I read in Instapundit an interesting statement by President Obama: “Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.” It begs the question of why we would prefer not to be dominant. One answer – very likely, I think, the president’s – is that the world would be better off without the US as a dominating force.
This started me on a science fiction, alternate universe train of thought. What would the world look like, if the US had never existed? Imagine an empty space between Mexico and Canada. No country, no people, no history.
What would be different today? Would the world really be better off?
I could start with the fact that I’d have to dispense with my best friend, the iPhone, and with my Pentium-powered, Windows-operated PC. I’d have to give up my mass-produced SUV, and live in daily fear that my children might contract polio.
But the president was talking about national power, so I’ll focus on that.
If the US never was, all of Europe, with the possible exception of Britain, would be under an imperial yoke today – either German or Russian. Those who disagreed with their imperial masters, or resisted in any way, would find a boot firmly planted on their necks. Gulags and concentrations camps would thrive. The economy and conquered nations, not so much.
As a matter of historical fact, the Germans conquered most of Europe in the 1940’s, and the Russians kept an iron grip over the eastern half of the continent for a generation. We know how they ruled. It isn’t speculative.
They would be there still, one or the other – or worst of all, both – if US national power hadn’t intervened.
In the Middle East, Israel would be wiped out – another holocaust of Jews, undefended by a world which treasures oil far more than democracy. Saddam Hussein would still be slaughtering his own people, and his neighbors as well. The Taliban would continue to execute adulterous women in soccer stadiums, and the Syrians would be looting Lebanon.
In the Far East, the Japanese would lose every semblance of democratic life – we wrote their constitution, after all. They would be as they once were: a fierce, ruthless elite lording it over a population on the edge of poverty. This system they would export to those countries they conquered: much of China, and all of Burma, Thailand, the Malay peninsula, the Philippines, possibly Indonesia.
The Pax Nipponica in Asia would be a harsh and bloody affair: the peace of the graveyard. We know this because it happened during the Second World War, and the conquered nations have yet to forgive the Japanese.
American power made this vision of the future an impossibility.
China would still be Maoist or, at best, mired in ancestor worship. The defeat of communism by US power liberated the Chinese to make and sell things in the marketplace – and the power of US wealth, spent on Chinese imports, created the growing business class in that country.
What of Latin American countries? Aren’t they worse off because of their proximity to the colossus of the North?
It’s a historical fact that we sliced off a chunk of Mexico in 1846. On the other hand, we saved Mexico from becoming a French dependency in the late 1860’s. Benito Juarez triumphed because US power, resurgent after the Civil War, checkmated Napoleon III’s dream of a French empire in the Americas. And Mexican prosperity today depends almost entirely on the colossus’ proximity.
The independence of Latin America would have been doubtful without the Monroe Doctrine. The freedom of Cuba from Spain would never have taken place.
Puerto Rico, given the chance to escape our clutches, has over and again voted to remain a US commonwealth. At the other end of the spectrum, Cuba has remained wholly free of US influence for 50 years. Its misery is often blamed on the US embargo, but one can’t have it both ways: either we are evil for meddling or for staying aloof, but to accuse us of both is a logical impossibility.
I believe the US has been a mighty fortress for freedom in the world. I believe, also, that it has promoted the kind of everyday prosperity – as opposed to gorging by elites – which is associated with liberal democracy and free markets. The wealth generated by trade in nations as disparate as China and Chile has been possible, in part, because US power has made transportation safe from robber nations and pirates.
If American never was, the world today would be divided among powerful nations, and its wealth would be funneled to the ruling groups in those nations. Conflicts would be frequent and savage. Money would be a function of power, not work or innovative genius. Concepts like “standard of living” or “gross national product” would have no meaning, because the idea that people mattered would be absurd.
Absent US power, only power would matter. The world would make an ideal of calculation and bullying. That alone reconciles me to our role as a “dominant military superpower.”