Our foreign policy in freefallPublished 9:51am Friday, March 8, 2013
It is not just the complexity of the Arab Spring, nor the continued weirdness of the soon-to-be-nuke powered North Korea, nor even the Iranian claims of no nuke interests while acting exactly opposite. No, American foreign policy is in danger of freefall for more elemental reasons; our policy no longer fits the world now connected by the Internet we created.
Since World War II American foreign policy has been shaped by our military and economic power across the globe, and that power has sought to direct our friends and adversaries to submit to the wishes of the lone superpower.
We created NATO to protect Western Europe from communist aggression, but when communism failed NATO remained and expanded into previously occupied states.
And today we have offered a nuclear protective defense umbrella to our friends there, theoretically to protect the continent from Iranian nuclear ambitions, though the Russians would be the logical adversary with the capability to attack.
We protected Taiwan against communist China, only to have China become our largest trading partner and economic friend and foe all at the same time.
Today we sell Buicks in China and they steal our patents and hack into our corporate and governmental secrets.
We have protected Israel, the small powerful nation that resides in the most dangerous community on the planet. No nation has more needed nor more benefited from U.S. strength, but their isolation seems more and more a permanent condition in the Middle East.
We have supported the wrong leaders in the Middle East so often that even now, in Egypt, a longtime friend though no longer an ally, we are struggling to find a path forward with a government led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In South America we have opposed leftist leaders for generations with little effect in a continent where the populist movement seems innate to the broader culture and our efforts have brought us no positive results.
And today the planet is wired into the social network of the Internet, where citizen revolutions have thrived by instant messaging and viral videos to incite and spark reaction.
It is time for our foreign policy to change, to adapt to the new realities we face. We can no longer use our direct power to dominate others and gain the outcomes we seek.
This lesson we should have learned in Vietnam, or certainly in Iraq, and now absolutely in Afghanistan. Fielding an army in response to dispersed enemies within the population simply is ineffective.
But that is a military strategic issue, when what we face is a larger issue, which is: What American interests should we advance and how should we adapt to do so?
Should we advance democracy as George Bush believed, across the globe?
Maybe not, since democracy requires both an educated population and a tolerance for compromise free of ideology.
Should we advance capitalism, the engine that has best driven economic growth? Maybe, but capitalism takes many forms; the European form is more worker and community oriented than the American version. There is no single perfect version.
What if we advanced health worldwide, agricultural advances, and good government practices?
What if we stopped having preferences about what leaders other nations picked and instead strived to work with those leaders to find the best outcomes for each nation, even if not the best outcome for the U.S.?
And what if we used our military and our military technology in conjunction with other nations to protect vulnerable people from senseless cruelty where intervention was the only true compassion?
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.