The world requires global leadership from the United States. We as American citizens must realize that doing nothing, either explicitly as the isolationist far right want, or implicitly as the administration and far left want, is not the answer.
The world is in chaos. The crisis in Ukraine has escalated with the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has flared into open violence. Islamic radicals have taken over parts of Iraq. Al Qaeda in Yemen poses a new threat to commercial passengers. The civil war in Syria continues. Nigeria and Libya unravel. Nuclear talks with Iran are stalled. China continues its attempts to dominate the Far East. German-U.S. relations are in tatters. We face a refugee crisis on our own borders.
The world requires global leadership from the United States, but unfortunately the two most popular courses of action are not based upon U.S. leadership. The first, offered by the far-right libertarians, boils down to isolationism. Isolationism calls for America to not become involved in the affairs of other countries. Many followers cite George Washington’s farewell address, wherein he warned against “entangling alliances,” as the basis for U.S. withdrawal. This argument is seductive for an American public that has become disenchanted with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as NSA surveillance. For isolationists, any move in the international arena is step towards war and/or a step against our freedoms at home.
The second course is foreign policy as political campaign, embodied by the current administration. This approach involves first acknowledging a problem only when it hits the news. Second, it is necessary to make a speech about the problem, usually in a way that plays to a domestic constituency to score political points. The president provides a clear example, using the border crisis as a way to criticize Congress on immigration reform. Next, the administration takes just enough action to show that they are engaged. The recent “concern” over Gaza is a case in point. The final step is to wait until the news cycle turns its attention away from the problem. In the past several months, attention has shifted from the crisis in Ukraine to Iraq to the U.S.-Mexican border, back to Ukraine, and now to Gaza.
So what is the solution?
1. The consequences of inaction are dire
We as American citizens must realize that doing nothing, either explicitly as the isolationist far right want, or implicitly as the administration and far left want, is not the answer. When America does nothing, a vacuum opens to be filled by unsavory elements that usually find a way to endanger the safety of the United States. It is a fairly straight line from abandoning Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal to the Taliban takeover and harboring of bin Laden.
2. Push the president on foreign policy
We as Americans need to hold the president whoever he or she is accountable on foreign policy. The Constitution places the president at the center of foreign policy. Congress provides input and acts as a check, but the president executes. Indeed, the president cannot be responsible for global dynamics in and of themselves or plan for every contingency. He or she should be expected to develop a strategy and a response to international affairs and lead rather than follow public opinion.
Fundraising and campaigning instead of being engaged on foreign policy is simply irresponsible. In 2016, we as voters should judge presidential candidates on their long-term foreign policy vision and their ability to execute that vision.
3. Boost the defense budget
The simple fact is that budgets and domestic policy matter. From domestic oil and gas production to the defense budget, our decisions must be based on how they affect America’s position in the world. When we reduce our defense budget (setting aside waste reduction), we not only send the message to the world that we are not interested in global affairs but we also limit our capabilities in future unknown contingencies.
When we reduced the size of the military in the 1990s with the idea that ground troops were not needed, we were forced to stretch our troops with multiple deployments after 9/11. There was talk of the futility of missile defense in 2004 and 2008, yet the Iron Dome, a missile defense system, seems extremely relevant today. On the right, foreign aid is usually vilified, yet now it is being hailed as a tool in stemming the influx at the border.
4. Diplomacy can help where military force is not necessary
We must understand that engagement in the world does not mean entanglement. There are multiple tools at our disposal to shape world events that do not include American troops engaged in ground combat. Diplomacy and economics promote U.S. interests. However, collective security agreements coupled by the deterrent impact of a forward deployed military demonstrate our commitment.
The United States was successful during the Cold War because, despite political differences or approaches, our leadership and the public understood America’s role in the world. They also understood the consequences of not meeting those expectations. The President and elements of the far right are allowing us to forget these lessons. This must stop. Chaos is not an option.