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The Obligations of Power Primacy
America must face the realities of its own convictions and the demands of the world order our leadership, and our position as the preeminent free nation, helped to forge.
On March 12, 1947, President Harry Truman stood before Congress to ask for foreign aid to be sent to Greece and Turkey. Truman understood the gravity of his request. Greece and Turkey were teetering on the edge of collapse, and with the Soviet threat looming large over the eastern Mediterranean, Truman was convinced that without US aid, both Mediterranean nations could fall to communism. The president also understood the paradigm shift that his request signified. The United States could no longer afford to retreat from the world stage as it had in the aftermath of WWI. Its position as the last remaining free nation capable of challenging the communist threat demanded that America step up to the plate.
Truman’s address, later dubbed the Truman Doctrine, truly was a paradigm shift. Declaring United States foreign policy to be the “support of free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation” was a sea change. His declaration that “great responsibilities have been placed upon us”—responsibilities that demanded a proactive America in foreign affairs—set the stage for fifty years of American policy.
Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, the United States remains a beacon of hope on the world stage, but her conviction and will to remain that beacon have been shaken. Isolationism rears its head on the domestic political front, just as the global stage sees the rise of new authoritarian regimes that seek to dismantle the international order built in the aftermath of WWII. For the first time in seventy-five years, the United States must reckon with its position on the world stage, and ask itself whether it can or even should maintain that position.
Despite the consternations of those on either side of the aisle who demand we retreat into our shell, the answer to that question remains an emphatic “yes.” The responsibilities levied upon the United States by the world and by our internal convictions continue to demand of us a willingness to act on the global stage.
The international order that protects and upholds American values abroad is under siege, now more than it has been since 1991. A revanchist Russia continues to threaten European security. Iran continues to threaten American allies in the Middle East. An emboldened China seeks to flex its newfound might in the Pacific and unseat the United States as the leading power in the region.
The threats to American security are not solely found in faraway regions. The Western Hemisphere also faces instability across the board. In Venezuela, an oppressive dictator openly aligns with US adversaries while the citizens of his nation rot under heel. Cuba has invited China to build military installations on the island, directly threatening US security in a way not seen on the island since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And in Mexico, a weak central government allows drug cartels to wreak havoc, both within their country and across the American border.
Some will argue that it is high time someone else stepped up to enforce international law and defend the world order that the United States has jealously guarded for decades. Those people misunderstand the situation.
International law, as currently written, is only as good as the American arms that enforce it. Without us, the laws will be re-written, to our detriment. A world order led by China or Russia, or a return to the natural state of anarchy that the world found itself in before WWII, would actively harm the United States and her citizens.
And these laws must be actively enforced. It is an iron rule of international relations that the strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must. Human nature is flawed, and those flaws have always and will always manifest themselves in world affairs. The number of nations moral enough to avoid those traps is few. The number of moral nations with the power to protect freedom and virtue globally is fewer still.
It is true, however, that the global situation is no longer what it was in 1945, or 1991. United States policy will have to adapt to new situations, and a serious discussion will have to be had about which of her interests abroad should be prioritized and which will have to take a back seat.
Our commitments to Ukraine and Taiwan will have to be balanced. The changing circumstances of the Middle East will require us to recalibrate regional policy. Our approach to problems in the Western Hemisphere needs re-evaluation. But these discussions should be had under the umbrella assumption that the United States seeks to maintain its position—not abandon it.
President Truman challenged the United States to rise to the occasion and embrace its newfound responsibilities. We must renew our commitment to those responsibilities today.
Scott Howard is an undergraduate student at the University of Florida. An alumnus intern of National Review, he is currently an Editor at Lone Conservative and volunteers as an Associate Editor for the Freemen News-Letter. @ConservaMuse