Monday, April 30, 2007

The Question of America's Involvement in the World

Someone recently gave me his opinion of what America's role in the world should be, and how he thought we were overstepping our bounds, getting too involved in world affairs, and doing more harm than good:

We have enough to worry about within our own borders to run around wearing ourselves out with other's problems. I think our actions abroad only stimulate the hatred and act as catalysts to these anarchist groups that act in the name of Jihad. If we focused on gathering intelligence and self preservation, rather than aggressive imposition of our values, we would be safer, richer and in better favor with the rest of the planet. Yes, that would create more of a "have and have-nots" situation, but no more than we already have.

Isolationism versus engagement, passivity versus action, the status quo versus progress. The United States has wrestled with this issue throughout its history, and the debate continues in these troubled times. It is a difficult question, one that certainly evokes strong emotions among many people. But as usual, Thomas P.M. Barnett does an excellent job explaining why the latter position should be the only course of action.

I would surmise that there are three basic responses most people advocate when confronted with the Core-Gap thesis (Core=1st world, modern, peaceful countries; Gap=3rd world poor, undemocratic, chaotic, dangerous countries). The first basic response I would locate on the left, or liberal, end of the political spectrum. What these people are most upset about is the notion that the U.S. military is clearly headed toward "perpetual war" all over the Gap, which in their minds will only make things worse there. They advocate a sort of Hippocratic, "do no harm" approach that readily admits that the Core is largely to blame for the Gap's continuing misery and therefore should rescue those in pain, bu do so primarily through state-based foreign aid and private charities. The "do no harm" aspect refers to their strong desire to see America bring its military forces back home and stop all these military interventions overseas, the underlying assumption being that fewer military interventions on our part would actually improve the international security situation by not scaring our allies so.

The second basic approach is simply to say, "That's the way things are" and to blame the Gap for its own problems. These responses came more from the right or conservative end of the political spectrum. These writers' basic point is that the Gap is not America's problem and that if we make it so, we will eventually end up running some "empire" that will corrupt both our souls and our political system... the more mainstream response from the right focuses on the notion that shrinking the Gap is simply too big a problem for the United States to take on-militarily or otherwise. Instead, they bluntly advocate a sort of civilizational apartheid that strikes me as a mirror image of what I believe many violent anti globalization forces would also prefer-including Osama bin Laden. Rather than fix the Gap, these respondents prefer segregation. The most common way this gets expressed is the idea that if America would only end its dependence on foreign oil, illegal narcotics, and cheap immigrant labor, we could just build a big fence around this nasty neighborhood called the Gap and not have to deal with it anymore. People who advocate this twenty-first-century form of isolationism do not argue so much for pulling our military forces home as positioning them around the Gap as a sort of global border patrol, making sure the bad stuff stays in the Gap...

Then there are those who have written in agreement. These respondents see both a moral culpability on the part of the Core and a moral responsibility on the part of the sole surviving super-power, the United States, to shrink the Gap by all means possible-including the use of force in the worst situations. This moderate middle views the Gaps plight more pragmatically, citing the history of past colonialism by Core states in terms of both the good and bad legacies, the right and wrong lessons to be drawn, and their underlying optimism that America-always the reluctant imperialist-would do better than those European powers had in centuries past. The only morality these moderates touched upon was the immorality of doing nothing.

...Like the Cold War containment theorists, I believe it is essential that we be honest with ourselves about the world we live in, and to me, that means-first and foremost-that we identify the sources of mass violence in the system and work to progressively shrink those sources... "shrinking the gap" as a strategic vision is not about making amends for the past. Instead, it is a practical strategy for dealing with the present danger that will-on regular occasion, I believe-reach into our good life and cause us much pain if we continue to ignore it. But more than just looking out for ourselves, shrinking the Gap is a strategy that also speaks to a better future for that roughly one-third of humanity that continues to live and die in the Gap.

- Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map, p 159.

No comments: