Choose Wisely

I ended my last blog post with what is perhaps the most famous quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Coincidentally, Teddy Roosevelt was one of the most pivotal figures in the history of U.S. foreign policy, given that he was responsible for bringing the United States out of a state of isolation from international affairs – with isolationism coinciding with the first one-hundred plus years of American history – and towards an internationalist phase that brought the United States front and center in international affairs up until the present moment. Roosevelt’s focus was on building a navy as a form of global power projection based on the advice of his military guru, Alfred Thayer Mahan. And now, the United States wields the world’s largest navy which in turn acts as a public good in the way of securing international commerce and trade. Thus, in terms of the two major pillars of international order and peace – namely, security and economics – Roosevelt set the foundation for the security pillar of today’s international system and international order.

            Roosevelt’s vision for American foreign policy has been described by Roosevelt himself as “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.” Thus, a traditional American foreign policy consists of order and peace as its core objectives, whereas a hegemonic policy – which is illegal under international law but was nevertheless put into practice by the neocons at the beginning of the 21st century – consists of using force to impose domination and subjugation over other peoples and nations.

            Also, an international system that maintains order and peace through collective security by virtue of security organizations and economic interdependence by virtue of diplomatic efforts is not something that is automatic and given. Rather, this orderly and peaceful system is brought out of psychological and political will and is preserved through psychological and political will. As the political scientist Robert Gilpin said: “A liberal international economy cannot come into existence and be maintained unless it has behind it the most powerful state(s) in the system.” Thus, a lot of psychology and spirit has to go into the fostering of global order and peace through the creation of security and economic organizations which in turn are underpinned by diplomatic and military efforts and operations.

            In sum, international order and peace as it exists in today’s world is largely a byproduct and public good offered through American energy, money, and resources. And although the energy, money, and resources are beginning to wane, diplomatic efforts – and thus psychological and spiritual efforts – may be taken to preserve the order and peace which America has fostered in the international system over the course of more than a century. As Robert Kagan wrote:

“For all its flaws and miseries, the world America made has been a remarkable anomaly in the history of humanity. Someday we may have no choice but to watch it drift away. Today we do have a choice.”

And the choice is between letting a handful of criminals and psychopaths – two of whom have died this year, while the few remaining ones are either hiding or are paranoid – permanently undermine the international system, or salvage the international system. Choose wisely.

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