Heterodox Views on Politics and Public Policy from Michael Blaine

Friday, August 17, 2007

John Edwards Talks Some Sense on the Military

Retreat or Advance?

"Military leaders are warning about 'breaking' the force. It is tempting for politicians to respond to this situation by trying to outbid one another on the number of troops they would add to the military . . . But the problem of our force structure is not best dealt with by a numbers game. We must be more thoughtful about what the troops would actually be used for."

--John Edwards, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007

Alone among so-called major presidential candidates, John Edwards appears to understand that the raw number of troops the US military can muster ceased to matter with the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan in 1945. Further evidence of this fact came with the American defeat in Vietnam, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, nearly every day for the past four-and-a-half years in Iraq, we have been taught the lesson again. The ability to apply massive, blunt force no longer helps a "superpower" very much at all.

To the contrary, large-scale spending on the military diverts scarce financial resources from economically productive activities, and removes our youth from civilian life, where they could have become teachers, engineers and entrepreneurs. Instead, they are added to the ranks of trained killers in an anachronisitc insitution that is tantamount to a federal jobs program. In other words, militarization stunts and diminishes our nation, without making us any stronger or safer.

As an alternative, Mr. Edwards proposes establishing a new organization -- the Marshall Corps -- consisting of "at least 10,000 civilian experts who could be deployed abroad to serve in reconstruction, stabilization, and humanitarian missons." He predicts such a corps will be useful "to stabilize weak and failing states and provide humanitarian assistance to the victims of disasters across the world." This is both an enlightened and prgamatic idea that surely would serve US foreign policy interests better than the application of violence, as in Iraq. Unfortunately, Edwards' support of just this sadistic and reckless action when he was in the Senate greatly undermines his credibility now.


Richard Cretan said...


Fine post.

You're right about our military waste. And yes, Edwards is talking sense in one respect now.

Bread and bridges--not bombs--will secure America's place in the world.

He's right to blast the "war on terror" metaphor, too. It's both a smokescreen and a recipe for endless conflict.

Pity it took him this long. He cosponsored the Iraq War Resolution put forward by Joe Lieberman. In my book, that's a ghastly qualification for leadership.

The rest of the essay didn't inspire me. Contain China, contain Russia, bully Iran, help India, use the US military for competitive economic advantage, boost military recruitment to man the distant frontiers of the empire: typical "New Democrat" stuff.

I don't think Edwards would go nearly as far as you in your critique of military priorities for our nation. Arguably, his agenda is little different to that of the Republicans except in rhetoric, his proposals for a civilian love brigade and for volunteering other nation's troops for Darfur intervention notwithstanding.

Mention of strengthening India, the favorite offshoring destination for American capital keen to depress labor costs by exporting our middle class jobs, is a further cause for wariness. Edwards' populist credentials are suspect enough as it is.

He has a long way to go before he's interesting to me. For now, I'm glad he's trailing Hillary: this should be a good motivator to separate himself further from the party's bankrupt center-right establishment.

Michael Blaine said...

Thank you, Richard, for a response more cogent and thorough than the original post!

I fastened onto Edwards' words because I was surprised that a mainstream Democrat had not jumped fully on the bandwagon of militarism.

We'll see whether there is enough support out there for this momentary emphasis on butter instead of guns to be expanded upon in the presidential campaign.


Richard Cretan said...

Edwards upped the ante yesterday with an attack on corrupt Washington, including that Republican manqué, Hillary.

There's life in the boy yet.


Anonymous said...


If there were enough support for "butter instead of guns," Kucinich would be polling much higher. I have no faith in Edwards, Obama, or Clinton. Like the Republicans, they all exploit voter ignorance of the rest of the world.

How would the Marshall Corp be anything more than a better funded Peace Corp?

Michael Blaine said...

Well, Anonymous, I think the main point Edwards broaches is the recognition that a conventional military force is largely irrelevant.

As for the Peace Corps, my understanding is that it consists of a lot of kids just out of college and dispersed throughout the world, whereas something like the proposed Marshall Corps would be made up of seasoned professionals and would be dispatched en masse to specific regions and countries in crisis.

It's time the US government join the 21st century by starting to see a convetional military force as the anachronism it really is.