Security Consequences of U.S. Political Extremism
The recent debate over the Affordable Care Act, known to critics as Obamacare, highlights the growing divide in U.S. politics and the political culture that idolizes politicians with a ‘no-compromises’ stance. This was made abundantly clear through the fight over the constitutionality of the healthcare law as well as the recent Republican presidential primaries where Mitt Romney was accusingly labeled a “moderate” by competing candidates. Romney had to fight each surging challenger’s accusations of being moderate and continues to struggle against hard-liners of his party. This fight to assuage ideological worries within one of the major U.S. parties shows the pull away from the center towards the more hard-line views.
The growing gap between party and ideological lines in the United States, if left unchecked, has potential to have national security consequences including an increasingly weakened economy and deeper deficit, ultimately in a tumultuous world political climate beyond that presently seen, and loss of U.S. soft power and influence in the international realm and the loss of lives. Without a change in the rhetoric at the grassroots level as well as in the political discourse between policymakers, the gap between the political ideologies will continue to widen and create problems in both domestic and international levels regarding economy and national security.
First, the inability to forge a viable compromise over economy and budget nearly resulted in tragedy. As was seen over the past year, the battles in Congress over the debt ceiling and overall economic strategy have largely resulted in stalemate as one side or the other makes demands and will not alter their position to meet the proposals of the competing side. Policymaking in the United States has evolved into a zero-sum game, where any loss by the competing party is a gain for your own and vice-versa. If policymakers do not work together to forge a realistic plan for the future, funding for public services such as the military, transportation, education, and others will come to a standstill, leaving the U.S. economy to suffer and the U.S. vulnerable. A failing economy in the U.S. presents its own set of national security problems, including inability to provide funds to pay soldiers, purchase and maintain necessary equipment, and carry out important operations.
Second, despite the problems that seem to spring up despite U.S. efforts and sometimes as a result of them, a rapidly weakening U.S. spells disaster for the international system and places it precariously close to massive wars. Although unlikely, a rapid decrease in U.S. power would result in an increasingly multipolar world, similar to the situation prior to World War I. Such a global political structure encourages distrust between states leading to and increased probability of conflict.
Finally, the inability to compromise over economic and social issues at home may also carry over into diplomatic ties with the rest of the world. Too often, when a leader seeks to use diplomatic channels to respond to an international crisis, that leader is lambasted from the competing parties or ideologies for being “spineless” or being “apologetic.” Uncompromising politicians in power, solid and immovable from their opinions, greet international crises with an unyielding position and are less likely to work with other leaders to find an acceptable solution and are more likely to pursue unilateral operations. Actions like these, as seen in Iraq, weaken confidence in the U.S. as a leader in the international system and may lead to the loss of American lives. Such actions, especially coming from the United States, also delegitimize the efforts of international organizations to implement solutions. At times, there is a need to forego the diplomatic process and resort to military force, such as in WWII against the aggressive German and Japanese regimes. However, it should be noted that the same uncompromising stance towards the international system resulted in the Cold War, sending the U.S. to bloody wars in Korea and Vietnam and placing the United States on the verge of nuclear war.
The United States is in need of solutions to many pressing issues such as the economy, immigration, tax reform, and healthcare reform. Unfortunately, too often the different factions stand in each other’s way, preventing any kind of resolution. To avert the posible security problems from increasing partisanship, there needs to be a change in the rhetoric at the grassroots and national political party levels. A politician from a competing party should not be construed as anti-American solely because they posses differing opinions, ideas, or experiences. Blaming others for their unwillingness to concede to one own view does not solve the problems the U.S. faces. Without a change, the U.S. may be in store for increasingly difficult obstacles that will reduce its economic strength and weaken its ability to assure its own security.