More than anything else, this year’s election has been a rethinking of America’s role in the world. On the right you have Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee regularly espousing critical views of American internationalism, but you also had Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul who all held similar “America first” views as Trump. While there were not as many candidates on the left, the divide is still there between Hillary’s clear international focus and Bernie Sanders’ more isolationist stances. Really, the ongoing debate is delayed backlash from the Iraq war, a conflict which raged for an unnecessary decade, costed thousands of American lives, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and trillions of dollars in debt all for literally nothing since there were no weapons of mass destruction.
Our role as policemen of the world is only one facet of the anger and frustration because how many times have Trump and Sanders brought up the jobs lost due to NAFTA, CAFTA, and potentially the TPP? We’ve lost lives, we’ve lost jobs, and now we’ve lost the spirit to continue leading the free world.
Despite popular opinion, America would never have been the country it is today had it not been for its global leadership, and now is certainly not the time for a total deconstruction of American power abroad. For starters, we were the country which led the way in creating the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. The WTO promotes the global growth of free trade and acts as an independent judiciary of sorts when trade grievances between countries arise.
Despite popular opinion, our economy benefited greatly from free trade during the 20th century since it was our nation building the cars, trucks, and tractors for the smoldering European countries. At the time the WTO was known as GATT, but the organization served the same purpose of reducing trade barriers and tariffs which sustained our industrial manufacturing growth. While free trade is a dirty word in the here and now of America, countries such as Russia and China certainly didn’t think so when they did everything they could to become members of the WTO. The reason being for their interest was two-fold. Membership in the WTO made it easier for domestic companies to expand their businesses to foreign countries by building new branches with easier access to whole new markets. It also became easier for foreign capital to be invested into the domestic market, which provided even more money for corporate expansion — both of these things we too have benefited from in the past.
America also benefits from its membership in international security organizations, such as NATO and the UN. Yes, we use 560 billion dollars on defense spending; yes, we pay 622 million towards the UN general budget and another 2.402 billion towards the peacekeeping forces; and yes, if you combine the total military expenditure of NATO members we account for 75% of the money spent. So what possible benefit could there be to us spending so much money on our military? The benefit is that no one else does.
Despite popular opinion, our military spending brings peace because less countries feel the need to build up their own armies, their own navies, and their own air forces, when we do it for them. Countries with smaller militaries are less likely to resort to war because they know they would lose, which means that diplomatic solutions are sought after more often. Countries with larger militaries act in an opposite manner, and our involvement in Iraq is evidence enough of that. The US had a large enough military in 2003 where we did not feel constrained to diplomacy in order to rid Iraq of WMD’s that did not exist, so we invaded when a diplomatic resolution seemed too hard.
In closing, when you work on group projects with your classmates, which have been the most successful groups? The ones where everyone gathered around, shared ideas and worked together, or the groups where everyone was concerned only about their own parts and their own grades? I’m willing to bet you’re thinking the former, and that is why now is the time for greater US involvement abroad — not a retreat into our own borders.