Foreign Entanglements

George Washington, in his farewell address, advised the Country “to avoid foreign entanglements”.  He lived in a time when what happened in Europe was the example to learn by.  And Europe’s history of conflict after conflict with no apparent long term winners was his proof.  Today the world is much different but Washington’s advice seems still worthwhile.

President Obama has been criticized for “leading from behind”.  The President would say he was trying to avoid entanglements.  Actually, he should have been complemented since the “rear” has been very crowded with the likes of Germany, France, the UK, Russia, and China.  Despite what any of these countries says publicly, they all appreciate the US taking up the “world’s policeman” role.  Let the US do it.

The US’ decision not to sign a Status of Forces with Iraq is looking wiser everyday.   The Middle East appears incapable of self governing unless it is based upon force and absolute control.  While oil still drives the world’s economy and a Middle East disruption would hurt all economies including the US, oil has seen its peak and alternative energy sources will rule tomorrow.  And with that, so goes the importance of the Middle East.

Afghanistan is next on the list.  It has most all the characteristics of the Middle East.  Modernity lies in the distant future for Afghans due to its immense poverty and its middle ages religious beliefs.  President Obama will prove even wiser if he gets all the troops out of Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

But the world is not a happy and peaceful place either.  Countries such as Iran, North Korea, and potentially Pakistan pose risks to their neighbors which in turn pose risks to destabilizing the world’s balance of power.

Europe, the US, Russia and China have together found methods to live together even though their national interests are not necessarily aligned.  What will happen when North Korea or Iran freely spread nuclear know-how to other countries or asymmetrical non-state groups?

The “John Wayne Cowboy” instinct argues we should take a proactive stance.  Assume the responsibility to free the world of these bad actors.  Unfortunately as we are seeing in Syria, removing a despotic leadership may not appear to Russia, China or Iran as a good idea.  If the US were to pursue such a role, the price of poker would rise suddenly as secret supplies of arms (and insurgents) flowed in.

China has made absolutely ridiculous claims over total control of the South China Sea.  China looks to its history as justification but these claims are more easily understood in the context of the mineral wealth lying at the bottom of the South China Sea.  Countries such as Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines all have borders much close to parts of the South China Sea than China.  (Japan has made similar far fetched claims and of course has drawn strong reaction from China.)

So, how does one think that “leading from the front” would fare in this world of irrational government postures?  Hmmm.

If we would wish for common sense to rule, the big four (US, Europe, Russia, and China) must find a way see these unruly governments as a threat to each of their economic lives.  Islamic radicals are not what Russia is looking for.  If China’s export markets dried up, it is difficult to see how the Chinese government could maintain internal control.  And clearly both the US and Europe do best when the world’s economy is running smoothly.

What to do about Iran, North Korea, and probably Pakistan is not clear.  What is clear is that if any one of the big four thinks they see an advantage by helping one of these bad actors, then everyone will lose.  Leading from the rear should enable the US to more freely collaborate with Europe, Russia, and China when the US is not in a regional conflict.


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