The United States is struggling to determine its role in world affairs. On the one hand there is the country that refers to itself as the guardian of freedom worldwide. On the other is the claim that the U.S. does not interfere with other nation’s affairs. Then there is an additional claim that Russia, and perhaps China, are interfering with America’s elections – or at least have tried to interfere. Washington stands boldly proclaiming its outrage – as if such things are unknown in the West. “American values” are said to be under assault is another prominent issue, though the definition of these national values is a matter of domestic dispute.
Of course, in earlier times many of these issues never arose because the country enjoyed remaining aloof toward world politics and economics to the greatest extent it could. Until World War I we studiously avoided becoming involved in foreign wars and followed as best we could George Washington’s admonition in his farewell address – “It is our true policy to steer clear of any permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” How that has changed. Interestingly, our earliest involvement in World War I was the creation by American volunteer pilots of an unofficial flying squadron named the Lafayette Escadrille, named in honor of the young French nobleman famed for coming to help in the American revolution. Today we simply deploy approximately fourteen thousand troops to Afghanistan to fight for what we are told are “democratic principles” as we judge appropriate to counter radical Islamic forces who have announced their hatred of the U.S. and other Western nations. No wonder the American public and their leadership are a bit unsure – to put it mildly – as to what we are doing in regard to foreign affairs.
Of course, our relationship with Russia has radically changed since we were allied against Nazi Germany in WW2. We divided up Germany after the war, but very swiftly found ourselves in a political conflict with Moscow that became known as the Cold War. The fact that we uncovered information of Russia’s WW2 intelligence activities recruiting top U.S. and British government personnel, such as Alger Hiss and Kim Philby, to further the Kremlin’s plans for international communism shocked our professed liberal world view. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, came the Korean War in which we now faced the growing spread of Chinese communism under Mao Zedong and the potential destruction of anti-communist South Korea. Mao had become a new enemy earlier when the nationalist Chinese government under Chiang Kai-shek was driven out of the mainland and over to Taiwan. Next in line of our foreign adventures was our commitment to stop the growth of communism in Southeast Asia by assisting the French in holding on to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. That became the Vietnam War and the loss of over fifty thousand American lives and the creation of sharp political divisions in the U.S. While that may seem a long while ago, the divisions that war wrought set the scene for today.
All the while there has been a continuing effort to keep Africa in the Western orbit. Not only was that at best a mixed success, but often a downright failure. How did that happen? Supposedly that continent, both north and south, was well in the hands of its European colonial governments. For the few Americans who cared, the whole continent was just one confused mess after another. No wonder Washington had no understanding what our role was or should be. Even the American Black community initially had little interest in Africa. The hoped-for evolution of democracy was repeatedly thwarted by personal, political, tribal, and religious ambitions. Washington was buffeted repeatedly by demands and schemes of numerous interests eager to gain some advantage out of the African continent.
Not unsurprisingly, the U.S. involvement in Central and South America twisted and turned with the changing governments and the machinations of commercial interests. It may be a harsh judgement, but Washington authorities consistently reacted as if it was all just too confusing a situation to have at our back door. Only the Roman Catholic Church seemed to have an adequate hold on the region, although that too proved elusive. Today the only image that seems to concern the American public, press, and politics is that of thousands of Spanish-speaking Latinos demanding residence in the U.S.
And so it goes. We see only confusion over America’s role in world affairs. Neither Russia nor China are confused, however, regarding the United States. The U.S. is the international “big dog” and these self-defined Communist nations work every day to counter American power and influence in whatever manner they can. Meanwhile the U.S. goes along blissfully involving itself in every “sticky” situation that arises. This is accomplished while constantly bemoaning the self-assumed role as policeman and rich nanny to the rest of the globe.
No wonder America can’t figure out our true role in the world. It’s staring us right in the face while our eyes are half shut. We are the world empire that everyone else wishes they were. China, at least, is coming to admit that fact while at the same time trying to catch up. Russia knows only their nuclear strength keeps them in the game, while they also know it’s a weapon they cannot use. The answer for the U.S. is just to accept our fate, sit back and enjoy it. Meanwhile we must learn how to play our role as the flawed but dominant hero of the play. It’s certainly better than playing second lead.