As a young naval officer, we (my fellow officers and I) spent a lot of time sitting around the Wardroom table talking about world affairs. It was the height of the Cold War and we all had strong opinions about the Defense Budget, weapon systems, the Soviet threat and the direction of our military and civilian leadership.
These days, you don’t have to be a military officer to have world affairs on your mind. Our world has become more complex since the Cold War ended. The rise of ISIS, the Russian incursion into Ukraine and Chinese expansionism in the S. China Sea have heightened our awareness.
So, what should we do now? What should America’s foreign policy be?
Ian Bremmer has some ideas. A geopolitical consultant and a Stanford Ph.D., Bremmer has just published a new book titled “Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World”. In it, he asserts that America is not in decline, as some would tell us. Rather, our markets, employment levels and economic model are still the envy of the world.
On the other hand, Bremmer says, “our foreign policy is in decline.” Americans are war weary following a decade of “ill-conceived wars” and we now face an identity crisis. We are clear that we don’t want to “play global policeman” or rebuild the Middle East. But, we do we want?
Bremmer offers three distinct ideas. The first is “Indispensable America”. We can no longer afford to ignore threats in faraway places. So, in this scenario, America must lead. It is based on the premise that if we don’t, no one else will. America must promote its values – personal freedom, economic freedom and equal opportunity. In our interconnected world, the U.S. should provide a positive alternative to alliances with China, Russia and Iran.
“Moneyball America” suggests that we focus our attention and resources on Asia with a view toward establishing a firm alternative to Chinese influence in the “world’s most dynamic region”. Spend no time, energy or financial capital on fruitless efforts like the so-called peace process between Israel and Palestine. Develop a more pragmatic relationship with Iran, “a country that offers future opportunities that others in the region cannot”.
The payoff to playing Moneyball is more robust economic growth by pursuing strategic alliances and trading relationships across the Pacific.
Bremmer’s last alternative may appeal to many voters who are sick and tired of our involvement on the other side of the world. “Independent America” would provide a policy framework that would let the Middle East, Europe, Russia, China and China’s neighbors figure things out for themselves. Terrorism is more a threat to them than to us. We should invest our capital in infrastructure and our energy in taking advantage of our geographic position and our thriving economy.
Samuel Huntington was the director of Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and served on the National Security Council during the Carter administration. In 1993, he published a seminal white paper, “The Clash of Civilizations”, predicting how the post-Cold War battle lines would be drawn. According to Huntington, friction would develop along “the cultural faults lines separating … civilizations from one another”. He identifies “Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic, Latin American and possibly African” as distinct civilizations and suggests that nation states would no longer be the principal actors in global affairs.
Certainly, we have seen Huntington’s predictions borne out in the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the continuing India/Pakistan conflict, Islamic terrorist attacks on Western targets and the crisis in the Ukraine. However, even he failed to predict that most wars would be fought within civilizations. Sunni vs. Shia, civil war in the Sudan and the ongoing Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria and Kenya come to mind.
Predicting the future is difficult if not impossible. It’s difficult to know what new direction America should set for itself.
World affairs and our role in it are likely to be a major issue in next year’s selection of a president. Candidates will have to outline policy choices. However, few presidents have the opportunity to govern according to their campaign promises. Bush didn’t anticipate 9/11 and Obama didn’t expect the financial crisis to be the preeminent issue of his first term.
In a prior post (Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Machiavelli… Where are they now?), I wrote “it was not the policies on which Bush and Obama campaigned that mattered. It was their character and their ability to make a decision in moments of crisis and stick with them…. character is more important than policies.”
WHO WILL LEAD?