March 16, 2015
Letter to the Editor, New York Times:
Is the U.S. Navy large enough? Large enough for what? Gregg Easterbrook (Op-ed, March 9) and House Seapower Subcommittee Chair Randy Forbes (Letter, March 12) may disagree on the first question, but on the second they clearly agree with the Navy’s recent multi-media campaign justifying itself as a “global force for good.”
“Global trade has flowered,” Easterbrook asserts, because of the Navy’s “dominance” of the oceans, bringing “nearly all nations, including developing nations, higher living standards and less poverty.” Not to be outdone, Forbes cites the “international order that American naval predominance has assured since 1945.”
As Max Paul Friedman argues in his 2012 book, “Rethinking Anti-Americanism,” this sort of airy self-congratulation has confounded our national debate almost from the founding of the Republic. He cites Tocqueville noting that “the majority lives in perpetual adoration of itself,” and Senator William Fulbright noting that “power tends to confuse itself with virtue.”
Imperial navies from the Athenians to the British have spun a tale similar to that of Easterbrook and Forbes: we are here to protect you all. But it wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. Great power navies have always existed to provide freedom of action to their armed forces and commercial interests. Our Navy’s current supremacy in the sea-battle space was purchased to allow our government to threaten, and if necessary carry out, military action to force other nations to submit to our will. There is nothing humanitarian about it.
The Navy controls the seas for the transport of troops and supplies, controls the air with aircraft based on aircraft carriers, and aids in land-battles with observation, guns, missile attacks, and bombing. At the start of Easterbrook’s golden age the Navy carried French troops back to re-conquer Indochina in 1945. For the next 30 years it bombed and bombarded Viet Nam throughout its revolt against the French and the pro-American regimes they left behind. More recently, the Navy has been the hammer in every theater of the current “long war” to control the Middle East and North Africa: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, and Somalia.
Unimpeded international shipping would most likely have “flowered” after World War II with or without the U.S. Navy, because it was in so many nations’ interest. Minor irritations would have been addressed by the affected nations, as the Somali pirates were recently, with or without U.S. intervention. By strengthening corrupt or repressive regimes like Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Emirates, and Angola through its exercises, equipment, and training programs, the Navy makes their people poorer, not richer. With each bit of support to these governments the Navy violates its own Sailor’s Creed: “to defend freedom and democracy around the world.”
Director, American Exceptionalism Media Project