As everyone who has ever tried to play golf knows, it is very hard to stand at one end of a long stick and swing it so the other end propels a small spherical object a long way down the fairway, in a straight line. Your stance, the force you exert, your timing all have to be just right. When it does happen you have found what we call a sweet spot, and when that happens as infrequently as it ever did for me, it’s a memorable occasion.
It occurs to me that our founding fathers hit a kind of sweet spot when they fashioned the framework for the “more perfect union” that they sought. Many factors had to be balanced at the right spot, like controlling human avarice but not to the point where it inhibited human industry and creativity, or balancing the will of the majority against the need for protection of minorities. But they did it. They hit the sweet spot for which they were aiming.
Our more perfect union has traveled far down history’s fairway and on the whole it’s traveled in a pretty straight line. Now, however, we’ve lost our momentum, and it’s time to take a fresh look at what comes next. We have become the world’s policeman, and rather enjoy the role for the most part, though it’s costing us a fortune, plus encouraging us to abandon some of the essential design features that made us great in the first place. There are those who argue that we should turn in our badge, retire from the world cop role, and shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. Fortress America, goal of the pre World War II isolationists. They have some persuasive arguments. But are we really stuck with only two choices, world cop versus fortress America? Is there no middle way?
Of course there’s a middle way, in fact there are quite a lot of them, and if we approach the challenge in the spirit of the founding fathers we ought to be able to find a middle way among them that hits the sweet spot again, and gives us another multigenerational spurt into the future. We may never fully agree among ourselves as to which specific route is best but at least we can agree on what we seek.
What do we seek? Is it not a future world order in which we continue to play a leadership role but without all the strains, hassles, and costs that bedevil us now? A world order in which conflicts are resolved and global interests protected in ways that preserve our interests but without all the troubles visited on us when we are out front playing the world cop role ourselves?
If we can agree this is what we seek then we can start clearing out some underbrush now and get moving. By underbrush I mean the idea that the UN is the enemy. In fact, the UN is the only player on the scene with the assets and the credibility to qualify it to succeed us as the new sheriff. We need to recover the mood of the internationalists of the ’50’s, who saw the UN as the great hope of mankind. We need to recover a determination that we shall play a key role in shaping the UN, and get away from recent paranoia about men in blue helicopters taking away our liberties. When we, the self-appointed local sheriff, turn over our badge to the newly arrived federal marshal, we need to do so with confidence that the change is in our interests– and we can do so if we play our cards right. That sweet spot will not be that hard to find, if we just keep our eye on the ball.
We can, if we choose to do so, put some real muscle behind present efforts to strengthen the UN. With our support two changes could prove decisive. The UN should have a permanent standing military force capable of keeping the peace in regional conflicts, answerable to the Security Council. That force, and other UN activities, could be financed by a tax on international financial transactions.
Meanwhile we can change our military establishment’s stance and purpose from offense to defense, and stop building fortresses all around the world, both military bases and gated communities that used to be embassies. We could revert to traditional diplomacy as a means of relating to distant lands, and use the trillions we would save to rebuild our own physical and social infrastructure. The rest of the world would welcome our return to an honest good neighbor policy.
This isn’t a design plan for the future, it’s only a sketch. But the sooner we move from sketches to actual plans, the better. The future isn’t waiting around for us to make up our minds. The world is shrinking, and one of these days America will wake up to the fact that Eurasia is the mainland, while we are the big gun only on a peripheral island. We should exercise our clout while we still have it.