The MYOB Foreign Policy

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Listen to my parents, America!

W.J. Astore

My parents taught me a lot of common sense sayings.  You’ve probably heard this one: mind your own business, or MYOB.  Most people have enough problems of their own; it’s not a good idea to compound one’s problems by messing around with other people’s lives.

What’s common sense for individuals is also common sense for nations.  Think of the USA.  We’ve got plenty of problems: crumbling infrastructure, inefficient and inadequate health care, too many people in too many prisons, social divides based on race and sex and class, drug and alcohol abuse, not enough decent-paying jobs, huge budgetary deficits, the list goes on.  Yet instead of looking inwards to address our problems, too often we look outwards and interfere in the lives of others.  How can we solve other people’s problems when we can’t solve our own?

Consider our nation’s foreign policy, which is basically driven by our military.  We have a global array of military bases, somewhere around 700.  We spend roughly $700 billion a year on national “defense” and wars, ensuring that we have “global reach, global power.”  To what end?  Our nation’s first president, George Washington, famously warned us to avoid foreign entanglements.  The nation’s great experiment in republican democracy, Washington knew, could easily be compromised by unwise alliances and costly wars.

This is not an argument for isolationism.  The USA, involved as it is in the global economy, could never be isolationist.  With all those military bases, and all those U.S. military units deployed around the world, we could never turn completely inwards, pretending as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

No – not isolationism.  Rather a policy of MYOB.  Don’t intervene when it’s not our business.  And especially don’t intervene using the U.S. military.  Why?  Because U.S. troops are not charitable or social workers.

The U.S. military is supposed to be for national defense.  It’s not an international charity.  Even military aid is somewhat questionable.  And if you profit from it, as in weapons sales, it smacks of mercenary motives.

As a good friend of mine put it:

I have become rather isolationist myself in my old age.  The way I see it, we have the natural resources and (hopefully) the intellectual capital to be largely self-sufficient.  We should enter the international marketplace as a self-reliant vendor of goods and services, ready to trade fairly with those who are of a similar mind.  The rest can pound sand (no pun intended).  Charity begins at home, and we should know by now that our ideology, while “ideal” for America, is not deployable or even beneficial to other countries steeped in ancient cultures of a different nature.

My friend then added the following caveat:

The remaining challenge is how you protect basic human rights, where you can.  That is something I feel we have an obligation to attempt to do, but don’t know how to do so without crossing other lines.  Perhaps that is how Mother Teresa became St. Teresa of Calcutta.

That’s an excellent question.  Again, my response is that U.S. troops are not social workers.  Charity and social work is best left to people like Saint (Mother) Teresa.  Soldiers may be necessary to protect aid convoys and the like, but military intervention in the name of humanitarianism often ends in disaster, e.g. Somalia.  And of course “humanitarian” motives are often used as a cloak to disguise other, far less noble, designs.

Again, the U.S. military is never going to be a do-nothing, isolationist, military.  The USA itself will never return to isolationism.  What we need to do is to recognize our limitations, realize that other countries and peoples often don’t want our help, or that they’d be better off without our often heavy-handed approach when we do intervene.

We need, in short, to take care of our own business here in the USA, and to let other peoples and nations take care of theirs.  Listen to my parents, America: MYOB.

4 thoughts on “The MYOB Foreign Policy

  1. Excellent analysis and recommendation. Unfortunately, the unwarrantedly arrogant C- preppie/Ivy Leaguers who begin their careers at the top are unlikely to embrace any policy–foreign or domestic–that doesn’t reward their self-concept as the Best and Brightest.

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  2. Two issues lie at the core of the U.S. following a MYOB foreign policy, an imperial mindset and a misguided belief in our own importance as a nation.

    During the late nineteenth century many U.S. leaders sought to increase the nation’s power and influence around the world. Now, this was no benign effort to spread the blessings of liberty and freedom or the benefits of civilization to what some of the era characterized as the “partially civilized” people of the world. Rather, spreading U.S. political influence inevitably preceded the coming of capitalist forces whose primary aim was not the betterment of humanity, but the extraction of every last ounce of potential profit from the nations falling under the umbrella of “American exceptionalism.”

    For examples one need only consider the 1954 U.S. lead coup in Guatemala or the U.S,’s dominance of Cuba’s politics and its economy following the island’s U.S. supported independence from Spain in 1898. The Guatemalan coup was the work of the CIA, spearheaded by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, whose brother Allen Dulles did legal work for and sat on the board of directors of the United Fruit Co., a U.S. corporation that directly benefited from the overthrow of Guatemala’s democratically elected president Jacabo Arbenz . By the time Castro came to power, the island’s infrastructure and most of its industry was dominated by U.S. corporate interests. Those interests were so pervasive and deeply intrusive in the Cuban economy that even the most mundane repairs called for the dispatch of a U.S. technician.

    The corporate ideology of profits over people has repeatedly placed the U.S. in the position of an imperial power exerting its economic, military and political influence to ensure the profits of U.S. corporations, usually to the detriment of the indigenous populations. Until the U.S. government abandons this corporatist support model, the country is bound to find itself the target of international terrorism, fighting endless war and the object of scorn among the emerging people of the world, because of the types of foreign entanglements that George Washington so presciently warned against more than 200 years ago.

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