Friday, February 28, 2014

"The World's Policeman"

     Sydney M. Williams


Thought of the Day
“The World’s Policeman”
February 28, 2014

“I hate you!” is an epithet that has been uttered by virtually every child, at some point, toward their parent, especially towards those who are rigorous when it comes to discipline. Parents who enforce rules do not do so because they want to punish their child; they do so to teach him or her right from wrong, and to point out that such rules allow households to operate more smoothly. Teachers do not discipline students because it makes them feel good, but for the betterment of the student. Rules are to be obeyed. Police in New York did not “stop and frisk” because they were targeting specific groups; they did so because they were trying to lower incidences of crime. Obviously, at all levels there are exceptions – bad parents, bad teachers and bad police – but the majority has the interests of their charges in mind. The role of a disciplinarian is not to be popular, but to allow society to function. If they do their job well, they will be respected.

We establish governments so that civilized people can live in harmony, to bring order to what otherwise would be chaos. It is why free people choose to live under a code of laws. When rules are known, understood to be fair and unbiased and enforced we feel safe, and freedom can flourish. While we don’t always like to admit it, dishonesty and corruption are common characteristics, perhaps not of most people, but certainly of a sizable minority. Why else lock our offices and stores at night, our homes when we are away and our cars when we leave them even for a few minutes? As disillusioning as it might be, there is no Eden beyond the garden gate.

The world is like the family, the school, the village or the nation only on a larger scale. Our mutual interests are global. Commerce requires that ship lines be secured, that airspace be protected, that truck load-factors be adhered, that cyberspace be secure, and that international laws be obeyed.  The desire to do harm is omnipresent. Someone, or some entity, must assure that goods and people can move freely. For forty-five years following World War II, that role fell to two nations, the United States and the Soviet Union – in an unwritten “balance” of power. Threats of mutual destruction kept the fingers of leaders of both nations off the button that would have led to total annihilation. However, one country represented totalitarianism and darkness; the other, democracy and freedom. When the Soviet Union collapsed, some, like Francis Fukuama, predicted “the end of history.” While Professor Fukuama was wrong and history did not end, the world was fortunate that the United States won.

“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” is an old English proverb that it is useless to wish for something impossible. Man has never lived in peace. All men are not good. Many are evil. The world has changed from the Cold War days when we knew who the enemy was. Threats now come from smaller rogue nations, governed by heartless dictators whose only desire is power, and from stateless terrorists aided by rogue nations. Some of the former now have nuclear weapons. The assuredness of mutual destruction is not meaningful to them as their stake in the current global economy is small. The latter have no stake in the world as it is, so the death of a suicide bomber is considered an honor. They believe that the giving of their life to their cause is noble – that forty virgins await them. Thus threats are more difficult to discover and stop, making them more lethal, and more probable.

There are many on both sides of the political aisle, including President Obama, who do not feel that policing the world should be our responsibility. There appear to be five principal arguments against such a role for our country. Added are my responses:

1)      There is no political will. It is too tough politically. We have been through twelve years of war with little discernable success. Americans want the troops home. Anti-Americanism is rampant through much of the world, especially where we have deployed forces. Exiting Iraq and Afghanistan, as we did (or are doing), has left them more dangerous than they were a dozen years ago. A nuclear Pakistan is in free fall. Iran is more dangerous than ever. Syria is attracting al Qaeda and other terrorists. Egypt has become a hotbed of anti-Christian sentiment. The will must be found.
2)      It is too expensive. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we have more people on food stamps than ever before. How will it be paid for? We need the money here. Certainly there is fraud and waste in Pentagon spending, but all that talk begs the far more serious question of entitlement spending, which threatens to bankrupt the nation in a generation or two. A key responsibility of government is to keep its people safe. So, what are the costs of doing nothing? We may find out with this week’s decision to reduce troop-strength to pre-World War II levels.
3)      Are we capable? What size army would be needed? Can we adapt to myriad cultures and languages that would be necessary to be successful? No one knows for certain, but we are a nation of immigrants from around the world. Collectively, we should have comprehensive understanding of foreign cultures.
4)      Nobody asked us. This is silly and irrelevant, in my opinion. Who would ask us? The Russians, Chinese, or Iran? Members of al Qaeda? The UN, with its General Assembly dominated by Muslim nations and a Security Council with morally bankrupt nations like Russia and China having a veto? One doesn’t get asked for this type a role. It devolves upon one. There is no other nation that can do so.
5)      We shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility and costs alone. Ideally, we should not have to. But, if we accept funding from other nations, might that not restrict our ability to respond quickly and effectively? To those that see the United States as evil, I understand the reluctance. But has there ever been a nation – with all of its faults – that has put the greater good above its selfish interests?

The arguments against have populism and sentiment on their side. It is easier to justify retaliation against an aggressor, than to explain the need for preventive forces. But even those who do not see us as the world’s policeman do not deny the need. The world is dangerous. I was taken with Niall Ferguson’s recent observation, which I remarked upon earlier this week, that the number of killings due to armed conflict in the Middle East was greater in 2013 than in any year since the Strategic Studies Armed Conflict database began in 1998. That means more people died last year in the Middle East because of armed conflict than in any of the years we were fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just because casualty lists don’t get printed in the American press doesn’t mean people aren’t dying. That fact alone should send a chill up the spine of any doubters. President Obama, in 2009 in Cairo, said he would bring a new understanding of and respect for the Muslim world. Instead he has witnessed more death and destruction in the region than happened under President Bush.

Given the current environment, and President Obama’s objection to the U.S. being the world’s policeman, it seems likely we will walk away from that responsibility. It is a decision, I believe, we will come to regret. Nations can no more function without a global police force than can families, schools, or villages without disciplinarians or cops. The bad guys, over time, will gain the upper hand. We will then respond, but it will be late, violent, quick and discombobulated. It will do little to prevent future violence, and our costs will be higher. A police force does not have to be loved, but good ones are respected, as are their equivalents in homes and schools.


At some point a political leader will emerge with the moral courage to do what may be unpopular, but what would be right for the world. Until then terrorism will proliferate and people –Americans included – will die. The world does need a policeman. It would be pleasant if we could all live in harmony, and it would be nice if it were a police force comprised of many nations, but that seems unlikely and unworkable. So, until another country becomes more powerful than ours – which will happen at some point – the only nation capable is the United States. It is our responsibility. Avoiding it will help give rise to a reinvigorated Russia and a resurgent China. Would you prefer that Russia or China assume the role? Shunning responsibility now will not make the world a safer place. 

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