This past summer, I went to see Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dunkirk. Set during the 1940 evacuation of British troops on the beaches of northern France, Dunkirk is a remarkably powerful story of how a group of teenage British soldiers managed to survive the Nazi war machine. What struck me throughout the movie was not the film’s gripping plot and brilliant cinematography, but rather how relevant the film is to today’s world. With just one wrong move, the world’s youth could once again be called upon to fight wars caused by deranged madmen.
The times in which we live are indeed frightening. Though “Rocket Man” Kim Jong-Un seems to be the epicenter of the globe’s chaos, he is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg. The Chinese incursion into the South China Sea, the rise of the Philippines’ lunatic President Rodrigo Duterte, Putin’s increasing military and political interventions, the British withdrawal from the European Union, and the never-ending chaos in the Middle East are working to create an unstable and dangerous world. In the words of Richard Hass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, we are living in a “world of disarray.”
The greatest counter to global disarray is the strength and stability of the United States. Throughout contemporary history, America has provided the necessary leadership to help mitigate the world’s chaos. From our leadership in both world wars, to the handling of post-war Europe, to the management of a post-Soviet world, to the measured responses to terror in the Balkans, America has had a long and proud history of helping to calm the world’s tensions. Though the 20th Century is filled with American foreign policy failures (the League of Nations, Korea, Vietnam), the United States generally provided an incredible degree of leadership in uncertain times. However, the days of strong, yet measured, American leadership have vanished.
The ascendance of the George W. Bush administration marked the beginning of America’s decline on the international stage. The Bush Doctrine essentially punished those who played by the rules, and rewarded those who eschewed international law. Evidence was clear that Saddam Hussein did not have any weapons of mass destruction, yet the administration decided to invade Iraq and unleash unmitigated chaos. At the same time, North Korea developed nuclear weapons and Putin invaded sovereign Georgia –– but the Bush team did nothing. Bush created chaos where there was none, and did not calm the flames in areas where mayhem was present. The world after George W. Bush was more dangerous than at any time in the post-war era.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration continued this incredibly foolish policy. American forces helped to facilitate the removal of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi (who had not engaged in terrorist activities for decades), and left the nation is state of extreme violence and unrest. The U.S. supported the removal of its long-time Egyptian ally Hosni Mubarak, only to see the nation fall into the hands of the radical Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time, Obama did nothing in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Assad’s use of chemical weapons or North Korea’s continued testing of nuclear arms. Again, those that played by the rules were punished, and evil madmen were left free to do their bidding.
Today, the globe is as dangerous as ever –– and we have left the fate of the world’s most powerful nation in the hands of a petulant, incompetent, deranged child by the name of Donald Trump. Today’s foreign policy is not guided by the careful hands of seasoned diplomats, but rather by the tweets of a temperamental reality television star. That, quite frankly, terrifies me.
In an increasingly dangerous world, the U.S. must steer away from Trump’s rogue foreign policy (if you could call it a “foreign policy”). Instead, we must take a more calculated, more reasoned approach. Perhaps the greatest height in American foreign policy was the early 1990s. Under the leadership of the first President Bush, the United States successfully managed the end of the Cold War while simultaneously leading a multinational coalition to rid Kuwait of Saddam Hussein. When the Berlin Wall came crashing down, Bush was not dancing on top of the ashes of communism. Instead, Bush and his team felt that the Cold War should end with “a whimper and not a bang.” This is the kind of measured foreign policy we must embrace.
In applying Bush’s careful foreign policy to today’s disarray, we must first look towards the tension in the Middle East. The United States must play its cards carefully: it must deflect Russia’s influence in Syria, diminish Assad’s capability to launch chemical attacks and ensure that Iran abides by the recent nuclear treaty. We cannot continue Obama’s policy of simply staring at the Syria problem and hoping it goes away; and we also cannot embrace the rhetoric of the far-right, which demands that we simply rip-up the Iran nuclear agreement. In Asia, we must convince China to assert its authority over the rogue North Korean regime to avoid a cataclysmic war. Trump’s Twitter war must be replaced with a careful diplomatic dialogue with the Chinese. Finally, we must act to counter Putin’s influence across the globe. Larger and more forceful sanctions must be placed on the Putin’s cronies, and the Russian regime in general (particularly Russia’s fossil fuel empire). America’s Sixth Fleet must also be emboldened to show Putin that the U.S. is willing to flex its military muscles in the wake of aggression. If we take these steps, we can begin to take the first steps to dig ourselves out of the current world of disarray.
Michael Glanzel is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected] Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Mondays this semester.