Politically Correct: American Posture in a Turbulent World

In light of Russia’s military action in Crimea and the Ukraine, the United States has been confronted with several international crises over the past year. It started with our position on Syria and President Obama’s “red line in the sand” in regard to the use of chemical weapons.

The US has faced resistance from the Afghan government concerning the bilateral peace agreement and withdrawal of US troops this summer. Increased tension with Israel and its Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over Palestine brought uncertainty to the United States’ strongest alliance in the Middle East.

Russia’s military action in Ukraine prompted the US to threaten economic sanctions. It is highly unlikely that the US will become militarily involved in the eastern European crisis, but rhetoric from the White House has been punitive in nature.

“What we are also indicating to the Russians is that if, in fact, they continue on the current trajectory that they’re on, that we are examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its status in the world,” President Obama said, after negotiations with Putin this weekend.

As a world power, if not the dominant world power, the United States must act in certain scenarios in order to ensure our diplomatic legitimacy abroad. However, the US recent activity in Syria marked a reluctance to intervene in conflicts via military force.

Protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ostensibly in the name of humanitarian crises, created a war weary American electorate. Politicians are uneasy about involvement in international affairs due to the stigma resulting from costly wars in the Middle East.

Despite this weariness, many politicians are vehemently opposed to the recent defense cuts posed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. The cuts aim to reduce levels of military personnel to pre-World War II figures.

The United States no longer needs a massive, overbearing military, capable of waging conventional warfare against preponderant opponents and their allies. The Cold War established that large powers are uninterested in waging long, costly wars against each other in the name of ideology.

Such conflict could prompt nuclear warfare, and potentially the end of the world (obviously not good, unless you’re a fan of the game Fallout, in which case, your survival of the nuclear holocaust would place you and your progeny in a similar world).

The suggestion that the US will eventually find itself at odds with China in the coming years is also shoddy at best. A war with China would not benefit either side and could potentially result in calamity as well. Economically, China and the US are dependent upon one another and a war would cripple that relationship.

However, the present foreign dilemmas facing the US today force us to take an active role in the international community. This does not mean we should possess an overpowered military, with an antiquated view of how to use it.

The international issues facing the US today can (and should, according to many IR theorists) be solved via diplomacy and soft power (Joseph Nye on Soft Power). Through economic might and the spreading of a positive view of American culture abroad, the US can influence states to back down from actions in addition to peacefully dismantling al-Qaeda from within (a more favorable view of the US abroad can reduce potential recruits).

So, when considering how you view the current crisis in the Ukraine, acknowledge that Russia is seeking to protect its national interests (which is most likely a violation of international law and sovereignty and a host of other things) by responding militarily and the US is required to respond. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if sanctions will be enough if Russia decides to step up its military action.

Contact JP Letourneau at [email protected].