In the 1930s the biggest international policy problem was isolationism.
Because the United States had two vast oceans protecting two of its borders, many people thought we were safe from the aggression of both Germany and Japan. Thank goodness Franklin Roosevelt thought otherwise and carefully played his cards to surmount an overwhelming national sentiment to go it alone.
We know what happened. The Japanese made a big mistake with a sneak attack that mobilized the nation. By 1945 both Germany and Japan had unconditionally surrendered and for a brief time the world was safe again from state predators who sought world domination.
After that began a process with many smaller state players jockeying for increasing influence around the globe. Under the presumed umbrella of the new atomic weaponry a new strategic doctrine emerged, Mutual Assured Destruction [aptly acronymed “MAD”], which basically held that if you tried to harm me, I would obliterate you.
The plus side of MAD was that it pretty much eliminated major state sponsored aggression. The minus side was that it took attention away from what was developing in its place, which were severe, intractable local conflicts based on long histories of sectarian, ethnic and geographic hostilities to wipe out both competition and increase local power.
Since 1950 there have been several serious “local” wars — Korean, Vietnam, Iran v Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt v Israel etc. as well as many smaller but deadly events.
It turned out that the bipolar world, which then seemed relatively safe, was an illusion and a breeding ground for a proliferation of small or non-state actors to pop up out of nowhere and stir up various kinds of trouble based on religious animosities, jealousies and territorial ambitions. And, to make it worse most of those new “bad” actors had little experience or interest in any forms of traditional governance — witness Hamas today!
State power we have discovered is extremely inefficient and ineffective in addressing such non-state aggressions. And, worse yet, when state powers chose to engage in faraway places, more often than not they become ‘the enemy’ regardless of the purity of their aims and intentions.
Recently it has been observed that “not doing dumb stuff” is not a sufficient organizing principle to help guide state powers in deciding how to engage with the wide world. A few people even yearn for a renaissance of some ambitious Kissinger-like grand theories to help establish wise tests to determine when and how state power can and should be effectively deployed.
There are many people now who feel very strongly about a wide range of very important human rights abuses being the basis for essential state interventions wherever they occur. But, more and more, despite whatever the merits of those human rights concerns, state interventions have so far in the main failed to effect or promote human rights goals.
We are thus in an impossible situation around the world where we are either seen as wimps, fools or bullies and even a selective application of threats and promises has yielded little or no benefit to our national interests.
The situation now seems to have taken us back in some ways to the pre-World War II period when the vast majority of Americans, protected by those vast oceans, felt safe from most state based threats.
Today it is less a sense of safety based on isolation than it is a sense of frustration at our lack of ability effectively to project our state power abroad.
Thus, it is not isolationism in the literal sense — we obviously MUST maintain our vigilance and abilities to deal with state and non-state threats from abroad — and the need for MAD has not gone away and may never.
Our current need can be best be described, as suggested by a very smart and wise friend, as a need for a Worldwide Organized Watch — or WOW — based on economic power. Our almost anachronistic leading global military power rests solidly on our greatest power — our economy. If military intervention can not work, perhaps money [and a lot of it] can have the effect we have been seeking to redress imbalances in resources in hot spots around the globe. And that just might actually save money that otherwise might have been be spent on military budgets.
The core of our national needs and safety today lie in maintaining mutually assured collective action based on our allocating economic resources [sufficient money] early enough to the good actors in hot spots that they could compensate for their lack of resources. The amounts cannot be too much or too little. To start a fund of at least $250 billion should be appropriated, to be allocated by the President in consultation with the Congress. Of course, some of that money would likely be spent in the US by those people abroad to obtain the tools necessary to solve their problems. That would make the overall process less burdensome to us.
The term MAD quite apart from its powerful threatening substance was an effective icon for keeping big problems in check for a long time. Perhaps WOW could serve a similar purpose in today’s world? A beacon of WOWs just might start a process in which actors good and bad alike might see their respective self-interests in a new and useful light. Bad actors, aware that their opponents could get significant financing, just might be deflected to some extent.
We may have to learn to bite our tongues when some “bad” stuff goes on abroad and CNN drums up passion and concern for oppressed people and horrific atrocities committed against them, when we cannot realistically affect events in any material way other than providing serious money, food and medicine.That will not be easy or popular, but should overall have a less serious negative effect on our national and global interests.
Until the world figures out a way for some form of world governance to take over as policeman of world affairs, we just may have to make do with MAD and WOW?
Yes, I know I may be dreaming. But we really do need some new kind of organizing principle and that just might be supplying a lot of money early.