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As the crisis in Iraq worsens nearly daily, a quiet calm seems to have come over US politics. Republicans want to blame Obama for this, but know that they can’t. More to the point, there doesn’t seem to be anything proactive we can do, at least not anything different from what we tried twice before. There is simply far too much blame to go around for it to land squarely on anyone here in the US.

What is different this time? Apart from the horrible loss of life a decade ago, apparently for little gain, there is a big change in the US. Our energy independence makes any arguments based on “strategic resources” much thinner than the blood of American soldiers. Between this crisis and Ukraine it has become clear that we have limits and have to learn to be OK with that.

But there is more to it. It should be obvious by now that US foreign policy can no longer be about control but stability. And that, by itself, should be a pivotal change.

Yes, but after the war, not so much.

Yes, but after the war, not so much.

After WWI it should have been obvious to everyone in the world that the US was the largest power on the planet. It wasn’t. Not only did European empires scoff at our grand plans to democratize the world, the US itself wasn’t remotely interested in being tied to world politics. We simply weren’t set up for a large standing army and an international presence.

After WWII, the lesson was learned. More to the point, there was an effective bogeyman in Communism that did need to be confronted. The Eisenhower Doctrine was essentially “The Soviet Union must be contained,” and that had a reach everywhere in the world. We were engaged to fight a monolithic enemy that might strike next anywhere. The issue was control – either we had a nation on our side or we didn’t. We could easily look the other way at brutal dictators like the Shah or Pinochet as long as they were on “our side.”

The fall of the Berlin Wall should have ended that policy, but our military spending has only increased since then – from about $550B per year (in today’s money) in 1988 to over $700B today. The world only became more dangerous and much of that danger threatened our most important import – oil.

It's always been about the black stuff.

It’s always been about the black stuff.

It’s always been about oil, which since the end of the Cold War has been by far our biggest import. There is no other reason to explain our constant commitment to control around the world.

But that has changed. We don’t need to control oil fields around the world because two thirds of our oil comes from North America. Energy independence has freed us from the horrific expense in blood and money that marked the last two decades of nearly constant conflict. We no longer need to control the world.

What we need is stability.

As powerful as our military is, our great strength remains the US Dollar, the greenback that is the standard unit of exchange for 85% of all trade around the world. Our economy is more important than anything else, and it depends on reliable supplies of good and markets to sell our products. Disturbances are what cost us money, not lack of control. We pay for things rather than demand them at gunpoint.

Liberté, egalité, fraternité.  Yeah, that again.  It still works.

Liberté, egalité, fraternité. Yeah, that again. It still works.

The problem with stability is that it’s possible to look at it two ways. In the short term, there is still room to see dictatorships like al Sisi in Egypt as friendly or useful because he appears to keep order. Over the long haul, however, that only makes the eventual revolution in Egypt that will finally overthrown the military order much nastier and destructive. Over the long haul, stability must be sustainable – and that means democracy, equity, and a sense of unity.

What should we do to promote that kind of stability around the world? The first thing is to stop supporting military structures like the one in Egypt. The second is to admit our mistakes and honestly make an effort to start over, which is probably what s happening in the negotiations with Iran. We also need a strong commitment to genuine democracy, which has already shown its value in South America.

In short, our goals are now the same as those shared by freedom lovers around the world. The Great Convergence between the developed world and the developing is a good thing for us, and we need to embrace it happily.

It is time for us to put down the weapons and fight for peace. It’s actually very much in our best interests, too.

7 thoughts on “Stability

  1. I agree.

    from the state department website
    Treaties and Agreements, US party to

    -Agreement Between the United States of America and Romania on the Deployment of the United States Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania [Get Acrobat Reader PDF version ]
    -Agreement Between the United States of America and Romania on the Deployment of the United States Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania (Map) [1425 Kb]
    -Antarctic Treaty
    -Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty)
    -Ballistic Missile Launch Notification Agreement
    -Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)
    -Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
    -Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)
    -Interim Agreement on Certain Measures With Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms
    -Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty)
    -Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT)
    -Memorandum of Agreement on the Establishment of a Joint Center for the Exchange of Data
    -Memorandum of Understanding on Notifications of Missile Launches (PLNS MOU)
    -Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)
    -New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
    -Nuclear Material Convention
    -Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)
    -Open Skies Treaty
    -Outer Space Treaty
    -Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) (narrative)
    -Strategic Arms Limitation Talks II (SALT II)
    -Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) — Article by Article Legal Analysis
    -Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)
    -Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II)
    -Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty II (START II) — Article by Article Legal Analysis
    -The Moscow Treaty
    -Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons [405 Kb]
    -Vienna Document 1994
    -Vienna Document 1999
    -Vienna Document 2011

    List of Treaties in force, 511 page pdf

    Click to access 218912.pdf

  2. In my view President Obama made a grave error of judgement on Syria.

    Syria is as disaster According to Dennis Ross of the Near East Institute there is no border between Syria and Iraq.

    Iraq and Syria suffer as a result of Obama’s timidity.

  3. Another utter failure of President Obama is that he didn’t pressure Maliki to have troops stay in Iraq.

    From NPR,

    “GROSS: So what do you think we could have done differently when we left Iraq?

    FILKINS: Well, you know, hindsight is cheap. But we left Iraq – the United States – the last American soldiers left Iraq in December of 2011. So basically it’s been – we’ve gone for two and a half years. And when we left, it didn’t work at all is basically what it came down to. And I think – I was talking to Ryan Crocker about this, a former American ambassador to Iraq. He’s a really extraordinary diplomat. And he said the problem is that we built ourselves into the hard drive of the Iraqi system. And it doesn’t really function without us. And basically what he meant by that is, you know, the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiite – they don’t talk to each other, and they don’t trust each other. And they can’t cooperate, and they can’t make deals. And we were the only people who could really kind of do that. And that was just a fact of life. And so I think the question – you know, I think that’s a fair – I think if you look at the record, the way in which the United States left Iraq, you can ask yourself, was there a moment in which, say, we could have left behind – agreed with Iraqis to leave behind, you know, a few thousand Americans – not in combat roles but in the Green Zone. And there were lots of discussions to do just that between Maliki and the White House, and they broke down. They didn’t go anywhere. And it’s difficult to know exactly why, but I think it’s fair to say that the White House didn’t push very hard for it. They wanted to get out.”


  4. President Obama wants to intervene in Syria in a larger way now.

    In the meantime the refugees suffer and children get polio. All because Obama just accepted the situation.

  5. Our energy policy resembles more a crack addict scourging in the streets to steal some more crack from a dealer. Instead of thinking ahead like Germany, which started to invest heavily in the renewable energy, we still think that the solution is to find another source to feed our addiction. But how long can we really pretend that our planet will support our addiction?

  6. We have never encouraged stability for its own sake, but we have encouraged dictators to clamp down on any protest to keep everyone inline. I take it that you see this as something different.

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