Jean Barker

Is a peaceful America possible?

2014-05-30 11:05

The USA is often accused of interfering in foreign countries' affairs, sometimes with a certain obvious self-interest that goes beyond defence.

But recently it seems that Obama has decided he actually doesn't want to send the US off to another war - not for any reason. His empty threats in response to the genocide in Syria, his reluctance to even speak out against the ousting of the elected government in Egypt and the non-military response to Putin's drive to re-create the USSR, all signal that America has realised that telling other people what to do is a lose-lose situation.

He summed up his strategy at West Point Military Academy's commencement recently: A couple of key takeaways: "...a strategy that involves invading every country that harbours terrorist networks is naïve and unsustainable" and this: "Since World War II, some of our most costly mistakes came not from our restraint but from our willingness to rush into military adventures without thinking through the consequences, without building international support and legitimacy for our action, without levelling with the American people about the sacrifices required. Tough talk often draws headlines, but war rarely conforms to slogans."

Tired of war

Well let's hope this is what the USA government has realised. Americans are tired of war, because war tends to lead to one thing: more war.

Sometimes it helps to look at war in a smaller, more manageable way. Take this situation. A friend does something really, really bad. I lose my temper and do something mean in return. They retaliate. I retaliate to their retaliation. Now, who's in the wrong? We both are. And there's so much damage done that neither of you can ever back off. That's the problem with war - with the best of intentions and sitting on our high horse, we can do terribly wrong things because we were once right. And it's even worse when we rode in on that high horse from a foreign country to tell people how to run theirs.

Or think about it this way: What if the USA had intervened to "stabilise" South Africa in the 1980s? We had bad problems - we still do. But imagine America had sent troops? Or how about a drone strike? And which side would they have picked, considering they considered Mandela to be a terrorist back then? I shudder just thinking about it.

The most interesting aspect of this new tendency to let people sort their own problems, for those of us living in the USA as foreigners, is that the public debate in the media and between individuals around Egypt and Crimea seems so much more rational than in the past. Listening to people talk foreign policy, I no longer expect a fight to break out any second. I can't help comparing the relatively rational debate I'm witnessing to the hysterical "patriotism" surrounding the unjustified war with Iraq.

Why were people so sure the war in Iraq was above reproach? Because, I believe, sending your children to die in a foreign country makes anyone politically irrational.

Get perspective

And why wouldn't it? It must be impossible - and impossibly painful - to believe that your son or daughter is dying for a stupid reason. So it's considered insulting and disrespectful and un-American to ever question whether the USA is on the correct side of any conflict when troops are on the ground. The most vehement supporters of any cause will always tell you of a loved one who is dying or in danger from their enemies when you dare to question a war's justice. I find this so, so sad. But it's completely natural and human.

So I welcome Obama's caution. I don't believe it's the US's job to tell Crimea how to vote or which foreign army to invite into their country, nor to "stabilise" or "free" Egypt. I also believe America has made enough mistakes and done enough damage to itself and others, and that its time to sit back, think and get perspective on the world outside its walls.

If US troops hit the ground in Eastern Europe, which isn't possible given Biden's son's oil interests and America's allegiances, it'll be rah-rah USA. Kids will die, nobody will be able to listen to both sides of the story, and nobody will win in the end.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.



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