A friend of mine living in Pakistan took to Facebook to grumble about American imperialism in her country and the region. This is what I wrote in response:

Unfortunately, if the US didn’t act like “the world’s police”, then you’d see a bunch of smaller players duke it out and wrestle for control over the world’s resources and strategic choke points. It would, sadly, be a much bloodier world with more fluid borders and more frequent wars of conquest. It would neither be a nicer world nor a more just one. It would be one filled with even more struggle and even more petty tyrants trying to realize their own selfish ambitions.

The US, for all its flaws, its solipsism and its arrogance, is a force for good in the world––if not compared to the ideal, then compared to the alternative as suggested by all of human history.

The post-WW2 era of US hegemony has seen less wars and less killing than the 70+ year period that preceded it. More countries are free and live under some form of self-rule. The age of empire ended in no small part thanks to American values and political pressure.

Does that mean the weak nations of the earth can go about their business without hassle? Yes, just so long as the global economy doesn’t require your resources to function. Or those of your neighbors. Or your trade routes.

If you want real freedom, I suggest either acquire nuclear weapons and a blue water navy or simply be irrelevant to the security and economic needs of the ailing hegemon and her rising rival, China. Or your more powerful neighbors.

Does it suck that the world works this way? To be honest, yes it does. We should all be able to live freely and under conditions of self-rule and autonomy. But doing so would require not just the USA to withdraw from foreign entanglement, but also her enemies and, hell, her allies too. We’re all just frenemies on some level, after all (remember, the Brits burned down the White House at one point).

College students and citizens of countries too coddled (i.e. Europe, who enjoys US military & nuclear protection vis a vis NATO) or too weak to be guilty of the same will find this state of affairs repulsive. And again, it only looks favorable when compared to the state of constant instability and recurring great wars that it replaced––an era which your grandparents witnessed only as children and not long enough to see the great meta-pattern.

Let me repeat that, as it bears repeating: If the US wasn’t throwing its weight around as the world’s clumsy policeman, you’d end up with a world of warring mobsters whose battling would leave your streets red with blood every few years. It’s not clear that you would see a more palatable or pleasant alternative. At least that’s what the historical record suggests.

In no case would you and your country be simply left alone. You would just trade one bastard for several.

But if you really want sovereignty, look into that blue water navy thing. Or at least a ballistic missile submarine. Getting nukes were a solid first step, but without a submarine force they’re vulnerable and the big boy generals still gander they could  wipe ’em out in a pre-emptive strike if needs be. And yes, this crude realization does in fact change the military & political calculus.

Only catch is you need an big economy to support these efforts, and that ain’t cheap or easy to build. But hey, at least it’s doable.