A Call For Leadership,
Not For Empire

By Terrell E. Arnold

On November 7, the American people did what they do well, when they know they must. They ignored the messages of existing leadership; they canceled the mandates of a large cadre of Republican lawmakers, and they said, loud and clear, "It is time for a change." They reacted against the neo-con "cakewalk" that has turned into chaos and civil war in Iraq. They reacted against a government that has gone deeply into debt to fight an unnecessary war, while expanding and defending tax cuts for its buddies and power brokers. They reacted against a pattern of growing foreign debt and declining foreign confidence in the ability of American leadership to show the way. They reacted against the fact that American policies and decisions are more roundly disliked by other countries than ever before in a virtual century of incessant American global involvement.
The Democrats did not win because they posed clear and decisive alternatives to Bush administration policies and actions. If anything, the overall messages of Democratic candidates added up to a great deal of confusion about what is needed. In the face of urgent--and obvious--needs to the contrary, some leading Democrats such as Howard Dean basically endorsed the Bush strategy of staying the course.  Even the about to be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has often refused to wander far from current administration policies, particularly where Israel is concerned, even as that alliance grows more toxic with each Israeli war crime such as this week's massacre of Palestinian women and children at Beit Hanoun. 
However, on the day after, the Democrats and the serving Republicans in the House and Senate need to recognize that the reason the American people said "enough" was because those policies were taking our country deeper and deeper into disaster, debt, and, as some predict, eventual American failure. That means the need for change is absolutely real, and the question is what, not whether.
The truth is that the neo-con dream of empire is dead. It was thought by numerous thoughtful people to have been stillborn, but those reservations were not expressed forcefully enough to stop the drift into war.  It may be fair to say that people were bedazzled by the horror of 9/11, but they were misled and misused by the Bush response that has resulted, according to the British journal Lancet, in easily 100,000 conflict-related Iraqi civilian deaths and countless more injuries.  That includes more American combat deaths than the 9/11 casualty toll, along with over 30,000 American combat injuries.
What changes then are needed?  The answers are not mysterious, nor above the abilities of the new Democratic leadership that will be installed next year. The answers are, however, well beyond anything the Democratic candidates proposed during the campaign.  Moreover, unless the leadership to be does an enormous amount of homework in the next three months, we will have new congressional leadership taking over without a plan. They will be faced with working with a President who, so far, has shown no inclination either to recognize the enormous flaws in Republican performance or to change course in the face of urgent necessity.
Our national needs have been slowly accumulating. Last week the population clock said we ticked through 300 million people.  That means we are about 4.6% of the world's people. Upward of 15% of our people have no health insurance. At least 5% of them have no jobs, and that does not include a sizeable number who--on paper at least-- have stopped looking. A large percentage of Americans live by minimum wage jobs. Globalization has been stripping the country of manufacturing jobs, as we make less at home and buy more abroad. To do that, we have been going deeper into debt, living beyond our means in a frightening degree. Meanwhile, the resource needs of our system grow in an environment of explosive competition for resources abroad. 
So far our best answers to resource problems, especially energy needs, have been preemptive and, where necessary, combative. That is done by making exclusive deals backed up by the possibility of forcible intervention. That strategy serves and enriches the most powerful states.  However, it feeds a growing conflict environment, because others such as China, India, Brazil and several smaller countries are applying similarly preemptive strategies wherever they can.
Present resource acquisition strategies are reminiscent of imperial times. They worked in those times mainly because the peoples whose resources were being preempted were not strong enough to resist, or their leaders, e.g., in such places as the Congo, had been totally co-opted.  And they work today in countries, such as those in central Asia, where governments are strong enough to dispose of national resources without consulting their own people. In short, the strategy works best when the developed and developing countries, led by the United States, are doing business on key resources with autocratic governments, i.e., dictators.
Part of the motive for invading Iraq was to secure oil resources. That choice, in every sense, was too expensive.  Consider purely financial costs. Say we were buying roughly a million barrels of oil a day from Iraq when the war began in 2003.  That oil, based on the OPEC price pegs, was costing us $25 a barrel or less.  That would mean 365 million barrels of Iraqi oil a year at a cost of less than $10 billion.  With everything involved in running Iraqi operations, the average cost today has been estimated at upward of $400 billion a year. That would mean well over $1,000 per barrel. That does not show in the pump price, but it does show up on our tax bill and in America's growing foreign debt.
Our future is about how to obtain needed resources to maintain our essential lifestyle without paying such exorbitant conflict premiums on commodity prices. The same might be said for the prices of technologies that we need and that can be obtained only abroad. It can and should be argued that the solutions should not require dismantling, that is resource starving, of the world's strongest economies. But systems for allocating resources that permit other economies to grow and prosper must be found. That cannot be achieved without the knowing and willing cooperation of the rest of the world.  Immediately that means reaching workable and mutually acceptable understandings with the leading economies--the Europeans, Russia, Japan, India, China, Brazil a growing slice of South Asia and Latin America--on how key resources will be allocated. We are not even close to that solution at this time.
The challenge is to develop and gain global acceptance of a better system for allocating and using the world's declining resources. There are enormous economic, political, financial, and external power implications for the ways such challenges should be approached and managed. The neo-cons tabled a preemptive strategy at the beginning of the Bush administration:  That essentially meant (a) figure out what you need; and (b) make bilateral deals with supplier countries, and/or (c) go take control of it. Above all, do not be deterred by other people's interests, preferences, or national boundaries.
The rest of the world has grown increasingly restive under this American strategy, as well as increasingly suspicious of American motives.  Our failure, first to justify and then to manage the Iraqi engagement, has forcibly called into question our capabilities as well as our sensitivity to the interests of others. Our schizophrenic and obviously self-serving approach to nuclear non-proliferation has torn jagged holes in the global effort to control the spread of nuclear weapons, while our investments in advanced conventional weaponry set an absurd example for humanity as a whole.
The challenge facing the newly-elected Democratic leadership of the House and Senate is to bring America to a position of global leadership, working willingly and supportively with others to solve common global problems.  It may not be possible to do much on those levels in the last years of the Bush lame duck presidency. It is vital, however, that this new Congress recognize the need to discard all thoughts of American empire in favor of promoting enlightened and active American leadership of the developed nations in a campaign to improve the whole of the human condition.  Our welfare depends upon it.  Most urgently, our future lifestyle, however much or little it resembles what we now extravagantly enjoy, depends on how we work these problems.
The time must come when our economy is not dependant on military investments to maintain growth and prosperity.  We have driven that priority to the point where American defense spending is greater than that of all other major countries combined. Much of that spending is key resource intensive, especially the high tech weaponry acquisitions. An increasing element of it requires procurement from abroad.
Our difficulties therefore are self-feeding.  Our spending at home and abroad for the weapons and materials of war ups the cost of our lifestyle, while our aggressive buildup of arms stokes the global conflict environment. We simply need a more constructive power mode than the urge to empire drives us toward. The global need is for a cooperative model that reduces everybody's expenditures on military readiness. We had that window for a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and we need urgently to get it back. The critical path lies through global cooperation, not through empire building.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on  He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose immediate pre-retirement positions were as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counterterrorism, and as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College.  On State assignment, he did a year of advanced study in development economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He will welcome comment at



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