While the Mueller Report noisily rumbles around the corridors of power in Washington to inconclusive result, a dangerous world beset by storm clouds of war cries out for the stabilizing force of a steadying hand. In the Cold War (1946-91), for all its very real threats of nuclear war, the very simple U.S. foreign policy of containment waited out a hostile Soviet Union until its internal collapse.
Today’s threats are far more complex, and emanate from different arenas where friends and foes can switch from venue to venue. In these complexities, only the United States can play a steadying role, but it must commit itself to a foreign policy of global strategic engagement to do this. The unique position of the United States in this regard is due to two factors.
First, at the global level, the United States has no peer competitor economically or militarily. Russia has fallen out of the Top 10 world economies, and China’s rising GDP is still only half that of the United Sates. Militarily, the U.S. defense budget is bigger than that of the next five countries combined. Only the U.S. military has the power projection capability to support sustained military operations 200 miles beyond its borders. Russia and China have only a handful of foreign military bases, while the United States has more than 800. Instrumental in this power projection capacity are naval aircraft carriers, and America has more of these (11) than all the rest of the world combined. Put simply, any global agreement has to rely on the United States for monitoring and enforcing. Thus, for example, the global war on terrorism is built on the foundation of U.S. power.
Second, most international politics, and threats, now emanate from specific regions or issues. It is in these regions that the United States does face peer competitors; but, in each of these regions, it is only the United States that can tip the balance away from war. This becomes clear going through them one by one.
In a recent op-ed piece, three former officials — Secretary of State George Shultz (R), Defense Secretary William Perry (D), and Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sam Nunn (D) — declared that “The Threat of Nuclear War Is Still With Us.” Now, however, this threat arises from several places. Russia is rebuilding its nuclear forces to challenge the leadership of the United States. But, from the Cold War, Russia knows the folly of such a war, and the two countries are mutually deterred from one. North Korea’s unstable missile-rattling is dangerous, but we can count on the Chinese to help President Trump bring some level-headedness to North Korea’s dictator. China itself is building up its nuclear forces, but is tempering its growth because of its fear that it might push Japan into declaring itself a nuclear state, with a nuclear technology far superior to China’s. What restrains Japan, in turn, from doing this is the assurance that its ally, the United States, will protect it. Finally, there is the danger arising from the secret missile and nuclear bomb program of Iran that Israelis believe poses an existential threat to Israeli society. Should Iran develop a nuclear bomb and deploy it on a missile, Israel is likely to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes from its own nuclear arsenal, unless the United States is able to forcefully dissuade Iran from such a rash threat. In all of these cases, it is the United States that is the guarantor of nuclear peace in the world.
Regarding the war on terror, it is the United States that has delivered the military defeats suffered by radical Islam. President Barack Obama deserves the credit for the effective destruction of al Qaeda with the daring raid of May 1, 2010, that killed its leader, Osama bin Laden. President Trump has a right to claim credit for the military defeats of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Both Obama and Trump, however, must share the blame for allowing Russia back into the Middle East as a stalwart prop of support for the murderous regime of Bashir al-Assad in Syria. Though ISIS remains a threat in places such as Somalia, Nigeria, Chad, Libya, Kenya, Afghanistan and the Philippines, it has been rooted out from the core of the ancient Islamic caliphate centered in Iraq and Syria that ISIS wanted to use as a launching pad, and rallying cry, for world conquest.
Finally, as for China’s military threat in the South China Sea and its desire to push the United States out of East Asia, there is the subduing fact that this is opposed by the Japanese, South Koreans and Indians, whose navies are the equals of China’s, even without America throwing its largest naval force, the Seventh Fleet in Asia, into the balance.
With this combined global and regional power, the United States can serve as the guarantor of a 21st century of peace. The greatest threat to this world peace, however, is the lack of domestic peace in American politics.