America's Fork in the Road: Endless War or Democratic Reform?

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Today, NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, issued the following statement about NATO’s military response to increased Russian government manuevering in eastern Ukraine:

Today, we agreed on a package of further military measures to reinforce our collective defence and demonstrate the strength of Allied solidarity.
We will have more planes in the air, more ships on the water, and more readiness on the land (read boots on the ground).
For example, air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region. Allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, as required. Military staff from Allied nations will deploy to enhance our preparedness, training and exercises. Our defence plans will be reviewed and reinforced.
We will start to implement these measures straight away. More will follow, if needed, in the weeks and months to come.

The NATO Secretary General’s announcement will be music to the ears of those who have been calling for more U.S. troop deployments to eastern Europe in response to Putin’s provocations. Last month in the National Interest magazine, for example, Dick Kirckus, a former “Chair of Warfighting Strategy at the U.S. Marine Corps University” wrote:

Today, the most vulnerable members of NATO in the East Baltic Sea region share a common border with Russia and desperately want American boots on the groundnot combat engineers constructing an antimissile system in Poland to evaporate Iranian rocketsto deter a reckless Russian military provocation. The prospect that U.S. troops will die should Russian troops cross their borders will give meaning to Washington’s pledge to honor Article Five guarantees. After all, the Americans have demonstrated on numerous occasions that if challenged, they will fight.

Got that? No mere missiles and rockets will suffice to deter Putin, only people willing to sacrifice their lives in European military chess matches will be enough to deter Putin’s westward aggression. The glaring flaw in Kirckus’ thesis is that Americans of our generation have by no means demonstrated a willingness to fight and die in pointless wars. On 9/11 our nation was attacked by a ruthless criminal gang, which for a period of time found sanctuary under the ragtag rule of the Taliban. Eventually, most Americans, as evidenced by their refusal to enlist in the military, came to see the demise of the Taliban’s governance and going after the terrorists as the appropriate response to those horrific attacks on our own country; to shed our own blood in pointless wars, most Americans have concluded, is wrong.
We don’t want it, and thus, we aren’t doing it. Period.
And yet, there is a gap – a grand canyon – between mainstream America’s proper sense of security obligation to the country and the military systems to which we are, at present, legally bound. The collective democratic consciousness, which is averse to becoming embroiled in foreign wars, is on one side of the canyon, while the professional warmongers, like Mr. Kirckus quoted above, sit on the other side of the canyon. Every single day the former, the collective democratic consciousness, are sending the latter, the professional warmongers, Western Union moneygrams and messages in the form of tax dollars and institutional structures, which sustain their warmongering; warmongering, of course, that in turn erodes our civil liberties landscape here at home, thus destroying the very purpose of our nation.
To call this situation dysfunctional would be a gross understatement.
By sustaining the for-pay soldiery, for example, we are supplying the warmongers with a continual stream of young Americans who, tragically, have not had anyone in their lives to tell them, or at least tell them effectively, the following: to earn a paycheck to engage in a shooting war is not only a knock against the sanctity of the human lives who may be killed by your military actions, it is also a knock against the sanctity of your own human life. So long as we, on the antiwar majority side of the canyon fail to make that abundantly clear, in our laws and in our words, we will be sending those Western Union moneygrams and telegrams to the minority – the warmongers like Mr. Kirckus – on the other side of the canyon.
Ditto for the current contours of our nation’s role in NATO: Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister who strongly supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is quite literally within his rights to use his position to help rhetorically, and thus politically, edge the United States toward military confrontation with Russia: Those of us on the antiwar side of the American canyon are sending him, again every day, our Western Union moneygrams and telegrams. Indeed, so long as Article Five of the NATO Charter, which guarantees the automatic collective defense of all NATO members, remains in the charter without any periodic review by, and consultation with, the American people, Mr. Rasmussen will continue to abide by the Western Union telegram we are continually sending him – even though the number of us who would actually be willing to die in a European game of chess is utterly miniscule. Indeed, our American ancestors may have had lots of flaws, but at least they had the good sense to realize the human futility and human degradation of sacrificing one’s life, and the lives of their children, for European political chess matches.
Ensuring that the mainstream antiwar values we hold on our side of the canyon are reflected in actual U.S. foreign policy would require reform, which requires a discourse of reform. That means ideas, counter-ideas, add-on ideas, counter-arguments, etc. for the aforementioned.
One reform idea to help ensure that Main Street Americans – the majority of us on that antiwar side of the canyon – do not get dragged in the blink of an eye into a costly, destructive war over Putin’s European chess games would be this: Amend our own Constitution to require that any provision of any treaty to which the United States is a signatory, and which calls for the collective military defense of foreign nations, must be continuously ratified by the Congress, at minimum, on a quarterly basis – namely every three months.
For the American people’s relationship with NATO – a relationship of literally existential significance – that would mean this: Every three months, we would have the chance to call, write, visit, etc. with our elected representatives in Congress about whether Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which guarantees the collective defense of its member states, is prudent for America in our time and place, and in accord with our moral values on matters of war and peace.
As in all of our nation’s political debates, some sides will win the day, and others will lose. That’s the American way. As I explained in this Tikkun Daily post from last year, and in subsequent posts, I have been extremely disappointed with America’s response to Bashar al-Assad’s ongoing slaughter and torture of the Syrian people. I think a Western-imposed no-fly zone should have been in place, and countless lives could have been saved. But, those of us who supported some kind of intervention in Syria to stop Assad’s slaughter machine lost the debate. That’s the way democracy works and we have to accept it, while still exercising our First Amendment rights about what we believe.
The way that democracy should not work is for our political leaders to outlandishly claim that a collective defense treaty, like the NATO Charter, crafted at the outset of the Cold War before most Americans were born, and crafted in the context of constitutional treaty system that has not been substantively updated since 1787, somehow even remotely reflects “the will and resolve of the American people.” Really, what a load of bull.
In addition to providing a modern, much-needed democratic check on our high stakes participation with NATO, by ensconcing such a treaty requirement into our Constitution we would be sending a much-needed message to our heavily-dependent European NATO allies, whichmight be verbalized like this:
“Dear friends, why not try crafting proactive foreign policies toward Russia that would seek to bring about the eventual abolition of the menacing standing army that threatens your countries, rather than placing your trust in the tiny minority of Americans who relish, and profit from, the practice of war.”
To see one suggestion for a constitutional modernization of America’s collective defense treaty requirements, see Section 10 of the proposed constitutional amendment here: