Gongol.com Archives: April 2024

Brian Gongol

April 17, 2024

Threats and Hazards We don't have the luxury of insignificance

America periodically goes through fits of isolationistic fervor. The present one has made for a strange alignment of interests as the Speaker of the House tries to weather a challenge to his office while pressing for a package to supply military aid to friendly countries under fire. ■ Assuming the best (that is, assuming that opponents of the aid packages are genuine in their disagreement and not willing accomplices of hostile governments), this moment echoes previous instances during which the thought of providing material support to other countries was challenged on the grounds that their problems aren't ours. ■ Yet, time and time again, the United States has been forced to reconcile our innate preference to be left alone (and to stick to matters like our domestic economy) with the reality that we do, in fact, share a place on this planet with a much larger global population -- and that our influence is magnified by our wealth and power. Just 1 out of every 24 Earthlings is an American, but our economy accounts for 1/4th of the entire planet's economic activity. We are similarly over-represented in practically every other metric of influence, from the size of our military to the reach of our cultural outputs. ■ Almost 125 years ago, Theodore Roosevelt addressed the State of the Union to Congress for the first time. In that report, he remarked, "Owing to the rapid growth of our power and our interests on the Pacific, whatever happens in China must be of the keenest national concern to us." ■ At the time, America's "power" and "interests" were still merely a fraction of their size today. And yet Roosevelt, who was addressing China's Boxer Rebellion, still regarded American engagement with the world abroad as a matter worthy of the highest levels of public attention. It may have been self-serving, and it likely reflected undertones of lamentable racial prejudices. But it was also a realistic assessment that even a nascent global power couldn't just look away when matters took place overseas and far away. Our power and interests are vastly greater today. ■ Problems that start abroad often fail to stay there. We have the capacity to make matters better or to make them worse -- only judicious consideration and strategic thinking can decide where we end up. But nobody, especially not those in high public office, should get away with thinking that our inaction or disengagement counts as inert. America doesn't have the luxury of being unimportant, and that means every choice has consequences -- even the choice to take no action.

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