That’s what I’ve learned about American foreign policy over the past weeks, summed up in just two words. It’s really, really complicated.
Plenty of people, US citizens and others alike, think that America has gotten way too much into the world’s business, and should pull out its troops overseas. But in many instances, our past interventions in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, and Taiwan have caught up to us and left both America and the world with no real other option — so we stay. Staying has less of a military strategy, and American lives might be lost, but leaving would cause an imbalance of power. This imbalance of power would likely lead to a war — which, in our modern world, could easily involve multiple nations as well as biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. How did we get here?
Since the beginning of the 20th century, we have seen a harrowing pattern emerging: allies becoming enemies in a short period of time. As we continue into the 21st century, these relationships are becoming even more complicated as our world continues to globalize. One example of this is the former Soviet Union. Prior to World War II, the US was wary of the USSR due to their constant territorial aggression and Stalin’s alliance with Hitler. However after Hitler went back on his 1939 non-aggression pact and attacked the Soviet Union, the USSR switched its loyalties and became a key ally of the United States in their fight against the Axis Powers. This is one example of this pattern of the switching of alliances — Germany, once allied with Soviet Russia, attacked, causing the USSR, once allied with Germany, to ally itself with the enemy of Germany, America.
This pattern seems more like “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” than carefully planned strategic partnerships between nations. And Stalin and Hitler’s switching of sides in WWII is only one of many examples of such activity — even Stalin himself would lose the US as an ally in less than a decade. US intervention in the Gulf Wars is also an example of this pattern and attitude: after fighting two wars against Iraq, ousting their leader and creating a power vacuum, US troops are now working together with Iraq to fight the Islamic State, a terrorist group that, some argue, inappropriate US intervention helped to create.
These American troops are on the ground now. This is not history; this is current. After studying foreign policy, I am worried about this “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” strategy. What about “friends” that have huge human rights violations — how can we support and work together with them? And what about the instances — WWI being a famous example — where complex alliances caused a minor conflict to escalate into a world war? How should the US navigate these complex relations — keeping in mind that in our global world, even small conflicts cause ripples worldwide and that many nations have weapons that could wipe out all of humanity? Moreover, with all of this constant switching of sides, how can the US (or any country) know to trust that their allies actually have their best interests at heart, and won’t be their enemies tomorrow? How can we work to not offend other nations or harm potential relations, because any nation might be our ally in the future, while keeping in mind the lasting effects of this relationship, domestically and globally?
Navigating the modern world seems nearly impossible, but necessary. Making good decisions now might help make tomorrow less complicated. America should not make hasty decisions. Remember how oversimplified responses to nuanced foreign conflict have come back to bite us. And remember that it’s complicated.