What a challenge the world today presents for U.S. foreign policy. Secret illegal nuclear weapons programs, illegal annexation of territory, recalcitrance in negotiating peace treaties, harassment and discrimination against minorities ... and these are just examples from our ally Israel. While we have elected not to engage that country for these actions, there is no shortage of others providing us with the same opportunities. John Kerry has his fingers in so many pies that he hardly has any left to wag in admonishment. The trouble is that by picking and choosing only the actions of non-allies to criticize and intercede against, America is steadily losing its credibility. And our own international activities over the past 50 years or so have left us open to well deserved charges of hypocrisy and double standard-ism.
The question is, why do we cling so fervently to the idea of American hegemony being a beneficial goal for us and for the rest of the world? Throughout history, there has always been one empire or another dominating the seas or continents or both. And every one of these empires saw themselves as shining examples of just how others should lead their lives and run their countries. Whether it was the Pax Romana, the Pax Britannica or the Pax Americana, subjugation has been described as benevolence, and actions "for the greater good" inevitably served to enrich and empower the empires on top. And, just as inevitably, hubris, cluelessness and arrogance leads to the downfall of empires and to their demotion to "second rate powers."
When this question is asked, people often point to World War II and say that American might turned the tide against fascism and saved the world from even greater disaster than was wrought by that war. But America entered that war not as a superpower, but as a country that had demilitarized after the World War I and was primarily interested in taking care of its own business. The war made demands upon the nation, and the nation rose to the challenge. But instead of once again downsizing the war footing after victory, we instituted instead the military/industrial complex and decided to assume a role as an insurmountable superpower, with all the requisite roles of policing the world and interfering with other countries' affairs. This led us inexorably into unnecessary and doomed conflicts like the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as into numerous military adventures that furthered the goals of an ideological few and the moneyed interests that they served.
Every time that an empire uses force to have its way, it creates generations worth of ill will and inspires violent reaction, whether immediately or, as in the case of Iran, decades later when the opportunity arises. England, the Soviet Union and, soon, America will have fully experienced this in Afghanistan, but it never seems to prevent the next big boy on the block from making the same mistake.
While it would be naïve for a country to have no military readiness and to leave itself defenseless to international belligerence, this does not mean that it must instead become another active belligerent in its own right. This is not only a moral flaw for a mighty nation, it is, in the long run, a sure-fire recipe for decline. After living high on the hog for a few decades after World War II, America's lopsided investment in the military/industrial complex and our costly wars of choice have led us to become a nation with crumbling infrastructure, an economic system evolving back to the inequalities of the robber baron days, and a vast majority of the population that is regressing in terms of opportunities, education, health and well being.
There is no question that Russia's recent actions vis a vis Ukraine, brutal civil wars in Syria, the Congo, Sudan, Libya and elsewhere are serious violations of international law or decorum, but it does not necessarily follow that a show of force from a superpower could do anything to improve these situations. John McCain and his ilk call for military intervention every time they see something of which they don't approve (or they see an opportunity to make the party in power look bad), but rarely, if ever, do such interventions work in the long run. Upon closer scrutiny, it can be seen that what were presented as urgent and important uses of force "for the sake of good" were in fact shots in the dark driven by ideology or hurt pride. Donald Rumsfeld, explaining the murderous folly of the Iraq war, illustrates the point. He explained that if you don't know what is actually happening (in his case, Sadaam Hussein's supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction), you nonetheless have to choose something to believe in, and then act on it. This is not statesmanship, it is madness and the thousands of dead Americans and a million or so dead Iraqis would testify to that if they could speak.
Now John Kerry and Joe Biden are making noise about keeping China in its place, lest it start acting like the major power that it has become. They seem to fail to note that China has become powerful not by military adventurism, but by concentrating on its own economy and investing abroad in industrial and agricultural enterprises. These investments are starting to yield returns that will far outpace those that America can hope to gain by its investments in propping up despots and generals simply because they agree to be our SOBs for a period of time.
If America were to turn its back on the lure of international adventurism and instead invest in non-militarism both abroad and at home, then we could enhance our security and quit making so many enemies at the same time.
Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane.