Wesley K. Clark, a retired U.S. Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander, has sallied forth with wildly naive or misplaced views about the United States and China in his new book, “Don’t Wait for the Next War: A Strategy for American Growth and Global Leadership.” Mr. Clark’s sophomoric understanding of national security and China’s ambitions underscores that military leaders are experts in killing and should not wander beyond that realm.
The retired Army general assumes that the national security of the United States requires that we retain “global leadership.” But he never explains what global leadership entails, or why we should care about wearing the crown. As employed by Mr. Clark and the military-industrial complex, global leadership is a cryptic banner by which to justify domination of the world by the use or threat of force or financial coercion.
But contrary to Mr. Clark, the United States is harmed, not benefitted, by playing that type of global bully. The greatness of the United States pivots on its celebration of liberty and self-government at home, and its rejection of influencing or controlling events abroad except by example.
Global leadership is inconsistent with these philosophical jewels of the United States. Seeking to dominate or control events abroad invariably concentrates limitless power in the executive, cripples liberty, destroys the separation of powers, substitutes secrecy for transparency, and creates enemies that would not otherwise exist, like shooting a bullet into a hornet’s nest.
Renouncing global leadership is fully compatible with national sovereignty and greatness. The American Revolution occasioned “the shot heard round the world” at Lexington and Concord. All of Europe’s monarchs trembled at the political philosophy proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence: that national sovereignty is in the people; that legitimate government requires the consent of the governed; and, that its purpose is to secure unalienable individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
At its birth, the influence of the United States throughout Europe was profound — even as far as Hamburg and Brussels — achieved by the force of example unaided by arms. The presence of empires around the world — Chinese, Ottoman, Russian, Austrian, or British — did not cause the United States to cower or compromise its devotion to liberty at home.
At present, no nation in the world threatens our sovereignty with or without our playing global leader. Moreover, the most invincible military asset any nation commands is the willingness of its people to risk that last full measure of devotion out of gratitude for the liberties they enjoy. Chairman Mao was wrong in lecturing that “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Thus, China’s People’s Liberation Army was sharply rebuffed by Vietnam when it attacked in 1979. And U.S. trained and armed Afghan and Iraqi soldiers fluctuate between irresolute and worthless because of their indifference or anger toward their respective corrupt, incompetent and dictatorial governments.
The former NATO supreme commander would be well beyond his pay grade if he sought to fashion a nation’s governing institutions and policies to elicit maximum loyalty and sacrifices from its citizens in times of crisis.
Mr. Clark worries that China will act in its self-interest to solidify Communist Party rule at home and to encourage non-intervention as a rule in international relations. He naively disbelieves that “naked self-interest” has been the governing foreign-policy principle of every nation since the beginning of time. As British Foreign Minister Lord Palmerston elaborated, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies, they have only permanent interests.” The United States allied with mass murderer Joseph Stalin in World War II out of naked self-interest. There is nothing new under the sun.
Finally, Mr. Clark errs in suggesting we should be other than strictly neutral in China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and East China Sea with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, or otherwise. In seeking domination abroad for its own sake and neglecting staggering corruption and the absence of freedom at home, China will destroy itself as the Manchu dynasty did in 1911.
We won’t need to fight a single battle.
For more information about Bruce Fein, please visit www.brucefeinlaw.com.