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Fiscal Crisis and American Globalism

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The fiscal crisis rocking Greece will be soon occur in other European countries. In a few years, it will occur in the US, where government spending and the national debt have risen in an effort to counter the recession. President Obama and economic advisor Paul Volcker have expressed grave concern over the national debt and signaled that deep budget cuts will be needed.

Just where the cuts will come is unknown, but for many citizens and observers, reduced military presence around the world will seem a likely place for the budget axe to fall. For a number of reasons, however, a marked reduction in US commitments around the world is unlikely.

National Identity

Globalism is a basic part of America's understanding of itself and will not be abandoned easily. A military presence in some 84 countries around the world came as a surprise to Americans born before WWII; it was a fundamental part of the national identity to those born after the intoxicating victory of 1945. It greatly exceeded the nation's dabbling in colonialism in the previous century and the American identity of prosperity and virtue became infused with global power and mission.

The disaster of Vietnam damaged the appeal of globalism yet brought no withdrawal, only indeterminacy and paralysis. The helplessness of the Iranian hostage ordeal led Americans to feel that restored military might was essential; small, easy campaigns in Grenada, Panama, and the first Iraq war (1991) re-acquainted them with the romance of war.

The September 11th attacks charged the nation with the mission of defending itself through various campaigns across the world and bringing light to darker parts of it. Relinquishing this mission, and the national identity behind it, will be difficult, especially now that terrorism is returning to America.

Bipartisan Support

The American political system is deeply divided along party lines. Each party opposes almost anything advocated by its foe. Presidents endure vicious partisan attacks in congress and the media. Healthcare, gun laws, abortion, and now immigration highly partisan issues all.

Not so global military commitments and the defense spending upon which they rely. Squabbles over domestic issues are put aside and majorities in both parties support globalism. Little wonder: defense funds pore into most congressional districts, providing jobs in facility support, R&D, and manufacturing.

Indeed, military spending provides an important and high-paying part of the country's troubled manufacturing sector. And the next few years are not going to be an advantageous time to cut jobs.

Foreign Influence

There is widespread foreign opposition to US globalism. Leaders complain of US policies and various people demonstrate against them, peaceably or not. Indeed, opposition to the presence of US bases is a rallying cry for terrorist groups as well.

But despite public and private demurrals, many governments wish to see American globalism continue. Eastern Europe is eager to place itself under the wing of the US and NATO. Saudi Arabia and other states in the region expect the US to guarantee the free flow of oil from the Gulf and even to defend them as it did Kuwait in 1991. Israel's expectations of continued arms supplies and defender of last resort is obvious.

Taiwan, India, S. Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and other countries wary of China's military build-up look upon the US navy as part of their defense strategies. Vietnam now welcomes American destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin.

Even countries with considerable differences with the US in certain parts of the world are willing to abide US forces in others. Russia is angered by the US-driven expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe, but concerns with Islamist militancy spreading into its sizable (and growing) Muslim population make Russia reluctant to see the US abandon Afghanistan. Similarly, though circumspect of the US navy patrolling offshore, China does not want to see Islamist militancy spread into its western provinces.

Historically, deep recessions have led to political instability, demagogues, and war. That was certainly the case during the Depression of the 1930s and the present downturn is thought to be the worst since then. Many countries will look upon the US as a guarantor of stability. Americans will see it their duty.

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