notion that we need an overwhelming military force so persistent?
One reason is the belief that military force is the reason for America’s preeminence in the global community, but that is at best a dubious proposition. Over several decades of representing the U.S. overseas as a diplomat, I never once heard any foreign official, opinion-maker or ordinary citizen praise our country for its military prowess. (In some countries, like South Korea, where there is a strong American military presence, people were at best ambivalent about our projection of military forces beyond our own borders.) Instead, people praised the United States for its advocacy of human rights, for Americans’ respect for the law in daily life, for our freedom of expression, for our community spirit and civic participation.
Another reason is the sense that our country stands alone in the world, a demonstrably silly argument. The U.S. is inextricably connected to most of the world through economic ties and to many countries by common traditions and beliefs. We do not stand alone unless we lift ourselves up arrogantly above the rest of the global community. Unfortunately, our mythology, combined with our willful ignorance of the conditions and attitudes of the people who live in other nations, reinforces a determination to go it alone, which necessitates accumulating more firepower than any other nation or likely coalition of nations.