Rubin: A Responsibility to Lead

The United States went to war in the Middle East more than a decade ago, a fact that has since been an unchanging factor in our generation’s lives. However, with President Barack Obama announcing that the U.S. military presence in Iraq will officially end by Dec. 31, the impending hand-over of responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces and the end of NATO operations in Libya, we must consider what our role will be in the impending peace. There are still many issues facing the world that require some form of international leadership that only the United States can provide. Therefore, the call by some of the Republican presidential contenders to adopt a near-isolationist stance is ill-advised and harmful. Given the lack of an alternative country to take an active leadership role in addressing major global issues, the United States must maintain its military and international commitments and its dedication to promoting peace.

Although our actions have received condemnation from other nations for their self-interested and unilateral nature, the peacekeeping and peacemaking roles that the United States plays are essential. Some argue that money spent maintaining a presence worldwide could be better used on domestic issues. Greater discretion is needed in choosing which interventions the United States engages in. However, the notion of withdrawing from our leadership position in world affairs is neither in our own interest nor in the interest of other nations. Although security is not an issue that Americans are confronted with on a daily basis, it is still a very real threat and just like education or health care, it must be addressed with the necessary funds. It is easy to criticize a failed military campaign with the benefit of hindsight, but impossible to determine the future of a campaign from its beginning. It is therefore harmful to discredit any action because of the possibility of failure.

This does not mean, however, that the current track of U.S. foreign policy is necessarily the most beneficial one. We no longer live in a world where we can or should act without considering how our actions will affect others or how others perceive our actions. For example, during the recent Libya intervention, the United States received authorization from both the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League to intervene, and equally shared the costs with the United Kingdom and France. Although circumstances like this are few and far between, it provides an example of the type of future U.S. actions that can both facilitate more cost-acceptable interventions and bolster the United States’ leadership position in world affairs.

Furthermore, it is often argued that there is no national security threat from the places where the United States intervenes and that such interventions are thus unnecessary. This view is often used to support the argument that America should limit its interventions to circumstances where there is a direct threat to U.S. interests or national security. However, today there is rarely ever a direct threat to a nation but instead threats presented through proxies or from non-state actors in nations thousands of miles away. It is furthermore impossible to determine, with absolute certainty, whether or not a certain group presents a threat, and the costs of overlooking possible terrorist actions are too great.

As the wars that have consumed our nation for the past decade come to a close and we reflect on where we wish to lead our country in the future, we must consider the dangers of a world without a leader. The United States is currently the only true global military power and as such it must act at times in the best interest of the world. True self-interest and humanitarianism do not exist in isolated vacuums but instead constantly interact and mix together. Although the United States should not involve itself in every conflict that emerges in the world, those who have the ability to make a difference and create better outcomes have the responsibility to take action. The United States must remain, for lack of an alternative, willing to take up a leadership position and address the issues plaguing the world.

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