Many politicians are beginning to sound the call to “bring the troops home.” The once-hawkish GOP presidential candidates for 2012 have turned isolationist, as criticized by Senator John McCain. It seems this will be the year in which many will argue that America can no longer afford to be a superpower with global reach.
But don’t you dare believe it; we have been in this position before. In the midst of the Great Depression, many argued that what happened in Europe and Asia was their business and we have our own problems to worry about. It took Pearl Harbor to pull Americans out of isolationism, after Axis invasions and refugee reports could not do it. Just imagine what the world would look like today if the Greatest Generation had not shrugged off isolationism. Imagine what it will look like if we do not shake it off again now.
Though there have been comparisons, 9/11 is not this generation’s Pearl Harbor; besides, the profligate action in Iraq and early mishandling of Afghanistan have eroded any such feeling. Our current world is a very confusing place for an America that is used to having a clear enemy to shake a stick at. We have no clear enemy today. Islamic extremism is a movement, not a state. To what degree we should worry about China, Iran, or Pakistan is uncertain.
This ambiguity requires us to be more vigilant, not less. In fact, it can be an opportunity. If we begin to holistically approach problems in the world as security problems, not just as military problems, we can identify emerging threats and keep problems small. Beyond our military, we need to use the tools of sanction, diplomacy, development, and economic assistance. If we are not going to spend more money on these things, we certainly should not be spending any less.
If we retreat from the world now, our problems are not going to go away. They will grow, maybe to proportions we cannot handle without large-scale war. The argument that our allies will step in because they need to do more is wrong; they won’t. Our British allies are already having trouble handling the military requirements of the Libyan bombing campaign, dovish Germans will not send their under-equipped military anywhere, and Machiavellian France is not going to commit to anything that is not in French interests. Our European allies have turned to harsh austerity and there is no room in their budgets for stepping in where we do not. Nobody will.
Except for our potential foes, that is. China does not care about human rights in Africa, just mineral rights. Iran fans the flames against us in the Middle East at every turn. When we failed step in to help the Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Lebanese, Islamic extremists and terror groups took over. If we go back to sleep now, the world will go on without us. Wherever the light of America does not shine, our enemies move in the darkness.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons