The former Half Sigma posted this today.
The Middle East is going to hell, and the reason is Obama’s withdrawal from activist foreign policy, allowing things to just happen, because under Obama’s anti-neo-colonialist belief system, American involvement is always bad for the native people.
The Middle East is a bad neighborhood in the global community, just like within the United States there are bad neighborhoods like Ferguson. Although the people in Ferguson hate the cops, without cops they rob and kill each other and go on looting and pillaging rampages. (Which never happens in good neighborhoods. Did anyone riot on the Upper West Side when Bush beat Gore by a handful of votes?) If anything, knowing that they really need white racist cops in order to keep law and order only makes them hate the cops more. But when the cops withdraw and let stuff happen, the result is riots where the people destroy their own neighborhood.
Obama’s Middle East “strategy” was to let Syria and Iraq deal with their own problems, and the result of this non-intervention (which is the foreign policy endorsed by Ron and Rand Paul and the Paulites who leave comments on my blog) is that the region goes to hell and the Islamic State arises. The Islamic State is far more powerful than al-Qaeda ever was. Al-Qaeda was able to pull off a few terrorist attacks, but the Islamic State controls an army that may number in the tens of thousands and they are winning a war against “real” armies like those of Syria and Iraq.
I can still hear those Paulites thinking “so how is this our problem?” Well eventually, the Islamic State will export their ideology outside of Iraq and Syria. An estimated 12,000 of the fighters of the Islamic State are outsiders from other countries, many even from the West. There are hundreds of citizens from Western countries fighting for the Islamic State, and when they return home they will become an Islamic fifth column.
Just as bad neighborhoods like Ferguson needs cops, the world also needs a cop to keep order, and only the United States is able to fulfill that role.
The underlying argument here is that some people and some parts of the world need constant supervision. Someone has to be the game warden and police these people and places. Otherwise, they get out of control. That’s not an irrational position. I don’t necessarily agree, but I don’t think it is crazy either.
The question, as is true of all public policy, is what are the trade offs to the policy choices? Doing nothing, as libertarians prefer, has costs. Big parts of the world and big swaths of America would slip from the grasp of civilization. The Reason Magazine crowd would never set foot in my neighborhood even under ideal conditions. Take away the cops and that weirdo who wears the leather jacket on TV is not getting within 100 miles of my little slice of heaven.
On the other hand, the cost of being the world’s cop is steep. The citizens have a right to wonder if it makes sense to pay for keeping Iraq or Libya under control. Today, a lot of white people are wondering if it makes sense to even bother policing the ghetto. All they get is a bunch of grief and a bill for higher property taxes.
The problem with the comparison is I have no moral obligation to safeguard the wellbeing of Libyans or Syrians. I do have a moral obligation to do what I can to safeguard the wellbeing of my fellow citizens. Just because they live in the ghetto and like to burn their neighborhood down does not relive me of that obligation. Not all of them are rioting, not even most. They are my people and as a citizen I have duty to them.
The thing no one likes to discuss in either realm is when is it enough? At what point have I done enough to fulfill my duties to my country? Where’s the limit to what we can do for the people of Syria or Libya? A politician that stands up and says, “The blacks have generous welfare programs, easy access to drugs and alcohol and plenty of food. That’s all we are obligated to supply them” is not going to be around long. Whether you agree with him or not, you prefer not to look that bit of reality in the eye. You’d rather not answer the phone than tell your brother you won’t lend him any more money.
It is the free rider problem. If we sealed off the Middle East, stopped shipping them food, technology and culture, the resulting riots, mayhem and bloodletting would make Ferguson look like Utopia. In other words, without the West, a few billion people in tumbledown parts of the world die within a few months. Similarly, without the American tax payer, about a third of the American public falls back into the 19th century. Mississippi and West Virginia don’t become Iraq, but they get a lot poorer.
The trouble is we have no good way of saying no to those who want to ride in the cart. Religion used to make that easy. Riding in the cart was immoral for the able bodied. Religion allowed us to be quite harsh with those who would not pull their weight. Just as important, good people felt good telling the able bodied to get off their ass and get a job. Similarly, Americans had no trouble bringing the hammer down on dependent foreign populations when they got out of line. Being the world’s cop is easy when you think God is on your side.