For some time, I’ve found the best metaphor for international politics is a playground. It isn’t a perfect one, as it lacks adult supervision yet doesn’t degenerate into a Lord Of The Flies environment (most of the time), but overall it works pretty well. (I spelled it out here, but another blogger did it sooner — and far better — here.)
This is probably a bit of projection here, but sometimes I think that the United States is going through something similar to something I deal with pretty much every day — what I call “The Big Guy’s Burden.” I’m a large guy (always stocky my whole life, overweight for most of that), and I have (to dump modesty here) a powerful mind. (Largely untrained and underutilized, but very quick and an amazing ability to retain useless information nonetheless.) As such, I’ve gone through most of my life trying to not be intimidating. I’d rather be liked than feared, so I’ve worked on being a bit of a clown.
That’s one approach. There are others.
The problem with all of these is that you end up “buying” the good will of others, and they grow to expect you to continue paying for it. There will be times when you don’t particularly feel like paying, and that’s when you run into trouble — all of a sudden you’re not acting like people have grown to expect, and they don’t care for it.
So, how does this relate to international politics?
Pretty well, I think.
Ever since World War II, the United States has been one of the biggest kids on the playground. And since the Soviet Union crumbled, we have been the world’s sole hyperpower — the undisputed most powerful nation in the world, ever. (A comparison to the Roman Empire at its peak might be appropriate.)
And we feel the burden of that constantly. We could crush any other nation without hardly working up a sweat. The only checks on our actions are our own national conscience, and whatever restraints we choose to accept — or place on ourselves.
That power, however, is not one we take lightly. In fact, we go out of our way to downplay it, to draw attention from it, almost to pretend that it doesn’t exist.
But it does.
In the United Nations, we content ourselves to a permanent seat on the Security Council, and no special privileges in the General Assembly. Never mind that we are the single greatest contributor both to almost any military action it sanctions AND supply roughly a quarter of the UN’s annual budget; we could use that clout to shape matters, but we don’t.
With most nations and cultures, we bend over backwards to defer to them. In so many cases, we respect their values and traditions to the point where we will abide by them in their nations — that’s what a good guest does. And at home, we will accept, even embrace their differing values and traditions, because that’s what being a good host and “celebrating diversity” dictates.
But nowhere, it seems, are American values, American traditions, American beliefs, American mores, American ways considered worthy of similar treatment.
So, what to do?
We’ve tried being liked. We’ve tried to buy our way into acceptance, with foriegn aid, deference, and all other sops of appeasement. It’s gotten us nowhere — our “friends” are loyal as long as the payments flow.
We’re not willing to do what needs to be done to be feared. It worked pretty well for the Soviet Union, but we have a bit too much of a national conscience to go that far.
Fortunately, there’s a third choice: respect.
Respect, in this context, is a nice middle ground. It combines the likeability with the awareness of our capabilities. The United States needs the world to remember that we are not someone to be feared, but not someone who needs to bribe our way into acceptance. We are the 2,000-pound gorilla in this world — and as the old joke goes, where does a 2,000-pound gorilla sit? Anywhere it wants. You just have to hope the gorilla chooses carefully and wisely.
I hear what you’re saying. Nice idea, but tough to implement. Just how do I propose reaching this point?
One notion would be by introducing a concept that’s been far too foreign to our foreign policy: reciprocity.
That’s a fancy word for “we treat you the way you treat us.” Also known as “payback’s a bitch.”
The United States Marines have their formal motto, “Semper Fidelis” — “Always Faithful.” They also have an informal one, “No Better Friend, No Greater Enemy.” That idea should be brought to the world stage.
If a nation is friendly toward us, we will be friendly in return. Act decently, and we will be decent back. If you’re unfriendly, then traditional courtesies will go right out the window.
And if you’re openly hostile, that, too, may be returned.
We are currently involved in a war right now, openly fighting the War on Terror on two fronts and — in other fashion — also fighting it in many other places, many other ways. At the same time, we are also being confronted and challenged by other nations, often to the point of acts of war.
- North Korea has been forging our currency for well over a decade, printing millions and quite possibly billions of high-quality bogus $100 bills, forcing the United States to redesign its own currency several times. The United Nations knew about it, and helped cover up this assault on our economy, this act of war.
- Iran has been supplying weapons, training, and troops to the terrorists killing Iraqis and Americans in Iraq. Also, their seizure of the 15 British sailors and Marines was nothing short of piracy against a key US ally — legal grounds for war.
- Mexico openly aids and abets literally millions of its citizens in violating United States laws every year, starting with illegally crossing our border (the Mexican government even prints and distributes brochures showing how to do so safely) and continuing with aiding them in gaining employment and returning literally billions of dollars to Mexico. In effect, they have discovered how to turn their burdensome poor from a net drain into a net gain, by dumping them into the United States and helping them send money home.
So, there are three nations who are openly committing acts of war against the United States. I could add to that list nations that flirt with the line as well — Syria and Venezuela come to mind — but those three will suffice.
So, do we simply declare war on them?
There’s an old saying: “when your only tool is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails.” But we have far more tools in our toolbox than the hammer of open warfare.
North Korea is attempting to save its own DOA economy by leeching off ours. They’re drowning, and they’re trying to save themselves by climbing up on us, shoving us under the water. And they’re counting on their nuclear program to protect them from the possible ramifications of their actions.
So what do we do? Change our currency, of course. But inform them that it will not be tolerated. Their printing presses are being used as weapons of war against us, and if something unpleasantly violent should happen to those plants, well, so be it.
Iran has been fighting a proxy war against us? Cut out the middlemen. The next time we catch Iranians fighting alongside the terrorists in Iraq, bring them forward and force Iran to either accept responsibility for their actions — and acknowledge that they are waging war in Iraq — or deny them, brand them as illegal combatants. At that point, they can — and should — be summarily executed. After a few creative atrocities against these Iranians (burying them in pigskins, for starters), they’ll find the willingness of their people to come across that border will rapidly diminish.
And if it turns out that we discover a few military bases are being used to prepare these terrorists, then perhaps some unpleasant violence ought to be visited on those facilities.
Mexico is committing open acts of economic warfare against us, invading us, flooding us with the underclasses that it can’t — or won’t — care for itself? Tell ’em to knock it off. Screw a fence, put up a wall along our border. Start collecting information on just how much illegal aliens from Mexico cost us every year, and start submitting the bill to the Mexican government. If they don’t pay, take it out of the foreign aid we give them every year. After that, start seizing property. Impose taxes and duties on cash transfers from the US to Mexico. The argument over whether illegal aliens are a net economic gain or loss is irrelevant; we never agreed to accept them, so we are under no obligation to keep them even if it is argued that we benefit. We have laws against “negative option” marketing — “enjoy your free issue of our magazine; if you like it, do nothing and we’ll keep sending it and bill you later. If you don’t, write back and cancel” — and the same principle holds here. Any contributions by these illegal aliens boils down to an unsolicited gift to the United States, and we are under no obligation for not refusing it.
None of these proposed actions will do a damned thing towards getting more nations to like us. But being liked hasn’t really achieved a damned thing for us anyway — that was a cornerstone of Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, and we’re still paying the butcher’s bill for that four years of well-intentioned idiocy.
It’s also not likely to inspire much fear around the world. They’re all fairly restrained, considering the other options we have available to us.
But it might garner us a bit of respect — and that’s what we need in this world today.