Ted Smyth

Post Gazette


Forum: Toward a safer world

America faces a choice between two contrasting policies to make the world safer in the age of terrorism.

January 7, 2007

By Ted Smyth

Ted Smyth is a global business executive based in Pittsburgh (T-Smyth@hotmail.com). A former Irish diplomat, he lives in Edgeworth and became a U.S. citizen in 2005.

One of the reasons why the ideal of America, despite recent policies, still resonates around the world, and why I became an American citizen, is the universal vision of the Declaration of Independence. Over 200 years later these words continue to provide inspiration for people all over the world: "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Two recent books advocate American global leadership in support of this vision but they differ sharply on whether to continue a militant go-it-alone policy or to adopt a multilateral approach which rallies international support for the values of tolerance and liberty, values far more widely shared abroad than many Americans appreciate.

The first, The Age of Fallibility by George Soros, the thinking person's capitalist and a legendary philanthropist and financier, is a convincing call for America to abandon its unilateralist foreign policy and instead practice collaborative leadership in the battle against nuclear proliferation, rogue states and the global energy crisis.

A realist when it comes to the limitations of the United Nations, Mr. Soros suggests that a Community of Democracies operating within the United Nations might be able to deliver effective results in peacekeeping and mediation. But, most important, he believes that global security is dependent on effective American leadership: "If the United States fails to provide the right kind of leadership our civilization may destroy itself," he warns.

The second book, Dangerous Nation by Robert Kagan, a prominent neoconservative, argues that the Bush administration's emphasis on global military supremacy is in keeping with a nation which has used force from the time of the Puritans to defeat Native Americans as well as the French, Spanish and British armies.

After the defeat of the British, Mr. Kagan contends, America's "ravenous appetites" and lust for empire were unleashed, leading to 200 years of unparalleled commercial and political expansion. Mr. Kagan argues that the high-minded principles of the Declaration of Independence are for Americans, not some call for global sharing of wealth, but "the essence of their national identity" and a justification for the imposition by force of democracy on other nations.

Neocons like Mr. Kagan see the world as ruled by force and advocate even more military action to make America safe. Despite the setbacks in Iraq, Mr. Kagan wrote recently in the Financial Times, "True realism would recognize America for what it is, an ambitious, ideological, revolutionary nation with a belief in its own world-transforming powers and a historical record of enough success to sustain that belief."

As Mr. Soros explains, this Bush doctrine of American supremacy is of recent origin and was promulgated in the National Security Report of 2002, its two main tenets being absolute U.S. military superiority in every part of the world and the right to preemptive military action. The result was the invasion of Iraq.

Ironically, as Richard Haas, a senior policy adviser to President Bush early in his administration, wrote recently, "The Iraq war has reduced U.S. leverage worldwide" by tying down a huge portion of the U.S. military. And, as most experts agree, Iraq also has demonstrated the limits of high tech military power and air superiority in a hostile and divided tribal society. (The Soviet Union learned the same lesson in Afghanistan.)

In contrast with the neo-cons, Mr. Soros, who has spent more than $4 billion promoting democracy in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world, argues that democracy cannot be introduced by force of arms. He says, "Military power is only one of many ingredients that a country needs to exercise influence over others" and reminds us of President Truman's use of the generous Marshall Plan to defeat communism in Europe.

Mr. Truman was a founder of the United Nations, the only all-inclusive global organization dedicated to peace, development and human rights. The principal finding of the bipartisan Gingrich-Mitchell task force in 2005 was "the firm belief that an effective United Nations is in America's interests."

The overwhelming reality is that the world is global and American business is increasingly dependent on international partnerships and a stable world order. Given that no single power can conquer this world, we need an organization to help developing countries strengthen institutions, improve capabilities and promote greater equality between rich and poor. The new U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, has committed himself to U.N. reform and stronger management to help work towards a new world order based on legitimacy and the rule of law.

What, then, is the best course for Americans faced with the growing global challenges of nuclear proliferation, global warming, terrorism, the Middle East, African wars and the increasing competition for resources with Russia and China?

On the evidence to date it would seem that we would be more secure spending our hard-earned dollars on cooperation with the rest of the world, whether in the United Nations or NATO, than on a quixotic quest to police every dangerous corner of the world. America and other nations still will have to use force as a last resort to protect national security, but the greater prize is for America to leverage its power to develop a vision for management of global issues that will attract widespread support and legitimacy from other nations.