Global policeman feels pinch close to home

Global policeman feels pinch close to home


US soldiers are sent around the world at great expense - but can their government really afford it?
US soldiers are sent around the world at great expense - but can their government really afford it?
Photo: EPA
The United States is no stranger when it comes to foreign military invention. It flaunts a huge military budget of US$680billion per year - more than a third of the world's total.

People often think of the country as a global policeman, wrapping its long arms of influence halfway around the world, in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where it attempts to right moral wrongs and instil Western democracy.

Yet the staggering amount of money it allocates to defence does raise the question of whether it really is money well spent. Can it really justify putting almost a quarter of its federal budget towards national defence, with it still struggling to agree its future budget, and with its healthcare and education both in dire need of a serious revamp?

Most people agree that you should always fix your own country's problems first before tackling another's troubles.

The US government has been emptying its coffers fighting wars in far-away continents. Since it first intervened in Afghanistan in 2001, it has sent tens of thousands of young men, and many women away from their families. In 2003, the invasion of Iraq further stretched the reserves of America's cash and manpower.

Over the past few months, the US has come within a hair's breadth of intervening in Syria. Such a move - while not unjustifiable - would have likely set off a long and costly chain of events involving several other parties, most notably, Britain, France and Russia.

Fortunately, US President Barack Obama could see that, when it comes to political stand-offs, the importance of the nation's wellbeing trumps its pride. So he called off the proposed attacks on the Syrian government.

However, money is only one of many issues in these long, drawn-out wars that the US is becoming accustomed to. Perhaps the most devastating side effect of foreign intervention is the attention it takes away from other pressing issues closer to home.

As overseas wars are seen as both urgent and important, public focus is often torn away from policies that may actually have a bigger impact on society, such as healthcare and education.

Similarly, the attention of politicians and government officials is diverted from less extraordinary, but no less important, tasks.

Obviously, there is no clear answer about whether intervention in Syria would have been preferable. But given the current state of the US economy, I applaud the decision to stay away from a potential minefield of problems.

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