May 22, 2017
I’m hardly an expert on foreign policy, not even a serious student, more interested in global economic inequality (a related subject). So I hope you’ll pardon a brief sojourn into this complex arena. With the privilege of participating in the 2017 Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute, I have been deluged with seminars and speeches on foreign relations from true experts.
While listening, I have started to wonder–why shouldn’t the primary focus of foreign policy be the betterment of the world, while seeking to identify and correct (to the extent possible) the behaviors of our country which might be contributing to the enmity of others. And then only secondarily to realistically providing our strategic and military protection.
Wikipedia (admittedly hardly a scholarly source) says: “A country’s foreign policy…consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests….”
“Self-interest?” Maybe the problem starts there. I’ve been wondering why we seem to focus only on how to advance our own interests. I think this might result in others behaving the same out of necessity, while increasingly resenting our selfishness.
I’ve been wondering why so little is said about what we’re doing to create jealousy, resentment, pain, and difficulty in the world: Some of us live in opulence, which we do not even seek to minimally limit, while others starve–both abroad and also in our own cities; we incarcerate huge numbers and still support the death penalty in many states; in some states it is lawful to wear guns into restaurants and churches; we try to impose our form of democracy across the globe; we tell other countries how human rights and other American conventions must be observed abroad; we dominate world governance organizations, refusing to share more broadly the major directional world decisions; we often unilaterally act as the world policeman, seen often as the world bully; we conduct failed wars, shedding blood across the globe; and much more.
It’s long past the time when the US (only for a decade or so after 1989) could indisputably call itself the unipolar world power. Not only is our economic power now matched by China, but the “soft power” (aka respect) which we once enjoyed is now in the gutter, for the above reasons. The citizens of China tell Pew Research that they are happier with their government than we are with ours.
Do we think Americans are the only peace loving people in the world? I find people around the world much the same, with only a few rotten leaders. The Christian God whom the majority of Americans worship is not the only representation of the One God of the universe. Do we think God shines down only on the USA, but not on N. Korea or Russia?
Of course it is necessary in the present to also focus on how to protect ourselves–from radical islamist terrorists, from Iran, from N. Korea, from Russia, maybe even from China. We can’t just repeatedly “turn the other cheek.” It’s true that a foreign power might take advantage of our vulnerability. So, I don’t disagree with Lindsay Graham, John McCain and others far more expert than I, in arguing that we must do some of the things they recommend to protect ourselves.
But, what if we started now to move toward an objective of devoting as much time, attention, and money to helping other countries, to sharing our wealth, to a more welcoming immigration policy, and to correcting some our own troublesome ailments, as we do to defending ourselves and advancing our interests over others? We could hold our military expenditures at present level and offer to reduce them in concert with others doing so. We could fashion these kinds of objectives into a 10 year plan and boldly declare it to the world, invite others to follow, then provide transparency and measure our progress on these objectives.
A good parent wants to teach a child how to defend himself if threatened, but a good parent will devote more attention to teaching care and respect for others. The latter will enable good relationships. The former alone will result in a lot of bloody noses.
Perhaps the thousands of books on foreign policy do acknowledge something more benevolent than self-interest, but Wikipedia’s answer seems consistent with 99% of what I hear from US “experts” on foreign policy–“self-interest.”
I’m just a normal American citizen, proud of my country, but disappointed in us at the same time, seeing the Trump agenda of “America First” as enhanced provocation, increased tension, and animosity, doubling down our failed foreign relations. Let’s take the extra $54 billion planned for military and apply it to this kind of new attitude toward global citizenship.
What if we stopped ending speeches with “God bless [only] America?” How about something like this:
“God bless the meek, the merciful, the pure of heart, and the peacemakers–of the world”