Americans awoke on September 12, 2012 to learn that one of their ambassadors and three other Department of State personnel had been murdered during the destruction of the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. In addition, angry mobs attacked the U.S. embassy in Cairo and burned the American flag. The putative reason was reaction to an idiotic video promoted by the malignant Terry Jones, who, embarrassingly, carries the title of pastor.
Didn't we help the people currently running Libya to kick out their resident tyrant? Weren't members of the U.S. Senate in favor of extensive involvement, at least by air attacks against the Libyan army and by arming Libyan rebels? Haven't even more members of the American government advocated involvement in Syria, where Syrian rebels are now being accused of the same types of atrocities as are being perpetrated by Syrian government forces?
The United States is blessed, but simultaneously cursed, by possessing the most powerful military in world history. It has sort of become like your father's Ferrari. You know you shouldn't touch it, but it's just sitting there, waiting for you to sneak the keys off his desk so that you can give it a spin. Our military belongs to the American people, but, because the population has its mind elsewhere, our government keeps grabbing the keys and giving our armed forces a spin. Because there is no draft, the public doesn't even notice it's missing until the casualty lists begin to show up in the media.
The quality of our military has obviated the need for cogent thought about U.S. foreign policy. Don't bother to understand the other guy, or what his needs or motives might be. Don't think about how outcomes might affect us. If we don't like what's going on, we can just kill the other guys. The two sides of the presidential campaign are victims of this approach.
The Obama administration has pursued a feckless foreign policy that hasn't solved any of the problems it inherited. At least we are out of Iraq and have stopped out military's literal hemorrhaging there. But what did we accomplish? It won't be clear for years, but currently, it appears that we have been midwives in the birth of a Shi'ite tyranny that replaced a Sunni one.
Regardless of what government officials tell you, we will probably leave Afghanistan no better than we found it. If anything, the recent discovery of vast mineral wealth will lead to complications that we will be unable to influence as we are outmaneuvered by everyone else involved in the situation. We remain engaged in a useless effort because neither this administration nor the prior one had the courage to question the country's military leadership publicly.
The pronouncements of the Romney campaign foreshadow even worse days ahead should Romney win the election. In a August 29th speech to the American Legion, Romney advocated for a stronger military, and "an American century." Forget for moment that he refuses to explain how he would finance military expansion and adventure. What would he do with the military he creates? How does he define that American century? The implication is, "Do what we say, or you'll have American boots all over your face."
The United States is hampered in its decision-making by cultural and intelligence obstacles. The cultural piece has always been with us. We refuse to believe that anyone in any other part of the world would not want what we have to offer. The simple fact is that our value system is uniquely ours. No other nation is so protective of its minorities or so committed to the value of every individual. The truth is that human life is cheap and fungible. We have chosen to ignore those facts. The rest of the world has not.
We have also suffered deterioration in our intelligence gathering. This is due to a number of factors, including past budget issues, the shift to operations in Asia and Africa, and over-reliance on technology at the expense of human intelligence gathering. After more than sixty years of direct involvement in the Middle East, we still can't separate friends from enemies, and don't realize that we are valued only for our material support, not our wisdom.
Taking the quality of our leadership into account, it would be best if we stepped back from engagement on any level but trade. To continue on our current course means more dead soldiers, more dead Foreign Service personnel, and more wasted resources. We need to refit our military and completely revamp the way in which we look at the rest of the world. It is not interested in our advice or our values. Mostly, it is interested in a safe place to live and knowing where its next meal is coming from. It is willing to have us pick up the check, but not if there are strings attached. It may be better if we just let the world grow up and learn its own lessons while we carefully watch and measure our involvement according to our national interests. The rest of the world is willing to shed blood. It shouldn't be ours.