The American Dream: stretched too thin
Iraq. Afghanistan. Somalia. Vietnam. Countries seared permanently in the collective memory of the United States because our interventions in them were painful, long and many would say without concrete success, all made more agonizing by the feeling that it was our ideals that failed, and that there was nothing we could do about it.
The feeling that democracy, freedom and the classic “can-do, apple pie and baseball” American values that we hold so dear just wont work in other parts of the globe. These feelings, coupled with other foreign and domestic issues make it difficult to be optimistic about our status as an international player. The economic recession, rising powers in China and Brazil, unemployment, bitter partisan politics and a struggling middle class paint a grim picture of our purple mountains majesty.
Some say that we’ve lost our touch. Our power and clout in the world. That America has lost its dream. Our politicians run on the promise to bring it back. Many say that we’ll never get it back. But it is not so.
In many respects they are right. The reputation of our government and leaders internationally is certainly lower than it has been in a few decades and we’ve made more than a few mistakes in our foreign policy, both in our use of soft power (diplomacy, economic sanctions, trade etc.) and hard power (military intervention, covert action, etc.)
We have angered many and have indirectly fueled attacks on our homeland because of our actions abroad. But the straits are not as dire as they seem. We haven’t fallen as far in the international scene as many would have you believe.
We still have the strongest economy in the world, the most dominant military and distribute more international aid than any other nation in the world. Our recent support of the revolutions of the Arab Spring have showed a historic shift in US foreign policy, from supporting corrupt or violent authoritarian regimes which have supported our international action to actively promoting the right of public bodies to determine their own governance.
People all over the world still crave the chance to move to America and pursue their dreams free of oppression because America is unlike any other nation in the world. We are still a land of immigrants and certainly one of opportunity.
The American Dream is still very much alive, we’re just having a hard time seeing it. We must be careful.
If we spread ourselves too thin internationally, we could lose it all and we might have a hard time getting it back. I’m certainly not suggesting that isolationism is our best bet, because it isn’t. We should focus our foreign policy goals as a nation, keeping in mind that our instantaneous reaction to conflict will often carry with it years of continued obligation in the region, seen most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.
We have a tendency to underestimate the long term demands on fiscal and personnel resources that many of our interventions dictate, and if we want to have any chance at fixing our domestic budget deficit and remain able to provide aid and policy abroad we’re going to need to be much more realistic about how much responsibility we can take on internationally.
Instead of pursuing active, primary participation in conflicts abroad, we should instead use our hard power sparingly and in limited function (i.e. the U.S. Air Force in Libya) and should instead focus our efforts on soft power and on providing international expertise to nations engulfed in turmoil. We still have the power to make a difference in the world, but only if we change our methods.