John Tynes said:
"I believe there are at least two obvious others which were also achieved, and that can be credited to conservatives. The difference is that liberals don't like them:
1) The USA Superpower.
2) The Defeat of Communism."
John's related comment was:
"We now have the strongest military in the entire world, and the freedom to act against other nations with impunity."
I think this is something that a certain kind of person tells themselves (hard core Liberals who hate the idea, and hard core Conservatives who love the idea), but recent events in Iraq are demonstrating that it is not an accurate theory of America's true power. This theory has been bandied about since the fall of the Berlin Wall so much that it has almost taken on the trappings of "established fact". Maybe recent events in Iraq will start to degade the impression that the US can act without restraint.
The actual facts are that the US has the power to act with a wide range of policies against a certain class of state, although that range is more limited than the absolute "anything it wants" that is often attributed, but must limit its actions against others to actions related to the formation of treaties and interdependencies.
Clearly, the US cannot do much to affect the policies of Europe, Japan, or China other than through process and debate. It is highly unlikely that we could do anything other than debate Russia.
The US has more freedom to act against the smaller powers (e.g. Iraq), but even a the nations of our own hemisphere believe that we will require international support, and probably international support of neighbors in the region, before using military force against them in anything other than an humanitarian emergency.
Iran and North Korea both are using nuclear blackmail to increase their power at the expense of the United States, and for a variety of reasons, I strongly doubt that either nation will face a military incursion from the US as a result. The US is too entangled economically to trigger a war on the Korean penninsula, and its allies in Europe would make the price too high to pay for actions against Iran. At worst, Iran will face a proxy war against US funded insurgents (ala the Contras) but not much else barring an outright nuclear threat against a US interest - and that threat, in the absence of WMDs in Iraq, probably has to include proof that it has nuclear weapons first (like a test detonation).
In fact, one could argue that during the Cold War, the US had more freedom to act against small states in the name of its containment policy. Could you imagine a war in Viet Nam today, where the only compelling US interest was "containing communism" (vs. China this time instead of Russia)?
The list of nations the US felt able to invade or use direct action against during the Cold War is lengthy. I suspect that list is much, much smaller today.
What the end of the Cold War did do was release a tremendous amount of dollars back into the economy in the form of reduced investment in defense procurement. Even when you factor in the costs for the War on Terrorism, those costs will never even account for a fraction of the costs required to prepare to fight and win WWIII.
Interestingly, these dollars are the real domestic impact of the Cold War, and the axis of liberal/conservative political objectives. There is an economic theory known as the "long boom" that posits that with the Cold War expenses off the table (both here and in Russia) the net positive effect on the economy will be a sustained growth with a net reduction in unemployment and an net increase in education level, economic security, and healthcare (due to advances in technology).
This is a "change" that neither Republicans nor Democrats has yet factored into their basic platforms.
From the Democrat side, the "long boom" could be used to right social inequities through transfers of wealth. That could mean an expansion of tax revenue linked to certain kinds of economic behavior which currently are lightly taxed (like capital formation and entrepreneurism).
From the Republican side, the "long boom" could be used to justify the long held goal of substantially reducing taxation across the board, perhaps implementing a "flat tax" scheme while not destroying the basic fundamental security of the national budget.
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