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The Unapologetic Geek

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American Disengagement Might Not Be So Bad

Obama at the White House Summit to Counter Violent Extremism
Immediately after the summit, violent extremists all over the world dropped their weapons and hugged their neighbors

Last week, the United States wrapped up a three day summit on violent extremism that ultimately accomplished nothing. Lots of world leaders got up and made speeches about the growing threat of ISIS and terrorism, including our president, who seemed less interested in talking about how to stop the bloodshed than about how Arab nations need more jobs (forget that most of the 9/11 hijackers were obscenely wealthy). With countries like Jordan and Libya taking the lead on military matters with troops on the ground, and with countries like France and Italy backing them up, it seems odd that the most our nation can muster is a few bombs here and there that are about as effective as President Obama's historically dubious speeches about how the Crusades and Jim Crow Laws render Christians uniquely incapable of rendering any moral judgements about anything ever.

I understand this reaction from a political perspective. Not only did Barack Obama campaign heavily on being the anti-George Bush, but he is so wrapped up in his academic mindset that he cannot find any reason to justify boots on the ground in Iraq. He is eager to put the War on Terror behind us, desperate to focus exclusively on the domestic issues that are far more important to him, and deeply averse to doing anything that would risk giving his presidency the stain of another long military engagement in the holy land. I don't doubt he believes the American people would fail to support a stronger military response, and he has less than no interest in trying to change minds. I don't disagree with some of his rhetorical flourishes--I happen to completely agree that calling ISIS "Islamic" is giving them too much legitimacy and that Republican obsession with his diction and semantics surrounding ISIS is ridiculous--but it's hard to get away from the impression that this is a guy who looks at what's happening in the world as though he has no real role in it.

His foreign policy decisions have been utter failures as a result. I don't need to go into detail about his laughably naive reset button with Russia, his inability to follow through on threats about crossing red lines, his reflexive blaming of YouTube for a terrorist attack on an American embassy, his golfing immediately after talking about how an American was beheaded, his shocking lack of a clear response to Russia's multiple incursions into Ukraine, his insistence that Yemen and Libya are foreign policy successes as the conflagration of anarchy tears through them, or his doing an embarrassing Buzzfeed commercial for his healthcare plan on the same day as finding out about another American death at the hands of ISIS. It's all the same pattern: disasters oversees, even those involving the murder of American citizens, just don't interest him.

Obama being a fool
President Obama: taking the overseas murder of Americans totes serious, yo

Indeed, it's easy to look at the world stage today and conclude that the United States hasn't been in this much danger from the outside since the Cold War, despite what our Secretary of State claims. Yes, Al Qaeda has been marginalized and Osama bin Laden is dead, but ISIS, as they distribute heavily-produced videos of mass beheadings and march through large swaths of Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, makes Al Qaeda--to borrow a phrase--look like the J.V. team. Forget reducing unemployment numbers in Yemen, because this is a serious and growing threat that wants to make its way to our shores regardless of the economic circumstances throughout the Arab world. Is it any surprise that nobody is reassured when the administration explains that its strategy (a word it seems to think is synonymous with "goal") for ISIS is to simply "degrade and destroy" it?

But here's the thing: other nations are actually stepping up to take the fight to ISIS, even as they express frustration at the unenthusiastic response coming from the American presidency. I'm not giving the administration credit here (because I think this is an unintended consequence of its dithering), but in the long run, this might just bring America closer to its ideal and help bring an end to the decades-long cycle of our being the world's sole police force. Other countries have this tendency to take their grievances to the United Nations and hope that America does something, because America's military power is greater than all the powers of all the other nations put together. When America does step in, they then proceed to sit on the sidelines--maybe offering a few token soldiers, but never more than four digits' worth--and blame America for anything that goes wrong as a result.

So America continues to spend ludicrous amounts of capital in building and maintaining her military might, knowing that she is the single juiciest target for all the enemies of civilization. We have military bases littering the globe like acne, and have more troops stationed at them than are currently residing within our own borders. Republicans--usually the ones most vocal about the dangers of unsustainable government spending--behave as though this is an equation that can never be altered, that to act in any contrary way would be tantamount to national suicide. Maybe--just maybe--it would behoove us to break out of this cycle, to live in a world where other nations are capable of defending themselves without our help.

King of Jordan
The King of Jordan is doing it right

The Libertarian in me wants to believe in the ideal of "trade with all nations, ally to none," but it's hard to imagine how we could ever get there. Sure, if all the nations of the world unconditionally engaged in open trade with each other, we might just achieve a lasting world peace, but then again, if my urine turned into solid gold, I wouldn't have to worry about my credit card bills. In effect, there is no way for America to become neutral, something even President Washington was forced to eventually concede. Neutrality and free trade with all is a great theory, but not a realistic policy.

Still, maybe the incompetence and repeated failures of the Obama foreign policy will get us a tiny step closer to it. Yes, I believe the world is less stable and we are more vulnerable than we were six years ago--more vulnerable than we were on 9/11 even--but there is a glimmer of hope that other nations will finally realize how important it is for them to step up and get their hands dirty. ISIS is pure evil and it must be defeated, but what if it is ultimately conquered by other nations of the Middle East? Wouldn't that be better than ISIS falling to American military might? Wouldn't that have a more profound effect on the region? Wouldn't that make it harder for the next radical terrorist group to come along?

I think it would. The problem, though, is I'm not sure we can afford to wait that long.

-e. magill 2/26/2015

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