June 26, 2014

The Will to be a Force for Good

I read an article today in the online version of Britain's The Daily Mail (a tabloid paper, to be sure, but one that still does some interesting reporting on global events, accompanied by some pretty decent graphics) about the spread of "Islamic fundamentalism" across many parts of the world.  I think much of the problem addressed is somewhat akin to the drug cartel problem spanning Latin America. No single criminal or radical, violent Islamist group is able to overthrow a government or present a meaningful threat to the U.S. on its own. But the aggregate effect of their collective actions, unchecked by weak or complicit governments and in some cases actually facilitated by corrupt governments, leads to the breakdown of law, the undermining of otherwise viable economic systems, displacement of populations, drying up of investment, decay of infrastructure, and sapping of the will and hope of impacted populations. This can lead, in turn, to sanctuaries wherein hardened groups recruit, train, gain experience, plan, and from which dispatch their poison to other areas, sometimes even to the United States.

In much of the world, it really is the case that a ‘strongest tribe’ is needed to impose and sustain some type of 'order' such that societies function. Sometimes that 'order' is ruthless and repressive and the societies 'function' in a way that enables survival but not much else. Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has served as the ‘strongest tribe’ in multiple ways: economically, ideologically, diplomatically…all underwritten by a strong military posture and a national political will animated by the importance of remaining engaged in the world in ways that stood against repressive, authoritarian regimes. The 'order' it has sought to promote and sustain has never had the goal of completely eliminating every bad actor in the world or imposing our system on others by force as tyrannical regimes have sought to do in so many places in the world. Rather, the goal has been be to maintain an order in which rule of law, trade, integrity of sovereign borders, and intolerance of repressive regimes (especially those that seek to nurture and export violent extremism and criminality) are valued and central elements.

The U.S. is the only power able to manage and sustain such an order, not by imposing it but through the myriad activities that combine to sustain such – a nudge here, an economic agreement there, the encouragement of positive interactions, facilitation in dispute resolution, helping to address small problems so they don’t become large, and, when occasion demands, sometimes a military strike when it’s the only or best option given the problem to be addressed.

It’s exhausting, it costs us, it’s never ending…but as much as the world benefits from it we gain even more.

That’s the point missed by this Administration and it's the point Americans need to once again recognize, appreciate, and support.

To further illustrate the point, check out the Fragile States Index (also found here), compiled by The Fund for Peace and published by Foreign Policy. Look at the rankings, note the countries that score high and low, consider their context. Then scroll down a bit to the section entitled Postcards from Hell and click the photo which will take you to a photo essay of "life and death in the world's 50 worst places."

Imagine a world without a U.S. willing to promote, underwrite, and sustain a global order that has brought greater prosperity, more opportunity, and brighter hope to more people around the world than any other country in any other period of history.

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