My book, and today’s video aren’t just intended as “blame America First” whining. They are intended as the basis for a new, saner approach to US foreign policy. One of the central problems in Washington, DC for the past 30 years is that we haven’t had a goal. We’ve had a ton of resources, a ton of professionals geared towards the outside world, and no clear sense of what to do with them since the end of the Cold War. Instead all these people have pursued a variety of conflicting goals. Some of them have been noble, some have been horrible, but in combination they have produced an effect that is disorganized in the most self-interested and chaotic way. With this series I hope to suggest a better way.
The mission of US foreign policy should be to stave off war for as long as possible. We should use our extraordinary power and reach to try to make the world a less dangerous place for everyone. This would do the world a great service, but it would also serve the United States in the best possible way. As I’ve also emphasized, it’s the United States that has the most power to lose from a new world war. So we should stop seeking it out in the deserts of the Middle East and in the waters of the South China Sea. We should stop sending the instruments of death to every country in the world we can, in ever accelerating amounts. If we stopped doing these things, I think we’d find that there is still plenty for Washington, DC to do. Even beyond the much larger problems that the United States has made, the world has many fault lines that could benefit from our diplomatic attention. Imagine a world with DC think tanks that were focused on solving Nagorno-Karabakh, or opening the border between Morocco and Algeria, rather than fomenting wars? It may all sound a bit pie in the sky, but once you’ve absorbed the arguments of today’s video, how could you want to do anything else?
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. So why do I care so much about this British Empire stuff?
Well, over the past month I have made it clear that I believe the United States is running an empire that is more similar to the British empire than we usually like to admit. The US empire has also been making the same mistakes, which could lead to the same place. And If World War 3 happens, I believe it will be the fault of the United States more than anybody else. That’s how seriously I take the British Empire comparison.
The US empire is a lot stronger and a lot safer than the British Empire was. India, the main source of the British empire’s population and initial wealth was on the other side of the world rather than in California and Texas. Both empires created their own enemies, but the Germans were a closer and more plausible threat to Britain than China is to the United States. This US security should make us all feel safer. It makes it a lot harder for the US to spark a world war the way the British did.
But it’s not impossible. There’s an episode from the beginning of British Dominance that US policy makers should pay more attention to… you may have been puzzled by something in an earlier video. I put the beginning of the British era with the 7 years war that started in 1756. So what the heck happened in 1781, when the British were forced to give up most of their North American territory? Back in the 1750s, a visionary British Prime Minister established the policy that won his country the world. Buy enough European allies to distract your enemies with fighting on the continent, and with a strong Navy you can win absolutely everywhere else. It was super clear to British enemies and allies alike that the British were the only people who won the Seven years war, establishing control of the world that lasted until 1914..
And that was the problem. Everybody knows that US independence would have been harder without the French, but that wasn’t what was weird about the War of American Independence. The French and British fought for hundreds of years. What was weird is the fact that Britain didn’t have any allies at all. Not the Prussians, not the Austrians not the Russians, not even the Dutch, who up until that point were always up for a fight against France. British success and arrogance about that success had turned absolutely everybody against them.
That’s what World War 3 will look like as well. The US is still the most powerful country by far. Even after it begins to slip it will retain the advantages described above and the natural fortress that is North America. The only way another world war could break out before the 2050s is for the United States to turn absolutely everybody else against us. Unfortunately, we seem to be taking more and more positions that do just that.
The War in Iraq was a great example. That was 16 years ago, when we were much more powerful relatively speaking, and even then we had to lie through our teeth to construct a coalition of the willing. Our current policy against Iran doesn’t have any support at all. It’s pure coercion, everybody else in the world hates it, and we are already beginning to see the consequences.
After the British lost what became the United States, they made damn sure to never get in such a friendless position again. They tolerated, and even rebuilt minor imperial stakes for powers like the French and the Dutch. When the British exerted power in Europe, they were usually careful to do so in the context of proto-multilateral concepts like the Concert of Europe. They tried not to rub anybody’s nose in their overwhelming power, and they were largely successful, only briefly finding themselves without allies during a few months of the Napoleonic wars and during the darkest days of World War II.
The United States has not learned this lesson. In fact, we now seem to be actively working against it. Some people think that Trump’s loud new unpredictability and America First brutality is good for US power. It is not. It’s making people resent US power at exactly the wrong moment, just when we are beginning to lose our grip in a number of places. But this isn’t just about Trump.
Our power looks shaky now because we have made ourselves weak by spreading ourselves too thin. Our aircraft carriers off Taiwan, are very vulnerable to Chinese missiles, as more and more countries are officially committed to the idea that that island belongs to China. Nobody outside of Washington DC thinks US forces in the Middle East are helping anyone. More and more soldiers are stationed further and further away, and each individual soldier could be the spark that ignites world war 3. That’s not likely to happen today, but if all these soldiers are all in the same places another two decades from now it gets a lot more likely.
US media conditions us to see this kind of overcommitment as normal and rational. I don’t think the historians of World War III will see it that way. You can still find plenty of academics to argue that the British Empire had no choice but to kill itself when Germany threatened Europe. I don’t think they will see US attempts to control distant places like the South China Sea and the Persian Gulf the same way.
As I said at the beginning of this series, we in the United States are not Good, we are not bad, but we are responsible. When the world’s current golden age of peace and prosperity ends in general war, it will be the fault of the United States. So let’s not let that happen.
Thanks for watching please subscribe, and if you want a book length attempt to stave off world war 3 you can check out my new book, Avoiding the British Empire, available now on Amazon in paperback and e-book form.