Thursday, June 23, 2016

Charlie on the Issues Episode 2: Interventionism Transcript


Hey everybody! I’m Charlie, and this is Charlie on the Issues.

Today I’m starting a series of discussions about foreign relations, which is arguably the most important aspect of the presidency. Specifically, this time I’m going to talk about interventionism.

Interventionism is basically any foreign policy that seeks to directly influence the government of another country. There are many ways that we do this: trade, economic sanctions, alliances, treaties, and military intervention, for instance. Basically, our use of interventionism is what defines our foreign policy.

The opposite of interventionism is isolationism, which is basically when a country refuses to interact with other countries.

Very few countries practice total isolationism. Even North Korea, which is often portrayed as isolationist, actually has open trade with many countries, and its testing of nuclear weapons is itself intended to be a sort of interventionism.

The United States has at times taken isolationist stances, with the Monroe Doctrine informing the country’s foreign policy through most of the 1800s. The Doctrine basically stated that the United States would remain neutral in European conflicts, and that the Americas were no longer to be subject to European colonization. In other words, the armies would stick to their respective sides of the Atlantic.

This doctrine came to an end with World War I, and what vestiges of isolationism remained in the 20s and 30s were completely eradicated with the coming of World War II and the Cold War. During the Cold War, suddenly the United States became extremely interventionist in its efforts to stop the spread of Communism. In Asia, we fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars in the name of capitalism, to varying degrees of success. We also just generally supported any capitalist country (financially and militarily) and withdrew support from Communist ones.

Since then, we’ve become very experienced at the art of interventionism. We’ve basically formed and toppled governments, made and broke economies, and established ourselves as the world superpower thanks to our actions. The question is, is this a good thing?

When we talk about the pros and cons of interventionism, we’re usually referring to military intervention, not so much economic intervention.

Economic intervention, as far as I can tell, is generally seen as acceptable and necessary. That’s not to say that economic intervention can’t be contentious (Google Trans-Pacific Partnership to see that in action), but economic intervention doesn’t get nearly the degree of scrutiny that military intervention does.

Which makes sense, since lives are on the line; the lives of American soldiers, of course, but also the lives of enemies and innocents. Basically, every life has meaning to somebody, and every conflict places lives in jeopardy.

There are degrees of opposition and support for military intervention, and each side is diverse. Opposition to military intervention ranges from very idealistic regard for all human life to very practical concerns about budget and the impact of conflict on trade and diplomatic relations. Support for military intervention mirrors the opposition, with people having many of the same concerns, but with a slightly different perspective: idealistic supporters note than inaction can often sacrifice more lives than action will, and a territory in turmoil can disrupt the economy and diplomacy even more than military occupation.

This is one of the most difficult aspects of government to really wrap your mind around.

For instance, right now, people with much more information and experience than me have been wracking their brains trying to find a solution to ISIS and the situation in Syria. We can’t simply bomb the place, since that would kill countless innocent civilians and would likely only make way for more anti-American coalitions in the area in retaliation. Fighting on the ground puts our soldiers at risk, as guerilla warfare is extremely dangerous and dirty, and while eliminating their leaders and the bulk of their soldiers might bring a semblance of stability to the area, will that solve the underlying problem that led to the rise of ISIS in the first place?

And then there’s still the ghost of the Cold War in Syria: Russia is lending assistance there in the fight against ISIS, which means America can’t withdraw without basically ceding the territory to Russian influence.

So, what’s the solution? I don’t think anyone really knows.

Like so much of the most important aspects of politics, we don’t have solid answers. We’re still, as a country and as a species, trying to figure that out. The best we can do right now is to try things, test ideas, and review the results. We have to examine each situation as it arises and hope that we have intelligent, decisive people in place to make those decisions that don’t allow time for debate.

I think we need to do what we can to isolate and eliminate ISIS while saving as many people as possible. Once ISIS is gone or diminished, though, the region will still be unstable, and instability might invite something similar or worse.

Is the stability of the Middle East our responsibility? Can we make that region stable? Should we?

I think our interventionist efforts there have backfired at least as often as they’ve succeeded. I frankly have my doubts that the United States can bring stability to the region, and I’m doubly doubtful that we should.

In the end, I believe stability in the MIddle East will have to come from within. It can’t be enforced. It’s a difficult proposition, though, as civilizations in that area are old, and its tensions run deep.

Even so, I think it’s the height of arrogance to think that these problems will be solved by people on the other side of the world.

That said, this is an open discussion, and I’m interested in hearing what you think. Few issues are as complex as this one, and I expect we’ll be returning to it often.

Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts or suggestions for future topics, email me! I’m excited to hear what you think. This needs to be a discussion.

The discussion is open. Thank you for watching. I’ll see you next time.

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