Editor’s Note: At this point in the election cycle, its starting to look like Americans really aren’t all that averse to another four years of Bush-style rule. You’d think the endless bad news would have us hoping for change, but maybe not so much. I have to wonder what it would take for the perennial Republican campaign strategy of painting the Democrats as tax and spenders, socialist radicals, secular humanists and, of course, the ever-terrifying L word not to work with the American voter (who seems to have no memory and even less sense of whom the GOP is looking to benefit) ... maybe we’ll have to wait until 2012 to find out.

No Country for Peaceful Men

Experience proves that the man who obstructs a war in which his nation is engaged, no matter whether right or wrong, occupies no enviable place in life or history. Better for him, individually, to advocate “war, pestilence and famine” than act as obstructionist to a war already begun.
                                                                                                             General Ulysses S. Grant


With Americans in a funk, John McCain is campaigning on loyal, stubborn support for the failed policies of the preternaturally incompetent and deservedly unpopular George W. Bush (aka the 95% solution). In 2008, it seems inconceivable that Americans could countenance four more years of GOP rule; yet McCain is running neck and neck with Barack Obama, the anti-Bush.

After we invaded Iraq in early 2003, many pundits declared that, if we were still fighting there in November 2004, there was no way W could be re-elected. Yet, we were, and he was. Those “in the know” then said, if American soldiers were still dying in Iraq, there was no way a Republican could be elected in 2008. Soldiers are still dying, our economy has tanked and we’re up to our eyeballs in debt to China, yet McCain stands a good chance of becoming the president who stretches this war out to Vietnam duration and, perhaps, even surges it into Iran, a nation that hasn’t attacked anybody since the end of the Safavid Dynasty in the 1700s.

Despite America’s supposed disillusionment with the debacle in Iraq, Obama, the putative peace candidate, can’t close the deal. Could it be that American voters really don’t like the idea of peace all that much, and the most-important quality a nominee needs to show is the willingness (or pigheadedness) to keep our troops fighting on, regardless of the outcome?

In 1972, despite a lost and senseless war in Vietnam, the voters rewarded Richard Nixon — the leader of an administration almost as corrupt as our current set of Republicans — with a landslide, and decisively rejected George McGovern, the anti-war candidate. Even during the “Age of Aquarius,” with an endless war tearing the country apart, most Americans couldn’t seem to swallow the idea of giving “peace a chance.”

In voting for Nixon, Americans chose to fight on for no good reason, rather than admit we might have made a mistake getting involved in the first place. Sound familiar? Perhaps, but it shouldn’t be surprising. Since the end of World War II, the U.S. has been the most consistently belligerent nation on Earth.

Our foreign policy reflects one of the most violent societies in the Western world. From 1998 to 2000, our per capita murder rate of 4.3 per 100,000 was more than triple that of the U.K. (1.4/100,000) and nearly five times that of Greece (0.9/100,000). Our rate most closely matched Armenia (also 4.3), and you would be somewhat less likely to be murdered in Yemen (3.4) than here.

In 1992, gun ownership per household (approximately 50%) was higher in the U.S. than in any other nation on earth. Canada came in second (at 29%), but its per capita murder rate (1.4) wasn’t even one-third ours. We also led the world in handgun ownership (29% of households); Switzerland was at 14%, but its handgun murder rate was slightly more than one-quarter ours.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that a country whose national anthem is one of the few that boasts lyrics about bombs, rockets and explosions has been conducting what historian Charles Beard calls “a perpetual war for perpetual peace.” The Federation of American Scientists lists almost 200 military engagements since 1945 in which we were the aggressor, many of which remain “ongoing.” From Central America to Asia and Africa, our military has been the busiest on earth. Not even the Soviet Union came close.

Our constant state of war requires a never-ending supply of enemies to demonize — from Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, from Saddam Hussein in Iraq to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. These miniature Hitlers range from the likely insane (North Korea’s Kim Jong Il) to former clients and allies, such as Saddam and Panama’s Manuel Noriega. They also include democratically elected leaders, such as Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh and Chile’s Salvador Allende, whom we overthrew and/or assassinated when we deemed their policies contrary to their people’s interests, or to ours.

Perpetual war also requires huge military expenditures. Our 2004 defense budget (approximately $600 billion) was larger than the rest of the world’s combined ($500 billion). This bears reiteration: We spent more on our military than every other nation on the planet put together. We spent more than 11 times what the Russians did, and, despite fear mongering about China’s military buildup, its defense budget ($65 billion) was only one-tenth ours. The military budget of the always-scary Iranians ($6.5 billion) amounted to slightly more than 1% of U.S. spending. And even with its oversized army, North Korea spent only $5 billion on its armed forces.

We require such military overkill, because, as the world’s only superpower, we have become — depending on your opinion of the enemies we destroy — the world’s policeman, its chief bully or a bit of both. Americans understandably love this role, because, even when we’re the oppressor, as anyone who’s spent time in middle school knows, it’s better to be the bully than one of his victims.

And, now that we outsource our adventures to an all-volunteer army, and don’t even bother raising revenue to pay for them, for the average citizen, our militarism is free, painless and largely invisible. No wonder even Obama is calling for a bigger military.

In a country like ours, Obama should be wary about being seen as a negotiator, rather than a conqueror. And he certainly needs to avoid being identified as the “anti-war candidate.” Toughness is the cardinal virtue in a nation that reveres talking loudly, carrying a big stick and swinging it as often as possible — especially a country with no qualms about mortgaging its children’s future to the Chinese for just those purposes.

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