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What is America’s Role in the World?

A fairly straight-forward question, with an impossibly hard set of answers:

When something is bad in the world today, what is the role of the United States?

First, let’s agree on some facts:

  1. Human rights abuses, Genocide, and Natural Disasters are Bad
  2. One country taking over another country is Bad
  3. People should not be judged by the amount of melanin in their skin

Whenever I am faced with a difficult question, usually a user interface or product question, I immediately list out the options.

Option 1: Do Nothing
This is what we tried to do after shit was hitting the fan in the 1930’s. (Isolationism) We stayed out of the war in Europe and Asia and what happened was the bloodiest decade in human history.

I imagine a neighbor abusing a child. I believe It is a moral failing to do nothing. There is a great poem about doing nothing:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

On the positive side, doing nothing is easy. It’s really. really, easy. We just ignore the suffering of others and say, “God helps those who help themselves. Speaking of which, we should help ourselves before we help others.”

Additionally, it is true that we have great suffering right here in the US. Shouldn’t we spend out energies making America better before we try to help the rest of the world?

Doing nothing is tempting, but it still feels wrong. We should be good neighbors. We should help the situation. Unfortunately, sometimes when we help, we actually make things worse.

Option 2: Topple Government and Nation Build
This is what we did in Japan and Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s very expensive and takes 50 years to do right. You have to teach people western civilization and give them the tools to execute a capitalist democracy.

Unfortunately, many cultures hate western democracies. In fact, they hate it so much, they are willing to grabs and waltz into a crowded theater to blow themselves up. It’s pretty damn hard to build a sensible democracy when people keep blowing up the citizenry. Plus, some people will constantly try to skirt the law and become warlord criminal bosses. Organized crime is a tough nut to crack in these circumstances.

This method worked in Japan and Germany (WWII), but Iraq and Afghanistan are still a mess. Realistically, we couldn’t do this in every single country in the world that has problems. We would have troops everywhere and spending money like crazy.

Option 3: Colonize and Build an Empire
This is what Rome and Britain did. They toppled the government and said, “We are in charge now.” The conquering empire installed local officials and systems to levy taxes and keep the peace. If anyone messed with the peace, the Goliath (empire forces) came and killed everyone.

There is a certain logic to Empire building. However, it is not alot of fun for the country being taken over. Just look at India. Freedom of self-rule is an important aspect of a nation. No one loves the Empire outside of the primary country.

The United States has a few colonies, like Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Things are not going well there. I think this is still cheaper than Option 2, but has lots of draw backs including local terrorists and criminals.

Option 4: Let People Live Here
Immigration has been excellent for America. Well, not if you are American Indian. Otherwise, it’s been great. We have consistently incorporated new labor pools as old labor pools climb the social ladder. People generally assimilate quickly and love their new country. The vast majority of immigrants pay their taxes and follow the rules.

Unfortunately, there is not enough space for everyone to live here. I think it makes sense to maintain a healthy stream of immigration, but there is a number that is too much. Besides, why is it good to take someone out of a terrible country to live here AND not do anything about the terrible conditions of their home?

If a neighbor is abusing 10 of their children, should we take 2 of them into our house? What about the other 8? Immigration is good, but doing nothing about the cause of their displacement is not. Immigration isn’t the answer to a horrible country.

Option 5: A Little of Everything … and the United Nations
Like it or not, this is our actual policy and has been so for 60 years. We sometimes do nothing, we sometimes get involved and fight, we sometimes take over, we sometimes let people come here. We are a grab bag of inconsistent policies.

Maybe this is unavoidable. Different people and different circumstances make this the logical choice. However, this is incredibly confusing for Americans AND the rest of the world. It makes us look like we have no idea what we are doing. (We don’t know what we are doing, but we don’t need to flaunt it)

Option 6: Focus on the United Nations
This sounds ideal until you actually try to get it to work. The UN is so flawed. The primary problem is the veto power of the bigger countries. It’s a toothless organization that doesn’t actually get anything accomplished. It’s like America under the Articles of Confederation. Useless. It wasn’t until the Constitution that we really got going.

If the United Nations could be turned into something serious, then it would have potential. Unfortunately, the current Administration is moving very far away from that reality. “America First” means everyone else second. It’s a selfish point of view that will ultimately be self-defeating, immoral, and unproductive. But it will make some people feel superior, so…there is that.

So what should we do?
This is the big question. Every option has parts that stink. The biggest problem is selfishness and human nature. If I could wave a magic wand, I would choose Option 6 with a real commitment for the US to abide by the will of the people of the world. If that wasn’t possible, I would choose Option 3 and build an American Empire. Literally take over Syria, North Korea, Russia, etc. We would likely need to Nuke them into submission. This sounds awful, but it has a certain logic to it. It’s the reason empires were built in the first place. I’m not advocating for this option.  Nevermind, it’s a terrible idea, I take it back.

Option 6 is my only hope Obi-Wan. Chances of success: Very Low.

On the bright-side: I found this Good News website.

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One Comment

  1. Daniel Lipka Daniel Lipka

    We could do what is right, regardless of the cost. Uphold basic principles: basic equality (gender, race, etc), basic self-expression, basic individual freedom, and basic health. Every single religion would call fighting for these things to be morally correct (and ignoring them to be wrong). This could be done in lots of way, not just militarily. We are the biggest market in the world, if you a country doesn’t meet basic humanitarian standards that you can’t do business with us (or use our banks). However, this will never happen because people are…well, we can look at history to show true human nature.

    Note: The UN has done some tremendously positive things, even with all their flaws. Ten of millions of lives have been saved. Extreme poverty and hunger have been significantly reduced. They have no military power, but nevertheless, have accomplished things that never would have happened otherwise.

    Note: There is no room for immigrants? Worst comment ever? Most of this country is sparsely populated and the cities have shown a tremendous ability to grow. 100,000 refugees would increase our population by .03%. 10,000 kids are born in the US everyday and we find room for them.

    What if the UN made a deal with each country, like NATO for the world. The borders as of today are set in stone. Any country that invades another country will be declaring war on the entire rest of the world. The punishment is swift regime change. In exchange, every country will reduce their military by 90% and use that money to end hunger and extreme poverty and rebuild their own infrastructure. Furthermore, every world leader that agrees to this will receive 1% of the countries past military spending in cash (you know, it is a bribe). If there is a territory in depute, just give one side enough money to settle. The world spends $1.7 TRILLION on the military each year, perhaps could be used in better ways.

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