How Can the U.S. Restore its Power and Pride, and Prevent Immense Suffering Down the Road?
U.S. foreign policy today is inconsistent, passive, and at best, reactive. More important, it is hurting the free world and U.S. interests in the long run. With recent events in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, the world is more dangerous today than it was just a year ago. When the U.S. is closing 22 embassies because it is not sure it could protect them, you know that something is wrong; when a Russian president is snatching a piece of another country without even blinking, you know that something is wrong; and when a Syrian president is chemically poisoning thousands of people without being punished, you know that something is wrong. However, this is just the beginning – with the newly formed terror country in Iraq, we should expect more troubling signs. The writing is on the wall, and to a great extent, inevitable – largely, as a result of U.S. policies.
So what is the alternative? Is there a better way? I contend, there is – and perhaps not surprisingly, it has to do with human nature.
When Putin grabbed Crimea, many called him bully and evil. But that is not the point. Putin’s behavior is actually “natural.” In fact, it fits a pattern followed by many rulers throughout history. It is simply part of human nature – the nature that drives powerful people to seek more power – as long as they can. The belief that the world in the 21th Century is a different place, is both naïve and dangerous. Human nature has not changed and dictators will always be part of the world. Also remember that our freedom principles have only existed a short period, while most people on Earth are still not enjoying the bliss of democracy.
There is no vacuum in power. American weakness in recent years opened the door for more aggression. Every hollow threat or crossed red line will only increase the appetite of power seekers. Indeed, the increasing threat of extreme terror, together with North Korea’s weapon pile-up and Iran’s nuclear plans, represent the same trend: When the U.S. is undetermined and backing up, others fill in the gap.
A common human misconception is that we often assume everyone thinks like we do. However, tyrants follow different rules. They do not think about people – only their own power. Did Stalin ever care about the millions of Soviets murdered under his watch? Did Assad care about the Syrians he gassed? And is North Korea’s leader worried about his people’s poverty? No way! Such leaders are also not concerned with international law, treaties among nations, or U.N. resolutions. Ironically, however, they often enjoy another “privilege.” They are very popular among their people. This seems to be another part of human nature. People worship strong leaders; it gives them a sense of pride and belonging, even when they are being abused or suffering. Remember Hitler’s long years of popularity among Germans or Stalin’s among Soviets? That simply explains why Putin is so popular today in Russia.
So what could the U.S. do now? We must seek new ways to restore stability, which was ironically in place during the Cold War. Like it or not, we should remember that for decades, during that time, there was a clear balance of power – and, essentially, no major aggression or use of violent power.
The current situation creates an opportunity to stabilize the world once again, and the only country that could do it is the United States. We do not need to go back to the Cold War. Instead, we should establish a new, positive and global message to the world, using the term, “The Cold Peace.” It represents our quest for peace, democracy, and freedom by establishing a new balance of power between the free world and the non-free world.
Once again, we should rely on human nature. All humans seek freedom and choice, and they resist oppression. People are born to be free; when freedom is deprived, they dream it; and when free, they function at their best. This is a huge source of energy, and collectively, creates unstoppable human drive. With today’s power of crowd technology, we should tap into this unlimited stream of hope.
Our “Cold Peace” policy would recognize that the world is divided between those who seek freedom, democracy, and free markets, and those who oppose them. It will send a message that eventually, all people on Earth should be able to make a choice between the two options. Our policy will act “warmly” to those nations and societies which embrace freedom and democracy, and be “cold” to those who oppose them.
The new policy would in fact have to face major powers such as Russia and China, each contemplating ways for taking on U.S. interests – either in Europe or the Far East. And it would also face smaller, not less dangerous rogue regimes in Iran and North Korea, as well as extreme terrorist organizations. However, we will not necessarily have to engage the U.S. military in every local conflict. We should actively protect our own interests, and those of the free world, and, indirectly, support all other quests for freedom.
“The Cold Peace” would involve three vital parts: moral, economic, and military. The moral component will indeed spread a spirit of freedom and justice around the world. With today’s channels of communication, everyone in the world will become aware of the choices. The economic part will establish both positive and negative incentives – to our friends, on one hand, and our foes, on the other. And the military component will involve strengthening the free world’s military power-base. We should simply remember and embrace once again the well-known Biblical and Roman assertion: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Military power is a language that tyrants, including Putin, understand well. Placing back one missile site in Poland will do the trick. All these actions will signify that peace has to be protected, and that it has a price. And they will invigorate the free world; recreate a sense of direction, justice, pride, and unity, and spread a positive spirit of peace on Earth.
The good news is that it will also redefine the U.S. economy and get the West out of its economic slump. Just like WWII, which got America out of The Depression, and the Soviet Sputnik out of scientific numbness, Crimea, Ukraine and Iraq are timely and cheap wake-up calls. We must not forget that the U.S. waited too long before acting in WWII, when millions were murdered in Europe. That waiting was based on the same American sentiment of isolationism that obtains now, but it eventually resulted in enormous suffering. Evil nations that have nukes today or tomorrow, will not hesitate using them – unless they know they will be punished. Is there a doubt that if Hitler had “The Bomb,” he would have used it? These kinds of leaders have not vanished; they only changed names. The time to act is now, while the price is still reasonable and not too painful.
“The Cold Peace” will not be without challenges or complications, and will not be free of mistakes. However, the earlier we recognize it, the better. The unapologetic and declared time horizon for this policy will be between 30 and 50 years. But with courage and determination, the free world will win again, and at the end, more people and countries will make the right choice.
* Dr. Aaron Shenhar is a Professor of Project and Technology Management.