America Can Lead The World Once Again
By Van Meguerditchian
For a number of years after the election of President Barack Obama to the White House, the world felt like it was tilting to multi-polarism. The end of endless adventures by the U.S. military thousands of miles away from the American heartland had come to an end. American troops were no more returning to the U.S. in flag draped coffins. No more interventions, no more ‘taking the fight to them.’ This change was often described as “U.S. will no longer police the world.” The world finally took a breath from endless battles and American troops started withdrawing. First gradually, then radically as President Obama vowed to uphold his campaign promises to put an end to military adventures. Opponents of the Invasion of Iraq had finally their voices heard. Whether policy makers close to former French President Jacques Chirac who vehemently opposed the Iraq war proved their point: America should not take unilateral action without the unanimous support of the United Nations Security Council. These developments, coupled with the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), became the order of the day. America had done enough and it was now time to let the world be. Enough wars, enough disastrous adventures, military spending and increasing foreign aid that helped push the world’s economy to its most dangerous recessions ever. No more rogue states, but failed states here and there. Change should come from within but not imposed by Western values. Iraq had proved to be almost a disaster. It was now time for the Iraqis and others to take control of their destiny and aspire for democratic processes. Then came the famous speech delivered by President Obama in Cairo where he tried to heal the wounds that caused rifts between the Arab world and the U.S.
In a way, this approach had a positive effect as much as the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein had on the Iraqis. Tunisians, Libyans, Egyptians and later on Syrians decided that they too deserve to live with honor and thus too to the streets against all odds.
This honeymoon didn’t last long. Europe, BRICS and the world decided to watch and squabble as thousands were being killed and tortured by the dictator Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria. Along with its partners in Tehran, the Syrian regime allowed the emergence of radical Islamist groups (some later called it the Islamic State). As President Obama delivered on his promise to take a back seat in the world, leaders in other countries waited for a miracle to happen and focused their attention on solving the problems the regime in Damascus was creating for them: The Islamist groups, then the refugee waves that crossed borders and the Mediterranean to save their lives from massacres. Shortly after, these two contributed to further squabbles among Europeans on their most successful political project in centuries: The European Union.
In fact this world, instead of leading, decided to take the back seat with the United States, leaving the driver’s seat vacant. When a hunter with a rifle quits the forest, other hunters with only knives in their hands, prefer to hide than shoot the bear that threatens them. It makes sense, given the chances of survival are higher in hiding than confronting the bear.
For decades to come, historians will try to make sense of these two different strategies. Which contributed more to the well-being of the world? Interventionism or isolationism? In the United States, voters in 2008 were desperate for a change of course. And indeed, they got one. Whether rightly or in bad judgment. The pressure of daily deaths within the U.S. army was too much to handle. At some point the U.S. strategy seemed to be in disarray. Facing an insurgency pushed by Tehran and Damascus against democracy in Iraq distracted the Americans and their coalition from the task at hand: Stabilizing Iraq by ensuring peaceful transitions of power and integrating former Iraqi military personnel within Iraqi national army.
Some say this happened due to domestic political obstacles in the U.S. Others argue that the alignment of Damascus and Tehran against this new democratic threat in Iraq was to blame. I argue that both were factors in this bitter ending. However, the following years after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, are proof that the latter reason is more forceful and threatening.
For at least seven years, the world allowed these rogue states in the Middle East to choose their own path. In a way, they let Tehran, Damascus and their proxies force their way over millions of people through assassinations and mass killings while the world sat and watched.
While the U.S. flip-flopped in its foreign policies, Europe chose the safer way and went all in against interventionism (with the exception of Libya which is a whole another matter that we can discuss in another article).
So why this grand difference between the U.S. and Europe?
In ‘Of Paradise and Power,’ Robert Kagan takes two arguments. According to Kagan, many European leaders think that there is a fundamental difference in the understanding of security between the U.S. and Europe.
Europe, these leaders say, is used to being surrounded by instability and crises in their neighbourhoods. While the U.S., surrounded by oceans and a relatively short military history, is eager to enforce security where others cannot.
Kagan’s second argument is one of his own. He believes Europe has rarely hesitated to use force in enforcing stability and security. Whether during the reformation period, WWI or WWII, Europeans have shown their might in ending such crises. He argues that Europe simply does not have the military might necessary for such interventions. But the fact that most Europeans chose to appease Nazi Germany in the 1930s because of the memories of WWI, points to one thing: Europe is too difficult to govern with one voice.
This brings us to 2017. It should be no shock to see European leaders rallying behind American airstrikes targeting the Assad regime for the first time since the start of the uprising in Syria. The utter silence and the confusion over which poses a greater danger, Assad or the Islamist groups, has ended in a matter of hours.
Most rogue states only understand the language of power. While many are still arguing whether there really exists evidence of chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime over innocent men, women and children in Syria simply ignore the fact that it is not only chemical weapons that is a threat against Syrians. In fact, most Syrians have been victims of an ongoing massacre whether through torture, bullets and conventional airstrikes.
What happened in the first week of April 2017 seems to be the beginning of a major policy change led by the new U.S. administration. Neither the daily butchering of Syrians, nor the sporadic airstrikes targeting the Islamist groups is sustainable today. Some in Washington have grasped this and have fortunately decided to change course. Fighting the Islamist groups while leaving thousands of Syrians in the mercy of Assad is playing Assad’s game. What happened in the first week of April 2017 seems also to be an end to Washington’s appeasement of Tehran and its rogue proxies in the Middle East.
It feels like time had stopped entirely for the past 6 years. Washington had taken the back seat and handed the keys to…no one other than Assad and his cronies. I disagree with Trump’s former isolationist policies that aimed to continue former administration’s strategy in the world. The silence and despair was too cynical that I had given up speaking and writing altogether in the past few years. In the past week, the world seems to have realized that time had stopped and something had to be done about it. In the past week, hope has resurfaced in this world. Hope that we are all human beings. Hope, that no one wants to bury their children or send them to death in the Mediterranean. Hope, that the end of this murderous regime is near. And most of all, hope that America can lead this world once again.