Why the U.S. Has Troops around the World
Two large elements dominate the debate over Barack Obamas decision to re-deploy the U.S. overseas military forces: the political views of preternatural isolationists and the paucity of perspective by news presenters. The isolationists demand that all troops be brought home now. The national media are ignorant of why we have a military presence outside our borders to start with.
No news outlet I know of has presented the background that explains why the U.S. has a military presence in key areas around the world. This fuels the isolationist cause, leaving Americans to decide between re-deployment or no deployment. The issue is exacerbated in the back of the collective mind in the context of the terrific budget deficit. And our efforts abroad appear to be failures and to add to America's bad image.
Since no one else will, let's review the situation. Before World War I, America was allegedly isolationist, heeding George Washington's warning not to become involved in European wars. And having established our unique representative democracy against the British empire, there has always been a strong anti-imperialist attitude in these United States. Seems simple enough, except for the reality that the U.S., well before entering the European conflict in 1917, had been quietly building an empire of its own.
This is best exemplified by the spoils from the Spanish-American War of 1898 that included Cuba ,the Philippines, and Puerto Rico, which added to our previous possession of parts of Mexico that stood in our way on the road to building a transcontinental nation. We purchased Alaska from Russia -- and took over various islands, including Hawaii. And we enforced the Monroe Doctrine, an obvious big-power policy that smacked of imperialism, which threatened war against European interlopers who ventured into Central and Latin America.
But we deluded ourselves into believing that we were not an empire, even after helping Britain and France defeat the Germans by 1918. President Woodrow Wilson pushed for a new League of Nations only to have the Senate reject U.S. participation -- again displaying our isolationist attitudes. Franklin Roosevelt left Britain swinging in the wind when they were the only hold-out against Hitler's sweep of Europe for fear of isolationist attitudes by voters and members of Congress. The attack on Pearl Harbor drew us into World War II, where once again we played a decisive role in defeating yet another German threat as well as Japan.
But this time the U.S. emerged scrubbed of its idealistic isolationism. And that brings us to troop deployments that remain today. So here we have the background that the isolationists and the media choose to ignore -- the former due to a political agenda that harkens back to the delusions of American isolationism that continue to permeate the national DNA, and the latter to the abysmal condition of American media. There is one more factor ignored by both when arguing their stand against global deployment: the apocalyptic role of nuclear weapons that emerged with the defeat of Japan in 1945.
At war's end, Europe was devastated, with major cities and industrial plants turned to rubble from British-U.S. bombing raids. The priorities that absorbed the victors was the renewal of the infrastructure and the economies of the affected countries. The mission was to avoid the mistakes of WWI, when Germany was left prostrate, leading to massive inflation and decline that paved the way for the rise of Hitler and another horrible war.
The Marshall Plan, named for wartime Army Chief of Staff General Marshall (who served as secretary of state in the postwar period) was the brainchild of U.S. diplomat George Kennan (later the author of the "containment policy" against the USSR during the Cold War). Billions of dollars were poured into Europe in response to the need to rebuild. Lurking in the European mind as it recovered was the fear of a revitalized Germany and the growing threat from the Soviet Union, an ally in wartime but now bent on controlling Eastern Europe with designs on the Western half.
Having called for "unconditional surrender" by the Germans, the Allies forbade Germany from fielding a standing army. And to protect against the rise of another power against Germany, and to ensure that Germany did not violate the military strictures imposed, the U.S. -- under the banner of the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization -- stationed as many as 500,000 troops in Europe with the largest contingents in Germany.
In the Far East, Japan was placed under military command led by Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the war in the Pacific. Like Germany, this defeated nation, also in need of rebuilding, was not allowed to establish a standing army except for a small home force. To ensure peace and recovery, and to assure that Japan could not secretly re-arm, U.S. and Allied troops were stationed in-country and in South Korea. As in Europe, the U.S. was also in place to counter rising postwar communist designs, first by Russia, and to counter China after the communist takeover in 1949. In 1950, Russia, now with a nuclear bomb of its own, pushed its pawn North Korea to invade South Korea. China's new communist regime was under the sway of the Soviets and stood ready to finish the job if needed. Had it not been for the U.S. presence in the region, the invasion of South Korea in 1950 would have succeeded quickly and decisively.
Germany and Japan, now allies, remain semi-disarmed, and the U.S. has maintained the postwar peace, relying on American troops on the ground to secure Europe and the Far East. As the communist aggression grew, we deployed more troops, which drew us into the Vietnam War to prevent the spread of communism into southern Asia. From then on, our reputation as peacekeepers became tainted, fueled by domestic unrest in the U.S. largely ginned up by anti-American KGB propaganda. Today, new declassified data indicate that our intentions were valid and that we were winning the war when the media maintained that we were not.
The forays into the Balkans, then Afghanistan and Iraq, and our constant vigil to ensure the sovereignty and security of Israel are an extension of our commitment to keep the world safe in the post-Cold War era when no other nation can. The Libyan campaign to unseat Ghaddafi was actually an American operation. We let the world think it was an EU-dominated affair while the US ran the show, including rushing in bombs when the EU coalition ran out.
If we did decide to withdraw, what would be the consequences? Sea lanes would be endangered; unstable regimes would rise, creating regional warfare; weak nations would be run over by stronger rivals; the world oil supply would be curtailed; and our own supposedly unassailable borders would be tested. Certainly, in this vacuum, the threat that some nation would resort to nuclear weapons would hang over us constantly.
If the U.S. withdraws from the international responsibilities thrust upon us since 1945, not only will the world be unsafe for democracy -- it won't be safe at all.