America's Role

2003-03-09

The United States of America started life with a distinctive philosophy of foreign relations: peaceful trade with all, entangling alliances with none. As America has become more powerful economically and politically, it has strayed far from that philosophy, to the point where now it is the world's policeman -- what the French call a hyper-power. American troops cover the planet, from South Korea to the Phillipines to Germany to Bosnia to Columbia to Afghanistan and soon to Iraq. I don't like this. Indeed, I am if anything an isolationist: bring the troops home and let the chips fall where they may. I realize the results may be messy. But withdrawing from the role of world policeman would force South Koreans to confront the realities of their northern cousins, Saudi Arabians to do the same with regard to Saddam Hussein, and so on. Problems on the Korean peninsula and in the Persian Gulf are not the natural concern of Americans; indeed, playing world policeman is directly inimical to the interests of Americans, for doing so results in hatred of Americans across the globe. As an individual I have nothing but friendship for the average Korean or Iranian or Bolivian (not to be confused with the power-elites in those countries) -- but people there now hate me as an average American because of the actions of the government headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Those on the right may criticize isolationism because they argue that Iraq and North Korea are now threats to America. I agree that they are, which is what makes the status quo so dangerous. But they are threats to America precisely because the American government has assumed the role of world policeman, and is entangled in alliances all over the globe. Would Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il now hate America if the U.S. government had cleaved to its founding foreign policy of disengagement? I doubt it.

Ah, but you may say it's too late -- we've assumed this role and now we're stuck with it: disengagement and isolationism are unrealistic at this point. I disagree -- if the American people wanted to, they could demand the return of American troops to American soil, an end to support of foreign governments, and peaceful co-existence with all other nations. But the American people don't care enough to demand that, which is why the government headquartered in Washington, D.C. will continue to meddle in international affairs and wage wars and support whatever regimes it pleases, despite their appalling disregard for human rights and human freedom. Who loses? The individuals living under those regimes, and the individuals living in America, too. Who gains? Those in power. So much for the value of "realism".


Peter Saint-Andre > Journal