Sandoz: The United States in the World Arena 2006
THE UNITED STATES IN THE WORLD ARENA 2006
Sandoz, Louisiana State University
Society National Meeting
Sheraton Society Hill Hotel, Philadelphia, PA
April 2, 2006
Sandoz 2006. All Rights Reserved.
Our question is: What is
the proper role of the United States in world affairs? My answer is that it must be what it has always been: To
serve liberty and justice as best we can while defending our security and
national interests. None of these
terms is susceptible of tidy definition, of course.
So I offer a few sketchy remarks to augment what we have so far heard
from our esteemed colleagues.
1. Foreign policy. No
entangling alliances, despite abiding appeal to isolationists, xenophobes, and
pacifists, didn’t take us very far. It
was effectively repudiated with the Louisiana Purchase which paved the way for
Manifest Destiny. After the
lessons taught by the War of 1812, the Monroe Doctrine in 1823 asserted the
enduring principle that the United States is to be active in the world
arena and that it stood against colonialism or lesser use of force within its
sphere of influence then understood primarily as North and South America–but
not forgetting the Barbary pirates and their ilk.
This drawing of a line in the sand and daring anybody to cross it
without suffering consequences has characterized foreign policy since that
time. Speak softly and carry a
big stick became explicit in the Roosevelt corollary. With the collapse of British power, the interest sphere
expanded to encompass the rest of the free world during the Cold War, only so
long as vital American interests are implicated.
This included communist expansion or potential expansion (the Truman
doctrine later elaborated by Walt Rostow) or any threat to vital national
security interests judged sufficient to warrant diplomatic or military action.
“Containment” positively meant keeping the world safe for democracy and
out of the hands of totalitarian and especially communist despots– as first
demonstrated on a large scale in the Korean conflict where major United States
military assets were deployed with beneficial lasting results from 1950 until
2. Current Bush Administration doctrine. From the time of
the Founding there has been a moralistic if not plainly religious tinge to
these policies, grounded like the country itself on the “laws of Nature and
nature’s God” as “self-evident truths” and felt to be an “almost
chosen people” blessed by Providence, a light unto the nations.
America did not have to wait for Woodrow Wilson to become righteous. It
understood and represented itself as a force for good against palpable evil
and tyranny from its beginning. Thus also in the wars of the 20th
century, whose rich rhetoric is familiar to all of us–with varying degrees
of public acceptance of this overriding justification for action from the high
ground while still attending to mundane military, economic, and geopolitical threats. A moral justification in addition to calculated rationality
and interests has been judged essential in this country, if public support is
to be marshaled and sustained for any period of time. The failure or inability for various reasons to do so (a
potent Left and biased media among others) ultimately doomed the Vietnam
policy of Kennedy and Johnson.
3. Post 9/11. The
trauma of this malicious Islamist attack engendered a shift in policy
emphasis, from sturdy deterrence and containment to proactive diplomatic and
military initiative. Preemption as a dimension of Just War
theory, and of the universal right to self-defence, is not new with the
current Bush administration (e.g., Bay of Pigs, Grenada), nor does it signal
imperialistic designs much less eschatological intoxication–as the loud Left
and our more excitable citizens clamorously assert.
But it takes on sober importance (to include preventive war)
as an option of last resort in an era of lethal WMD danger when
absorbing the first punch could involve wholly unacceptable risk or a
knockout. As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said in 2002, "the risks
of waiting must far outweigh the risks of action."
completely new–think of post-Civil War Reconstruction, the Open Door to
China, and the Marshall Plan for instance–but more novel and ambitious is
express and energetic pursuit of transformative policies. These
are calculated to foster by all available means the move of nations to liberal
market economies and democratic free governments worldwide as the primary
prophylaxis against hostility and deadly threat from regimes or from the
fanatical enclaves they may finance or harbor.
4. Core current policy.
This is different in tone and
perhaps of more dubious validity. It rests on the convictions (as formulated
on March 16, 2006) that: “The
survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty
in other lands. The best hope for
peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world….To protect
our Nation and honor our values, the United States seeks to extend freedom
across the globe by leading an international effort to end tyranny and to
promote effective democracy. We
will employ the full array of political, economic, diplomatic, and other tools
at our disposal [to that end]…. We have a responsibility to promote human
freedom. Yet freedom cannot be
imposed; it must be chosen. The
form that freedom and democracy take in any land will reflect the history,
culture, and habits unique to its people…The advance of freedom and human
dignity through democracy is the long-term solution to the transnational
terrorism of today…. There are four steps we will take in the short term: We
will 1) prevent attacks by terrorist networks before they occur; 2) deny WMD
to rogue states and to terrorist allies who would use them without hesitation;
3) deny terrorist groups the support and sanctuary of rogue states; and 4)
deny the terrorists control of any nation that they would use as a base and
launching pad for terror.” (Quoted
from “The President’s National Security Strategy,” March 16, 2006,
released by the White House.)
Pragmatism and politics. Davy
Crockett’s motto was “Figure out what’s right and go ahead!” This
maxim well expresses the spirit of the Bush foreign policy in the war on
terrorism: it is simple, honest, and moralistic.
It is pure Texas (and Methodist) Sunday school, one might even
say–and we have to take President Bush’s religious convictions seriously
because he takes them seriously himself.
