There is no other United States on the horizon

Geithner discusses the state of the global economy and the U.S. recovery.

At this point in history, the United States of America still has the largest domestic economy in the world, even though a World Economic Forum rated the U.S. seventh in global competitiveness. {1}  This is a sharp decline from the top perch it achieved until 2009-2010.{2}  The force of U.S. leadership, diplomacy, economic power, and its unprecedented generosity still provide a dominant influence on geopolitics at this point in history.  The question is how tenable are these positions in the face of such domestic economic instability?

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said that “within ten years the three entitlement programs—Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security—and interest on the national debt to pay for these entitlement programs, will consume nine-two percent of the federal budget.” 

That leaves eight cents of every dollar for the military, for national parks, and for food inspection.{3}  If these conditions remain consistent, and we add the expense of Obamacare on top of all that, what percentage of the U.S. dollar will be left available for our influential foreign aid?

Most Americans have been complaining about the money allocated for foreign aid for decades.  They say that the American government has given too much of our hard-earned tax payer money to foreign countries with too few results to show for it.  “These countries don’t appreciate what we do for them,” Americans complain.  “Look at Egypt.  How much foreign aid have we given these people, and they still hate us…And I don’t see any evidence of this world-wide stability that American taxpayers have had their hard-earned money involuntarily allocated for.  I see riots, mayhem, and increases in terrorist acts.  What good has any of this done for anyone?” Most of us have probably heard at least one friend, or family member, complain about this at one time or another.

First of all, most legislators voting to approve foreign aid allotments have done so with few, if any, illusions about making friends the world around.  Most of these American legislators were allocating your hard-earned money for stability, election influence, and to try to prevent another Weimer Republic from falling in the ashes of a country’s devastating poverty.{4}  Still, say citizens and pundits alike, the United States shouldn’t be sticking their nose in every third world country around the world.  Let them face the disunity that is, more often than not, of their own making.  Let their fields burn, so that another harvest can rise from the ashes.

The bottom line questions concerning the success or failure of the influence of our foreign aid is almost impossible to quantify, but a question that is asked by a New York Post columnist named Peter Brookes may answer many of our questions in a roundabout way.  What if America had listened to these complaints?  What if America saw 9/11 as evidence of the fact that our attempts to influence foreign countries around the world were an unmitigated failure?  What if America decided to withdraw all of its troops from their installations throughout the world?  What if we decided to stop sending foreign aid altogether?

“While it’s not our preference, we are the world’s “cop on the beat,” providing critical stability in some of the planet’s toughest neighborhoods.”  If we had decided not to play this role after 2001, writes Brookes, “India and Pakistan might well find cause to unleash the dogs of war in South Asia – undoubtedly leading to history’s first nuclear (weapons) exchange.  Osama’s al Qaeda gang would be fighting tooth and nail from Saudi Arabia to “Eurabia.”  In Asia, China would be the “Middle Kingdom,” gobbling up democratic Taiwan and compelling pacifist Japan (reluctantly) to join the nuclear weapons club. The Koreas might fight another horrific war, resulting in millions of deaths.  A resurgent Russia, meanwhile, would be breathing down the neck of its “near abroad” neighbors, and you can forget all about the democratic revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia.  And what other nation could or would provide freedom of the seas for commerce, including the shipment of oil and gas – all free of charge?

“Also missing would be other gifts from “Uncle Sugar” – starting with 22 percent of the U.N. budget. That includes half the operations of the World Food Program, which feeds over 100 million in 81 countries.  Gone would be 17 percent of UNICEF’s costs to feed, vaccinate, educate and protect children in 157 countries – and 31 percent of the budget of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which assists more than 19 million refugees across the globe.  Moreover, President Bush’s five-year $15 billion commitment under the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief is the largest commitment by a single nation toward an international health initiative – ever – working in over 100 (mostly African) countries.

“The United States is the world’s economic engine. We not only have the largest economy, we spend 40 percent of the world’s budget on R&D, driving mind-boggling innovation in areas like information technology, defense and medicine.

“We’re the world’s ATM, too, providing 17 percent of the International Monetary Fund’s resources for nations in fiscal crisis, and funding 13 percent of World Bank programs that dole out billions in development assistance to needy countries.

“The fact is that no matter what anyone says: No country has given so much to so many so often – while asking for so little in return – for so little gratitude than this great country of ours.”

It’s an easy, populist approach for a politician or a pundit to list off for tax payers the amount of their hard earned money that is being sent to individual countries.  Then, with effortless pleasure, they get that crowd worked into a frenzy with something along the lines of: “What good has it done?!  I say we cut them off, until they do A, B, and C.”  Then, with the politicians in particular, they get in office, read intelligence reports, and “betray” their campaign rhetoric by voting yea on foreign aid allotments.  We’ve all fallen prey to this type of rhetoric, at one point or another in our lives, without considering the unforeseen consequences.

One of the reasons it’s so easy to get American citizens frothing at the mouth over this issue is the ungratefulness we’ve received for all of our efforts.  American liberals are particularly susceptible to this rhetoric, for they see these efforts as ignoble.  Ask most American liberals if America has been a noble country throughout her history, and they will tell you no.  They will then proceed to list off a few of the actions America has engaged in that they believe forever taints her legacy.  They will also talk about America’s history of imperialism without noting that America is one of the very few countries in the history of the world that goes into an unstable country, builds it up, spends billions to give it an independent infrastructure, and then leaves it largely independent.  America is one of the few countries that still believe that it is in her best interests to have more independent countries throughout the world.  As evidence of this, we can point to Iraq and Iraqi oil in particular.

Winning this argument over the general noble efforts of our country’s history to influence the world monetarily, and otherwise, is an almost impossible effort in the face of a 230 year history in which some mistakes have been made, but recent activities in Tunisia, Lebanon, and Egypt suggest that these noble attempts to shape the world may be coming to an end.  The reality of all of the theoretical complaints and arguments listed here may be rearing their ugly head in a theater near you.

With a $16 trillion debt, one trillion plus dollar annual deficits, quantitative easings, and continued spending that some have suggested goes into the billions every day, American influence around the world cannot help but dwindle.  Previous generations were concerned about the debt, but few gave serious thought to the fact they may be seeing serious ramifications in their lifetimes.  Previous generations cited George Washington’s warning about staying out of foreign affairs without considering the idea that those foreign conflicts may eventually reach U.S. shores, and that is because foreign aid and various forms of influence have always kept those arguments theoretical.  What happens when domestic economic instability begins to force U.S. influence into a precipitous decline?  What happens when individual monsters, who lead various factions and countries, no longer fear the “cop on the beat?”  Some fear we are on the cusp of this theoretical argument reaching the point of reality, and they know that there is no other United States on the horizon.
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