A Simple Reality: US Troops Are Coming Home

One and a Half Cheers for American Decline: The Future’s Not Ours – and That’s Good News

by Tom Engelhardt, September 21, 2010

Here’s a simple reality: the U.S. is an imperial power in decline — and not just the sort of decline which is going to affect your children or grandchildren someday.  We’re talking about massive unemployment that’s going nowhere and an economy which shows no sign of ever returning good jobs to this country on a significant scale, even if “good times” do come back sooner or later.  We’re talking about an aging, fraying infrastructure — with its collapsing bridges and exploding gas pipelines — that a little cosmetic surgery isn’t going to help.

And whatever the underlying historical trends, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and company accelerated this process immeasurably.  You can thank their two mad wars, their all-planet-all-the-time Global War on Terror, their dumping of almost unlimited taxpayer dollars into the Pentagon and war planning for the distant future, and their scheme to privatize the military and mind-meld it with a small group of crony capitalist privateers, not to speak of ramping up an already impressively over-muscled national security state into a national state of fear, while leaving the financial community to turn the country into a giant, mortgaged Ponzi scheme.  It was the equivalent of driving a car in need of a major tune-up directly off the nearest cliff — and the rest, including the economic meltdown of 2008, is, as they say, history, which we’re all now experiencing in real time.  Then, thank the Obama administration for not having the nerve to reverse course while it might still have mattered.

Public Opinion and Elite Opinion

The problem in all this isn’t the American people.  They already know the score. The problem is Afghan war commander Petraeus.  It’s Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  It’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  It’s National Security Adviser James Jones.  It’s all those sober official types, military and civilian, who pass for “realists,” and are now managing “America’s global military presence,” its vast garrisons, its wars and alarums.  All of them are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Ordinary Americans aren’t.  They know what’s going down, and to judge by polls, they have a perfectly realistic assessment of what needs to be done.  Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service recently reported on the release of a major biennial survey, “Constrained Internationalism: Adapting to New Realities,” by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA).  Here’s the heart of it, as Lobe describes it:

“The survey’s main message, however, was that the U.S. public is looking increasingly toward reducing Washington’s role in world affairs, especially in conflicts that do not directly concern it. While two-thirds of citizens believe Washington should take an ‘active part in world affairs,’ 49% — by far the highest percentage since the CCGA first started asking the question in the mid-1970s — agreed with the proposition that the U.S. should ‘mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.’

“Moreover, 91% of respondents agreed that it was ‘more important at this time for the [U.S.] to fix problems at home’ than to address challenges to the (U.S.) abroad — up from 82% who responded to that question in CCGA’s last survey in 2008.”


Sooner or later — and I doubt it will take as long as many imagine — you’ll hear far more voices, ever closer to the heartlands of American power, rising in anxiety or even fear.  Don’t think nine or ten years either.  This won’t be a matter of choice.  Our leadership may be delusional, but there will be nothing more to double down with, and so “America’s global military presence” will begin to crumble.  And whether they want it or not, whether there’s even an antiwar movement or not, those troops will start coming home, not to a happy nation or to an upbeat situation, but home in any case.


But cheer up.  The news isn’t all bad.  Truly.  We’ve just gotten way too used to the idea that the United States must be the planet’s preeminent nation, the global hegemon, the sole superpower, numero uno.  We’ve convinced ourselves that neither we nor the world can exist without our special management.

So here’s the good news: it’s actually going to feel better to be just another nation, one more country, even if a large and powerful one, on this overcrowded planet, rather than the nation.  It’s going to feel better to only arm ourselves to defend our actual borders, rather than constantly fighting distant wars or skirmishes and endlessly preparing for more of the same.  It’s going to feel better not to be engaged in an arms race of one or playing the role of the globe’s major arms dealerIt’s going to feel better to focus on American problems, maybe experiment a little at home, and offer the world some real models for a difficult future, instead of talking incessantly about what a model we are while we bomb and torture and assassinate abroad with impunity.

So take some pleasure in this: our troops are coming home and you’re going to see it happen.  And in the not so very distant future it won’t be our job to “police” the world or be the “global sheriff.” And won’t that be a relief?  We can form actual coalitions of equals to do things worth doing globally and never have to organize another “coalition of the billing,” twisting arms and bribing others to do our military bidding.

* bold added

read it all here – you’ll thank George Bush by the end of it…


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    • Edger on September 22, 2010 at 03:35

    among nations…

  1. These wars have lasted far longer than most — we have already eclipsed the time of World War II.  I think the war in Afghanistan, by the time we’re done, will have been the longest war in the history of the Republic.

    The people fighting this war have often had multiple deployments.  They’ve stayed in places with a population that makes our discontent here in America look like fiddlesticks.  

    We “work” and “occupy” societies where it is customary to have an AK-47 propped up by the front door.  Where it is customary for the population to live under the most brutal and uncertain conditions imaginable.

    Our troops have been placed in the position, by benighted and foolish successive administrations, of playing the role of water carriers for brutal, corrupt and even despotic regimes.  In order to retain operational effectiveness, they have been placed in the position of negotiating a path between what we in America would see as very bad guys, and unimaginably bad guys.

    I’m not arguing against bringing the troops home.  But who, beyond the stultified Defense Department and its unimaginative military culture, and the U.S. Administration, with its happy-go-lucky bubble world, is actually thinking about what to do with these people when they come home?

    And look at the average economic conditions of these troops and the conditions in the U.S. into which they’re arriving long term?  They are no longer, perhaps, as disconnected as they once were, but the long term realities of homecoming set in eventually.  This is not like the society many of them left to go to war.  There are no jobs.  There is little hope for quick improvement.

    What a letdown it must be to come home from arguably thinking you’re “defending America” only to be told that all that is left for you is to flip burgers in a fast food restaurant?

    One can be forgiven for thinking it might be a better job, with better conditions and certainly better pay, to work for an administration — whether it is Obama’s or some future administration’s — to work as a police force to suppress the general population.  And this is no population of people used to war and enduring violent conditions and machine gun fire as a facet of daily life.  It is more a population akin to a pack of squawking kittens, compared to the world these troops will have left.

    And it is no comfort to know with certainty that a steady effort has been underway for a long time to do just that, by the Defense Department, DARPA and others.  The tools of crowd control and mass terrorization and suppression continue to be developed, plastic covered and zip-tied, for just such a time.  A military dictatorship might seem even benign compared to the world these troops left.

    By all means, let the troops come home, but let us have no rosy illusions as to what happens when they do.  We have to be on guard for a fascist dictatorship.

  2. FYI your blog “More Than One Truth” on TalkLeft has acquired a few comments and also a rec from me lately, and comments have sprouted on a couple of others, too, for a change!  

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