Sunday, July 27, 2014


Charles Krauthammer's most recent column prompts me to write again on the two festering international crises of the hour, Ukraine and Gaza, and what our nation is doing about them. Krauthammer is very critical of our administration in the essay, as one would expect this writer to be. It's on the conduct of foreign policy that I remain very critical of our president, though I've mellowed about his leadership on domestic issues.

I cannot help but think that for Russia, a long-time rival of ours, and for Israel, a long-time ally, the wars in which they are engaged are wars for their very existence. Russia's frontiers have always been malleable: look at any variety of maps over the past century and one will see shifting lines for her. Acquiescing to a pro-western policy orientation by Ukraine threatens Russia's existence. Similarly for Israel, tolerating rocket fire from Gaza runs the risk of making life in that area of the world unlivable for some Israelis. Another commentator from the Washington Post did a good job articulating this.

Yesterday I visited the home of President James Monroe, and the guide talked a great deal on Monroe's efforts to secure America's borders. Though I wonder a bit if her tour was colored by the terms of today's debate regarding refugees (I don't know how much I like the phrase "secure our borders") she brought to mind an interesting point about that presidency. Monroe, having served as an officer in the American Revolution and as Secretary for War and State when the Brits burned our capital in 1814, was obsessed with making sure America's frontiers were settled. When his presidency was done, we had settled our border to the southeast and northeast, and had gone a long way to ensuring the peaceful resolution to our frontier to the northwest. Only to the southwest were issues murky: an ill-defined border with an upstart republic, Mexico, and a growing American population in one of that country's provinces. Monroe set us on the path to what we enjoy today: clear borders with two nations with whom we are on very friendly terms.

To one extent, one could say that any American interference in Ukraine is hypocritical: How dare we deny the Russians what we have taken for granted for more than a century? How dare we side against Russia who may be trying to expand their authority over a lawless area while we side with Israel in their their attempts to do the same? And how can we condone Israeli belligerence to solve their border crisis where as we solved so many of ours diplomatically (the Mexican War being a huge exception, of course).

Should America use its position of relative security to withdraw or engage with the world and its messy conflicts. Obviously, I feel in favor of the latter position. The world has largely been better off in the past century for America's interventions abroad. So I find myself sighing at the passivity our foreign policy has shown in this past year, the passivity which Krauthammer so sharply criticizes. There is something special about this nation (there is something special about every nation), and the world thrives on the peace and commerce America's strength helps provide. I am sad to see us hesitate to use the influence we have the good fortune to provide.

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