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Eric C's Take: Does America Make the World Safer?

(Though many don’t want to believe it, the world is getting safer. There will be an end to war, someday, if the world works towards it. To read the rest of our posts on “The World is Getting Safer”, click here.

This week and next, we’re debating the motion: America Makes the World a Safer Place. Below is Eric C’s argument against the motion.)

Before we begin, let me frame my argument for why I oppose the motion. (This is, unfortunately, necessary; many people don’t understand the basic concept that “the world getting safer” does not equal “violence doesn’t exist”.)

I believe America’s policies--foreign and domestic--have caused violence, which keeps the world from being EVEN safer than it is now. In some ways, this is a counter-factual: if America had done things differently over the last twenty years, the world would be safer and less violent than it is today. I’m aware this is a high bar to hurdle over, but I think I can do it.

Let’s get into the specifics. First, foreign affairs.

America’s Overreaction to 9/11

Check out the “List of Ongoing Conflicts” page on Wikipedia (as of July 2015) and you’ll notice two things:

1. War really is on the decline.

2. Of the four deadliest wars right now, America is to blame for two of them. Moreover, America is involved--mostly unproductively--in five of the fifteen deadliest wars happening today.

So two things are true: war is less deadly than it’s ever been, but America has needlessly inflated the overall number of wars by choosing to fight and get involved in so many of them.

Our extended stay in Afghanistan could be justified ethically for the first few years, but repeated mismanagement of that war turned it into a quagmire. Iraq, on the other hand, was a war of choice that destabilized the region. If America hadn’t invaded Iraq, hundreds of thousands of people (Iraqis mainly) would still be alive. (Who knows what would have happened in Syria without the Iraq war. Certainly couldn’t be worse than the situation today.) And our drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen have angered millions of people, creating more violent extremists and increasing instability.

The American Military Doesn’t Care Enough About Limiting Civilian Casualties

My second biggest disagreement with American foreign policy--after starting so many wars--is with how poorly we’ve fought them. And by poorly, I don’t mean “failing to close with and destroy the enemy”. Actually, I mean the opposite. This means detaining less Iraqis and Afghans. It means limiting civilian casualties. It means sacrificing more of our own soldiers to protect others. If we’d have gone into Afghanistan seeking to rebuild a war-torn nation, developing roads and infrastructure and providing medicine, I believe we could have won.

But the American military hates that. And they’re so immune to criticism by the American populace that the military won’t be forced to change its approach.

Michael C and I started the blog mainly to write about population-centric counter-insurgency. We haven’t written about it much recently, mainly because the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sort of ended. Still, it matters. The American military‘s failure to embrace the future of war has prolonged our wars...and artificially increased war deaths across the globe.

Republicans Hate Treaties

International norms help make the world a safer and better place. But Michael C has written recently about how Republicans hate treaties. Due to the anti-treaty stance of Republicans in the Senate, this means America leads the world in preventing international norms from being established. Treaties make the world a safer place and the U.S. Senate leads the world in opposing them.

America Hypocritically Loves Dictators

As we’ve written about before, America hates some dictators, but not all. For example, Iran is our mortal enemy, but Saudi Arabia is not. This has made the world less democratic and, by extension, more dangerous. We don’t do enough to oppose all of the regimes that torture and violate human rights.

On to domestic policy....

Gun Rights

Years ago, Michael C and I decided that we weren’t ready to discuss gun control on the blog. We didn’t feel--as we wrote about here--that the facts were in. Studying the academic literature, we no longer think that’s the case. More guns equals more gun deaths.

America has lots of guns. As most statistics show, if you own a gun, someone is more likely to be shot by that gun, either through suicide, spousal abuse or accidental shooting. Many of the major statistics cited by gun rights advocates have been debunked. By owning so many guns, America is more violent than it should be.

Our Judicial System

As I pointed out a few weeks ago, America’s judicial system, which locks up way too many young men, doesn’t mean the world is more violent than 50, 100 or 500 years ago.

But it is a huge problem.

Our country’s views on crime, punishment, prisons and rehabilitation have created a permanent underclass of citizens. Business don’t hire people with criminal records, worsening the problem. Our drug laws--though getting better recently--are insanely punitive. And we see how police departments across the country harass minorities. The reason I’m adding this into the debate is that America has failed to adopt the policies Europe has embraced, and increased violence is the result. Thus, America’s massive homicide rate compared to Europe is, well, America’s fault.

In closing, America has, like other nations, adopted a number of policies that have made the world safer. But compared to other nations, too many of our foreign and domestic policies have perpetuated violence both in our country and across the world. And that’s why you should oppose the motion.