Many serious thinkers and writers have commented on the need for the United States to get out of Afghanistan and cease attempting to dictate policy and action to the Pakistanis. This thought process is then accompanied by the seemingly logical reasoning that the U.S. should always stay out of foreign adventures, as political military operations abroad are often called. Not only is this view strongly supported by both liberals and conservatives in the U.S. (for different reasons), it is said that it would be applauded generally worldwide. The fallacy in this thinking lies not in its justification relative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but in the basic assumption that the United States should have no role in projecting its democratic beliefs through military intervention anywhere.
This approach to American foreign policy certainly coincides with Ron Paul’s libertarian platform, but it also reflects a mood that can be found throughout grassroots America. Historically its antecedents go back as far as Washington and Hamilton in 1796. Unfortunately, what once was a widely accepted isolationist alternative when the United States was not a world leader is no longer available to a country that enjoys self-characterization as “Leader of the Free World.” In simple terms, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Even if the U.S. would announce it no longer has a proprietary interest in world democracy, there would be no similar withdrawal from world ambition by Putin’s Russia. That country is seemingly set for his domineering leadership for the next twelve and a half years, as well as his newly announced desire for a Eurasian Union. Or consider a China that views vast portions of international waters as its private lake and independent Taiwan as a province. Adding to these obvious examples of avaricious giants are the hungry midgets such as Iran and North Korea and the perennial nuclear-armed antagonists of India and Pakistan. This does not include the Arab-nurtured view that Israel should be removed as a functionally defensible entity, and the ongoing focus of radical Islamic terrorism against the U.S. and the West.
The theme of withdrawal to fortress America is often on the list of topics at international conferences. Many conservatives as well as liberals still believe such a policy has legitimacy. In reality such a choice no longer exists. Oddly enough, it is crucial to the future of both Russia and China that the United States not opt out of the international contest of “poking one’s nose in other people’s business.” They need to repeatedly emphasize what they refer to as the “hegemonic desires of Washington” in order to justify their own ambitions.
The problem with the United States’ involvement in various world crises is not that it tries to superimpose its desires and values. All countries will do that given the opportunity; it’s part of the human condition. The problem — or issue if one prefers that less precise connotation — is that the United States has not been very good at the politics of international intervention. Admittedly it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s also not easy to extract yourself once you have become directly involved. Isn’t this the reason for all international action to have a built-in strategic end-game?
All of which brings us to why the United States becomes involved in the first place. The answer clearly reflects an inheritance of post-WWII altruism — to say nothing of earlier Wilsonian perceptions — which essentially accepted that all nations should be their brother’s keeper. The United States as the richest and most powerful nation was deemed as having the greatest responsibility for assisting and protecting the less fortunate. As a result, the U.S. government under presidents of every hue has put the nation forward as the world’s policeman, aid giver, moral arbiter and general benefactor. And the American public in general has accepted this burden of officially sanctioned altruism.
The practical argument that has been set forth by most of Washington’s elite is that the United States actually is benefiting when it involves itself in good works abroad. During the Cold War there was legitimacy to this argument, in most instances. We saved South Korea from being overrun by the communist North, and we tried very hard to do the same thing in Vietnam. We intervened along with NATO in redefining Yugoslavia and pushed Saddam out of Kuwait. Many other smaller “adventures” occupied our interest — too many to count. And after Afghanistan in 2001 there came Iraq in 2003. It seems that’s enough good works for at least the next century.
William Pfaff noted in his highly acclaimed book, Barbarian Sentiments, “Isolationism could be good for the country.” He noted that isolationism may be the [U.S.] nation’s “natural condition.” Unfortunately, even if such a concept were true, the United States of America has grown too great, too powerful to exist without influencing the rest of the world. And the world has become used to that — and never again will allow the U.S. to live uninvolved and unaffected by international turmoil. The dream of conservatives and liberals alike to live protected from entanglements abroad is just that — a dream. The United States must stay alert and discriminatingly involved. Even as it prefers otherwise.