It leads with the American trump card by transforming American exceptionalism
into a universal movement: one invoking a universal human nature and
identifying individual liberty as natural to all human beings–a defining
God-given attribute and inalienable right. Relatedly, it favors free market
global economics and fosters an international community of sovereign free
democratic states. On the key
point President Bush remarked at a press conference on Aril 13, 2004: “I
have this belief, strong belief, that freedom is not this country’s gift to
the world. Freedom is the
Almighty’s gift to every man and woman in this world.”
such policy also be realistic? Perhaps
as realistic as drawing to an inside straight, if you play poker.
However: Better a bold policy than a timid one, or no policy at all, in
an ineluctable high stakes game where losing is no option.
Besides: God takes care of children, drunks, and the United States of
America, we cheerfully remember.
Potholes in the road to peace.
Nobody said this would be easy, and criticism abounds.
Woodrow Wilson couldn’t do it
and neither can George W. Bush. But
the United States was not then the preeminent world leader, hegemonic or
superpower, and economy.
The whole endeavor has a
destabilizing effect on global politics: safe and friendly authoritarian
regimes are better than hostile pseudo-democratic ones in the hands of
terrorist entities like Hamas. This
is madness we hear. (Bring Saddam
The other nations of the world
will never accede to such blatant Westernization/ Americanization and/or
(especially?) Europe is skeptical. It
is either too religious or too secular. Maybe. The American public–hearing
the incessant clamor of the hollow men composing the world’s ideologized
self-anointed “elites”–has no stomach for the kind of dissensus or for
the protracted conflict and carnage before us. Isolation and pacifism are too
strong to sustain the effort essential to even modest success. Anyway we
don’t like imperialism, so bring the boys and girls home, and set up a
perimeter around San Francisco,
our last bastion of resolute true-blue patriotism.
In the media age of information overload, deculturation, manipulation of
public opinion, and vitriolic politics, blood on the TV screens 24/7
dramatizing the horrors of war
makes the whole effort patently un-American not to mention plain distasteful.
Too many casualties! Where’s
the good news? The price is too
high! And for what?
We’ll go broke in the process:
Iraq may now be costing roughly a billion dollars per week, we’re told; the
deficit is soaring, the national debt threatens the economic foundations of
the Republic: we can’t afford the war on terrorism. Embrace peace in our
time. The Soviets couldn’t afford the Cold War; how can we afford this one?
By making the tax cuts permanent?
has exploded both at home and abroad because of Bush policy.
We’ve lost all our friends and politics has seldom been more
polarized. Nobody remembers or
cares that we saved the world from Adolf Hitler, Tojo Hideki, and later on
from the Sino-Soviet evil empire in Central Europe and in Korea.
Class struggle fanatics, having mastered only one flawed text,
monotonously decry a dark geopolitical capitalist plot.
Peaceniks incapable of constructive action burn our flag in indignation
that we seek to foster regimes devoted to honesty, justice, and individual
liberty. Pass the soma. Give
us the peace of secure serfdom is the cry!–like those oppressed by
Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor for whom hated freedom was the ultimate
tyranny, personal responsibility. Away
with all your principles! We want
to be loved!
The world has gone from 20 to
some 120 democratic nations since the Second World War: if there is a wave of
the future in global affairs this is plainly it.
If Indonesia and Turkey can
democratize (“rowdy”or not) there is some reasonable hope for the rest of
the Islamic world, even if not in accordance with Western models of free
governments–a fact explicitly recognized by current Bush policy.
expect uniform results but amelioration of traditional systems.
Politics is the art of the possible some sage once said.
Economic freedom may induce political freedom.
It’s worth a try in any case since it brings better lives to all men
and women–as can be seen everywhere it exists.
Battle casualties is a painful
subject. Every life is precious and cherished, yet some perspective beyond
if-it-bleeds-it- leads sensationalist journalism and the howls of peacenik
movements is mandatory: 140 miles west of where we’re meeting today 51,000
American soldiers died in a 3-day battle in July 1863 at Gettysburg.
Some 10,000 men died on D-Day; over 6,500 Marines and 21,000 Japanese
soldiers died in five weeks on Iwo Jima; the 82-day battle of Okinawa cost
more lives (about a quarter of a million) than were lost through both atomic
bombs dropped on Japan–one reason these horrific weapons were used to end
the war. The great 1950 Chosin Reservoir 70-mile fighting retreat from
entrapment by 100,000 Chinese troops, in 18 days cost 3,400 American (1st
Marine Division and the 7th Infantry Division) and over 25,000
Chinese soldiers’ lives in during combat.
But it helped secure democracy in South Korea for the next fifty years,
where it still thrives. That war
is hell is more than merely a cliché.
The 2,500 American military dead in three years in Iraq is grievous
cost, to be sure, and in no way to be minimized. But it doesn’t compare with
troop losses suffered in many of our previous military actions.
If we can’t “afford” current policy, what can we afford?
What’s your plan? World
politics is not like a philosophy seminar or a college debate– all
hypothetical or just for fun.
Something has to happen, to be done–right or wrong.
Not long after U. S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk retired from office to
become a law professor at the University of Georgia, I heard to him say:
“At last I can have an opinion!”
Bagehot once sniffily complained that the United States government under the
Constitution is all sail and no anchor. Well, however that may be, the wind is
surely at our backs, and the sail is up. That
sail is George W. Bush.