It has been nearly 23 years since the collapse of the USSR and nearly 70 years since Kenan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” stirred the United States into its containment policy. Since that time, we have maintained a strong presence abroad, taking part in several wars and conflicts throughout the world. If we weren’t fighting in the wars, we were supplying some else to, whether it was the Contras in Nicaragua or the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. This was all done in the name of democracy in order to slow down the expansion of Soviet influence. And, as some would prefer to remember it through a simplified lens, Ivan Drago gets knocked out in the 15th round by Rocky Balboa.
Yet, what is the cost of this strategy? According to Andrew Bacevich, the American Century, as we know it, came to a halt between 2006- 2008. He also goes on to claim that strategy is a fraud that is only utilized by those who want power according to his article. In some ways, he is right. America has spent almost countless billions on the War on Terror. And the invasion of Iraq was mired from the start. According to Thomas Ricks’s article, there was no actual phase IV post-invasion plan for the complete occupation of Iraq. In a simplified manner, Bacevich’s viewpoint does seem to be true.
However, repeating our shelled isolationist policy from pre-Pearl Harbor would be ludicrous. By letting go of the wheel, we’d risk losing our economic and political influence abroad. Already, China is attempting to gain influential ties within Africa. They’ve already donated aid to countries struck by the Ebola epidemic and have made several economic investments within the continent. In fact, they surpassed the US as Africa’s #1 trade partner.
By being not being proactive about the situation abroad, we risk having the situation worsen with our continued absence. For instance, the only way that Ebola can properly be contained at this point would be through an international party stepping up to deal with the situation. The WHO has already warned that, on its current projector, the virus will infect 10,000 people a week by the end of the year. Its continued spread has already caused immense economic damage within the countries that have been struck by it. The virus can also be weaponized for terror purposes. While its complex weaponization as a biological weapon is unlikely, it can still be utilized in its basic form by someone who is not afraid dying from it. All it takes is for someone to purposefully get infected and start shaking the hands of everyone in Times Square for the virus to spread. By combatting the virus and studying it, we can become better equipped to deal with this strain and future epidemics.
Our involvement abroad can also be beneficial. Don’t Go Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment reveals that there are several positives for maintaining a presence abroad. For instance, by being a security patron for Japan, South Korea, etc., we are better able to influence the regional politics within the region. Our military and political patronage also usually coincides with our ability to lead economically. It also helps protect global common interests. By having ships patrol off the coast of Somalia, we are able to help our global trade transportation infrastructure save millions of dollars from piracy.
Ultimately, we need to be careful about our strategy in regards to securing our interests abroad and protecting them. We need to be on the constant look out for things that may threaten our investments abroad. For instance, the popular overthrow of Mubarak during the Arab Spring meant that we lost a strong ally in the Middle East. At the same time, we should be cautious not to over engage ourselves in a situation where the costs far exceed the benefits. For instance, the containment of Saddam through actions such as Desert Fox appeared to have been working. Had we maintained that course, we would have avoided getting entangled in a counter-insurgency war. That being said, it is important to realize that, regardless of all the strategic plans and knowledge that we have on a situation, we are still pawns to unexpected events. Even Machiavelli argued that we may only be in control of half our events. In chapter 25 of, The Prince, Machiavelli said, “Nevertheless, since our free will must not be denied, I estimate that even if fortune is the arbiter of half our actions, she still allows us to control the other half, or thereabouts. I compare fortune to one of those torrential rivers which, when enraged, inundates the lowlands, tears down trees and buildings, and washes out the land on one bank to deposit it on the other. Everyone flees before it; everyone yields to its assaults without being able to offer any resistance.”