Finding the Balance in Foreign Policy

Since World War I, the U.S. has generally accepted a foreign policy of military involvement overseas. It almost seems as though we believe things would completely fall apart were we not to be militarily present around the world. However much we may accept these ideas, they do not represent the foreign policy of a free, sovereign, and leading nation.

It was the Treaty of Versailles that played a major part in the popularity and rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany. For starters, the U.S.’s national security was not threatened during WWI, yet we still felt the urge to get involved in the mess in Europe. The Treaty of Versailles was essentially created by all major countries involved with WWI, except Germany, in an effort to promote peace in Europe. The U.S. took a large role, as well as France and Britain, in creating and finalizing the Treaty.

In short, the Versailles Treaty brought enormous pressure and devastation upon Germany; forcing the country to reduce its army size, give up land, and pay for many of the rebuilding efforts in Europe. This is not to downplay Germany’s role in the war, but the Treaty did not give the German people a warm and fuzzy feeling about the outside countries dictating the rules to Germany. Adolph Hitler took advantage of the anger and resentment felt by Germans by uniting the country, partly by downplaying and attacking the outlines of the Versailles Treaty and the people behind it. Hitler came to power in 1933.

In 1930, Herbert Hoover and the U.S. Congress enacted the Smoot-Hawley Act, raising tariffs to record levels on thousands of items. Incredibly high tariffs led to decreased trade, and other countries enacted similar policy to retaliate and show resentment to the U.S. for heavily limiting trade. The U.S. was in the midst of starting a period of protectionist economic policy worldwide, after getting much more involved in world affairs in WWI and the Treaty of Versailles.

Ever since the Versailles Treaty and Smoot-Hawley Act, the U.S. has struggled to find the balance between forceful intervention overseas and domestic protectionism. Both policies are costly and counterproductive in the long run, but today we fail to recognize the dangers of foreign and domestic intervention.

Foreign intervention is simply built on bad principles. We do not carry the right to occupy other sovereign nations because we are a superpower. We do not have the moral authority or the constitutional authority to do this. Plus, it is costly in money, lives, and creates resentment towards the U.S., and in extreme cases will backfire in terrible measures such as terrorism.

Protectionism and isolationism are no better. Shutting down trade also leads to resentment, as we saw in the Great Depression, and keeping ourselves out of the rest of the world will greatly hold back the ultimate goals of world peace, friendship, and cooperation. If countries can’t freely exchange goods between each other without putting up a fight, that alone will be the beginning of major long-term problems.

Both interventionism and protectionism are short-sighted policies. Today we accept government-managed trade in the forms of NAFTA, NATO, etc., as free trade, but it is nothing more than a cover for more government interference and control in the marketplace. Pursuing either an interventionist foreign policy or protectionist domestic policy eventually leads to its own brand of isolationism, rarely serving the interests of the people.

As with domestic policy, the U.S. has maintained a very short-term view of how the world works. Truthful, sustainable, reliable cooperation will come by empowering people to trade and travel between countries. Governments have biases and lust for control that always seem to get in the way of creating a lasting and principled foreign policy. At least, this is how history has shown it.

Ever since the U.S. decided to get actively involved militarily in foreign problems, we have seen much bloodshed, war, and violence. The Vietnam War dragged on for years, but only when we pulled out our troops did the country start to recover to be the prosperous and expanding country that it is today. We have been in Korea for sixty years, yet the tension there is still high and lasting today. We continue to isolate ourselves from Cuba, despite the fall of the Soviet Empire years ago and no threat to our national security.

Fire does not disappear with more fire, yet even in many of the smallest skirmishes that occur in the world, violence is seen as the first retaliation. The 20th century saw many governments get forcefully involved in world affairs and it turned out to be the bloodiest period in the records of history.

Despite the high levels of interference from the U.N. and numerous governments (primarily the U.S.), the violence and wars continue unabated. Just look at the ongoing messes we face in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iraq is years from reaching a conclusion with U.S. presence. And don’t forget, we have military bases in nearly 130 different countries today.

Just think for a moment. How would we feel if China built several military bases in the U.S.? How would we react if Russia deployed even as little as three hundred soldiers on our soil? We would not accept it without putting up a serious fight. Is is so hard to comprehend that when we build permanent military bases in sovereign nations, sometimes even on their holy land, that it won’t result in serious blowback?

It was in the first grade when I first learned the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. This simple principle that six-year-olds are learning isn’t understood by our own government. Even the people who support military intervention today can’t pretend that these policies won’t have consequences.

Foreign policy is much too dangerous of an area to follow a flawed belief, principle, or argument. A lasting, sustainable, and prosperous foreign policy will come not from government force, but with honest free trade, strong diplomatic relations and discussions, and a relentless pursuit of friendship before force.

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