U.S. isn’t world police, just the world firefighter
The horrific human, financial and political cost of the occupation of Iraq suggests a need to review our nation’s role in the post-9/11 world: The United States can’t be the world’s policeman – but must be the world’s firefighter.
President Bush has been quite right to articulate the need for pre-emptive action to stop terrorists from getting sufficient traction and weaponry to attack the United States. To wait for an attack to respond would be to court disaster.
He also grasps, as President Bill Clinton did not and John Kerry does not, that military action to eliminate terror-sponsoring and terror-harboring nations’ capacity of to commit mayhem is vital. Clinton treated terrorism as a crime. Kerry would devolve the War on Terror into a DEA-style effort – not a real war, but police activity devoted to stalking and arresting members of terror gangs while leaving uncurbed the nations whose sponsorship makes them truly threatening.
But the occupation of Iraq shows us the limits of our national power and patience. Even if we prevail militarily and politically and pacify Iraq preparatory to achieving the goal of democratization, we have squandered huge resources of national will, self-esteem, prestige, manpower and money in the process. It may well cost Bush the White House.
The police/firefighter analogy (credit for this formulation goes to my brother-in-law, Joseph Maxwell) captures what the situation requires. Here policemen maintain order round the clock, firefighters handle the crisis and move on.
Our military, with its weapons and offensive psychology, is uniquely suited to put out fires, crippling totalitarian and terror-sponsoring regimes like the Serbs in Kosovo and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Only our firepower and technology can bring these miscreants to heel.
But our ability to occupy and govern the territory we have conquered is by no means unique: Other nations could do as well, perhaps better. We must not tax the patience of our people or the optimism of our troops by forcing them into a quasi-colonial war occupying a nation like Iraq. The consequences are too dangerous.
If acting as the global policeman erodes our national will to act as the world’s fireman, conflagrations of terrorism will blaze unabated. International alarms will be ignored in an isolationist, introverted United States, as our people lick the wounds of the Iraqi experience under the regime of a President Kerry whose philosophy of international action is conducive to avoiding our national duty.
But if we keep our military focused on the task for which it is designed – warfare – and leave the nation-building and social work to others, we can win wars at minimal cost and have the maximum impact on preserving global safety and stability.
After Vietnam, it took America years to recover to the point where we were willing to consider military action. Then, we put out fires in Panama, Granada, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Nicaragua, Libya, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Kuwait and, finally in Iraq.
As firemen, we shone.
And if the other nations of the world cannot secure peace in Iraq and chaos sets in, we must stand ready to come back to put out a new fire. We need to station our troops nearby to intervene should it become necessary.
In the meantime, we have other fires to tend to: Sudan, Iran, and North Korea. Not all will call for military action – but the firemen must be ready, not bogged down with police duty when they’re needed elsewhere.
Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years. Look for his new book, Rewriting History.
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