What is America's role in the world?
In his Farewell Address written in 1796, President George Washington warned the nation about the dangers of alliances with foreign governments, knowing those relationships could be double-edged swords used to both help- and harm- the young republic. Some historians have considered his words a bit ironic, as the thirteen colonies would almost certainly have lost the Revolutionary War without the assistance of France. In the 222 years since he shared those feelings, America has grown into the leading world power, even though we struggled through numerous foreign wars and a cataclysmic domestic conflict, a Great Depression and several periods when it appeared we had lost our way. By the middle of the 20th century, it was abundantly clear that our nation was not only a beacon of freedom in a chaotic world, but also a great and dependable friend helping dozens of countries in need. It is only by remaining true to long held principles that America has maintained its standing (economic, military, technological) and will continue to garner respect from nations around the globe.
At what price do we gain respect? When the Marshall Plan was proposed following World War II, many critics complained that America was using taxpayer dollars to rebuild and strengthen other countries, in their view a misguided effort and a waste of precious resources. Yet without the Marshall Plan, many war-ravaged countries might have become even more unstable and vulnerable to aggressive actions from ruthless dictators. The creation of NATO in 1949 further reiterated America's dedication to maintaining peace in a volatile and dangerous world. Many political observers have asked "Should America be the policeman of the world?" The answer is complicated; on one level, simple and another, quite complex.
It is undeniable that without America's assistance, the two world wars would have ended quite differently. France, Poland, Austria and many other countries would have remained in the grips of brutal dictators. The course of history would have been altered- from one of liberty and rule of law to despotism and widespread human suffering. Quite simply, without America's help, the world would be a much darker place, with hundreds of millions of people living in tyranny. We 'did the right thing.' Do we always do the right thing? It is often not easy- many geopolitical situations complex and fraught with peril. American politicians have made, shall we say, questionable choices in using resources and military might, the Vietnam War being the best relatively recent example. Although our men and women in uniform during that conflict fought hard and served proudly, the justification for war was not clear to many and to the average American, the long term objective was even more elusive.
In 1989, President Reagan ignored the recommendations of his advisers and stood at the Brandenburg Gate, saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" He knew that it was wrong to keep people locked up in a system which took away their most basic freedoms, to live, to work, to travel. America does not have unlimited resources. We cannot send soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to fight in every "hot spot" around the world. We can remain true to our 'moral compass'- something hard to find in many leaders of this era. When our leaders stay true to the "core" principles for which the Founding Fathers dedicated their "lives, liberty and sacred honor", America stands tall, engaging productively with allies, opposing enemies and reaffirming its dedication to freedom for all people.