As I speak these words the Gaza Strip in the Middle East is literally exploding. Even a cursory review of the news demonstrates how crazy this world has become. Amidst ongoing international turmoil, the United States has some important decisions to make – not the least of which is the answer to the question of our role in the world.
The state of Israel is capable of taking care of its own defense in limited ways. But what would the United States do if the entire Muslim world united in Israel’s destruction? Would we step back and watch the entire Middle East become engulfed in the chaos created by tactical nuclear war? Would we intervene on behalf of Israel? In other words, would we send American men and women to fight and die in Israel’s defense? We have sent Americans to fight and die for a lot less reason than Israel’s future.
Early America was distinctly non-interventionist. George Washington famously warned about foreign entanglements in Europe. James Monroe created a doctrine of foreign policy that limited U.S. interests to the Western Hemisphere. Only more progressive leaders began to intervene in world affairs – Woodrow Wilson in World War I and Franklin Roosevelt in World War II. And, even then, conservatives were hard to convince that America should step foot on European soil. Of course, few of us today would look back on those events and regret our involvement.
Evidently, the justness of the cause determines our involvement. Or not.
As an example, I remember counseling my congressional boss in 1991 to vote no on the resolution to support President Bush’s decision to engage the first Gulf War. I felt strongly that the war was simply about blood for oil. I thought it was immoral. By the time of the second Gulf War, I had changed my mind. The threat of weapons of mass destruction made all the difference in the world to me.
So what cause reaches the threshold for Americans to engage overseas? Is it the million-plus genocide in the Sudan? Is the current threat from North Korea any less than the threat posed formerly by Saddam Hussein?
Foreign policy has taken a dramatic shift since 9/11. Combined with unprecedented technology, organized but isolated acts of terrorism have made warfare widely unpredictable – which has led to its own set of modern problems over civil rights. As long as Americans fought and died on foreign soil, we had little concern about widespread civil rights violations at home. But today is different. Today we live with the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and the National Security Agency (NSA).
No one I can think of is approving of the NSA listening in on personal conversations, even for national security purposes. And yet, how does the U.S. protect itself from terrorism that often looks like your next-door neighbor? We can complain all we want about government snooping but what is the alternative under the circumstances?
The only alternative I can see is an America at risk. And I’m fine with that if everyone else is fine with that. But we all know that as soon as another 9/11 hits our shores the finger pointing will begin and it will start with accusations that our elected officials were ill prepared.
I think George Washington and James Monroe were correct. I also think Roosevelt and Reagan were correct too. The cause creates the response. We decided that the crisis in the Sudan wasn’t effectual. Only time will tell if the fate of Israel is worth our engagement.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
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