Back in 1898 when George Curzon coined the term, “the Great Game” while he served as viceroy of India, the United States was just putting on its imperial uniform.
Countries are “pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a great game for the domination of the world,” Curzon wrote.
Britain and Russia, the serious players at the time, were tussling over swaths of Asia, with France and Turkey nibbling at the edges. President James Monroe had carved out the Western Hemisphere for us 75 years earlier, and Washington seemed content with that arrangement.
No more. With our unmatched military prowess, the United States is now the sole world player at the “Great Game” chessboard. Naturally, we’re simultaneously winning and losing.
Plus, America doesn’t play the game like Europe did. Except where we arrive as conquerors — think Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America — we claim to come as friends. With our money and guns we aim to either prop up regimes friendly to us (no matter how corrupt) or help oppressed peoples rid themselves of regimes unfriendly to the U.S. government or U.S. investors.
And we currently station troops in at least 70 countries at some 1,000 overseas military bases.
Aside from this infiltration of just about everywhere, we have now also “pivoted” to Asia. Translation: We’re surrounding China. Not that China has demonstrated any serious military expansionism, but you never know.
With new and bigger bases in places like South Korea and the Philippines, we pointedly threaten China’s sea lanes so that we could cut off its trade if tensions demanded. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is hyping China’s missiles. Treating them as a serious threat keeps our weapons industry on life support in the absence of another superpower.
China is too smart to bother with bombing us. It’s content to let the United States spend itself into military-induced bankruptcy as the Soviets did, while China grows its economy at a dizzying pace.
Following the Murray-Ryan budget deal, Congress embraced a measure that would keep the Pentagon funded at an annual rate of $632.8 billion this fiscal year. Among other things, the legislation “blocks military base closings” for now, Stars and Stripes reports.
Decades after the Cold War ended, why are we continuing to squander this much money on the military and refusing to relinquish our role as a global cop?
The U.S. empire may be costly to maintain, drain money from services needed at home, and give terrorists a motive to attack our people. But global military dominance also leaves us free to be as exceptional and arrogant as we wish. And when an empire makes you feel like yours is the world’s greatest nation, it’s hard to let go.
Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.