The world has rarely been as stratified as it is today. Major countries and regions float by each other with different perceptions of the times and with a misunderstanding of each other's politics, cultures and institutions. Whether it is the United States, China, Brazil, Germany or even Russia, our markets are in principle interlocked and we all use cell phones, but our history, culture, and geographic locations force us to see the world very differently.
Globalization, the shining light of the pre-crash era, fails in our current world, which is more similar to a science fiction time warp, where parts of the world exist in the 21st century, parts in the 19th and parts in the 7th century. Compounding this is a technologically driven shift in economics happening at an irregular pace around the world. This shift is similar to the change from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Today, on account of automation and new technologies such as 3D printing, the economic value of the age of manufacturing and the people it employs is eroding, replaced by the new age of human capital.
But as the world becomes more chaotic, what should the role of the United States be?
Obviously, first and foremost, it is to protect the safety of its citizens. Second is to protect and nurture America's economic well-being, a role made drastically more difficult by the mutuality of globalized economies. But the third, the traditional post war role of America is a question, much harder to define and sometimes to justify, America's role as the world's unelected cop.
Seven years ago, with America's economy leading the world into economic mayhem and with the tragic history of the Iraq war behind it, many questioned America's moral, political and economic authority to play the role of the COP. China and some in Europe saw America as a discredited and failing model. But something quite amazing happened. Through a wise but politically erratic economic policy, the administration partnering with the Federal Reserve was able to re-ignite America's economic engine. At the same time, America's domestic energy boom began to free the United States from a foreign policy overly concerned with protecting its energy supply lines. America is no longer the sick country but rather the only major country moving toward economic health. The situation is similar to Mark Twain's famous quote, "Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated," but now with "America's" substituted for the word "my."
With the United States returning to a position of strength, and its democracy although messy again proving successful, America's role as the world's cop needs to re-examined especially in light of its cost to its citizens. As an example, the amount of oil America gets from the mid-east diminishes daily, while China still relies on the mid-east for 51 percent of its oil. Nevertheless, it is the United States Navy defending the mid-east oil supply lines, not the Chinese navy. And no one who is alive can remember the Chinese contributing to the cost of this defense.
With our newfound energy independence, there are of course some who argue that America should be less involved in the world. There are also some who are arguing that America should protect it's interests in a similar way that England did at the height of its power in the 19th century: steering a course in which it had no real friends and no real enemies. Instead acting, as the balancing partner on either side of an issue depending which side would move England's interests forward.
It is easy to dismiss the first of these arguments by saying that it is made by people who don't understand how interconnected the world is or people who use this argument for populist political rhetoric. The second argument presupposes that the world is the same as it was in 19th-century Europe, when great power economies were not interlinked, and the world was basically just divided into major countries and colonies. And of course this argument disregards the power of social media and its ability to empower on to the international stage individuals and groups that challenge the traditional concept of statehood.
The reality is that the United States at this time must be the cop. As the world becomes more chaotic and simultaneously becomes more connected, the interests of the United States with its paramount role of protecting both its citizen's safety and the countries financial well being demands that it plays this role
Yes, the United States is protecting the oil supply lines from the mid-east but with almost 50 percent of the revenues for the S&P 500 companies now coming from outside of the U.S. we need an economically healthy and stable China, Japan, Europe and Korea in order for us to continue to grow. And yes the U.S. led the sanctions effort against Russia, but protecting the right of territorial integrity, a key principle of our foreign policy, should prevent a future NATO-Russian clash, which would directly involve the United States. And yes the U.S. is leading the fight against ISIS but the reality is that in an over-connected world, as we have sadly learned, the 7th century can easily cross the time warp, and do tremendous harm both to our citizens abroad and within the United States.
Frankly, the only counter to chaos is leadership -- and if not the United States, then who?