A nation's ultimate ability to project power relies upon its economy. In this sense the U.S. is very strong, and we have the military technology to back it up. But economic strength is a relative thing. Britain today undoubtedly produces more than it did in 1700 but it is a minor player in world affairs, it acts like a lamprey attached to the United States, following the U.S. around to relive its former super power glory. But it is a shadow of what it once was, where a major military endeavor is taking on a minor country like Argentina.Britain has all the military tech of a super power but there is no economy to back it up. The question is whether this will be the fate of the United States. Will we end up as a soft economy surrounded by a hard shell of history's most terrifying military power but without the means to pay for foreign adventures? The Bush administration and its preemptive doctrine designed to prevent any other country from becoming a superpower, or even acquiring weapons that might threaten America, makes the answer of "Yes" more likely. It is a doctrine from a military point of view. It's a belief that by preventing the spread of technologies and actual weapons the preeminence of the U.S. will be maintained. A belief that we can act as our allies' protector, making it unnecessary for them to spend money on their own military.It is a belief that will work in the short term, but will eventually prove wrong. The U.S. has achieved its military based upon the sheer size of its economy. By spending a few percent of our GNP we can support a war machine that is impossible for any other country to match. If our economy declines relative to other countries then this may no longer hold true.Bush has upped military spending to pursue his (or Rumsfeld and Cheney's) vision of Pax Americana but that spending has an opportunity cost. It's money we could be spending strengthening the economy by building infrastructure. All those allies that we have convinced to shelter under our wings have been able to use money that would otherwise be spent on defense to improve themselves, whether they spend it on schools, bridges, or things we don't even have in the U.S. like bullet trains.When travelling in Europe I am always struck by how many cities look like their buildings were all built a couple of hundreds of years ago. So much seems very old. In contract things in the U.S. look like they were built in the last fifty years. Japan is where it really gets interesting because so much seems like it was constructed in the last twenty years. As old as Europe looks when compared to America, America looks similar when compared to Japan. That is a result of Japan's insane amount of spending on construction.I can't help but think that chopping the U.S. military budget in half and using it to build infrastructure would have a much longer lasting effect on the defense of the United States than buying exotic weapon systems and maintaining far flung military bases in countries that have populations that do not approve of our presence. It would strengthen the economy, making us more efficient, and would also improve the lives of the common citizen. What's more, construction jobs are blue collar jobs; with our manufacturing capacity ambandoning the country in search of the lowest wage workers, infrastructure spending would give jobs to those that are an ill fit for our high tech service/information economy.Maybe I'm rambling on here, but I don't see how you can be a super power when you need to have your allies foot most of the bill for the first Gulf war, and have serious questions about the economy being tipped into a deflationary depression by the second. And I don't see that things are going to get any better in the future. (Not that it's a bad thing that the future may make it economicly impossible for the U.S. or any other country to fund wars on the other side of the Earth.)
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