Rumors are circulating that former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani is one of Donald Trump’s top choices for secretary of State. Another is John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Both men hold varying degrees of conventional right-of-center foreign policy viewpoints, although Bolton is probably more to the right of Giuliani and has a more confrontational style. That’s probably why Senator Rand Paul likes neither. Paul believes that both Giuliani and Bolton are adherents to the same failed policies we have been operating under in Iraq and the Middle East.
Paul’s disapproval is not surprising. As a libertarian-leaning republican, Paul adheres to an isolationist/non-interventionist-style foreign policy (although he doesn’t like the term “isolationist”). It’s a policy that is partly justified by the premise that the federal government actually has very limited constitutional authority to conduct extensive global initiatives.
Giuliani’s positions on Russia (not a military threat) and China (an important trading partner) are somewhat unexciting. But he places fighting terrorism, including ISIS, and containing Iran at the top of his priority list.
As for Bolton, if you can measure a person by his friends or enemies, the liberal Huffington Post called Bolton an “extreme militant.” Bolton is a strong defender of American sovereignty and does favor strong military actions against America’s worst enemies. His tendency to speak his mind has placed him in a different category than typical diplomats who spend most of their time talking in polite diplomatese.
To people like Paul, both Giuliani and Bolton support strong international involvement that typically lead to unwinnable wars for people who appear largely ungrateful. In fact, both Rand Paul and his father, former congressman Ron Paul, have articulated a libertarian-leaning foreign policy that sounds very appealing to a war-fatigued America. But ISIS has put Rand Paul in an awkward position to the point of causing him to backpedal and soften his foreign policy viewpoints.
Paul’s flip-flop hints that the real question is: What exactly are Americans weary of? Is it the war on terror, or is the way we have conducted the war on terror? In the latter case, one could argue that since Vietnam (and maybe since Korea) America has never fought a war to win. Rather, we fight limited “actions” under restricted rules of engagement. These rules of engagement put our military personnel in harm’s way and drain our treasury for no foreseeable goal or outcome. Without a clear end goal, wars just drag on and ultimately lead to failure.
It’s possible that Paul has learned that isolationism or non-interventionism cannot be taken as absolutes. They are appealing, but their appeal fades rapidly when you study a geopolitical map and throw in a pinch of human behavior. History shows that global peace results from the stabilization that comes from the actions of a superpower.
Throughout history, a number of superpowers have instituted their unique versions of hegemony. One of the most famous was the Roman Empire, where in the first and second centuries a large part of the Western world saw a long period of relative calm referred to as the Pax Romana, or the Peace of Rome.
Peace and freedom are not mutually inclusive terms, so historically a superpower presence does not necessarily imply establishment of rights and freedoms as we would define them today. Rather, it refers to periods of minimal interregional warfare, usually accompanied by extensive trade and economic growth.
The general expression for a superpower’s regional or global presence is Pax Imperia, and the world has seen many Pax Imperia. Besides Rome, some others were: Pax Sumeria, Pax Babylonia, Pax Greca, Pax Sinica, Pax Mongolica, Pax Inca, Pax Ottomana, and Pax Britannica.
But in 1776, there appeared a new kid on the block. The shift to Pax Americana from Pax Britannica started as early as America’s attack on the Barbary Coast in 1801, and the issuance of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. This shift accelerated throughout the 19th century, and one of the first international benefits of the fledgling Pax Americana was the Panama Canal, the global benefits of which are incalculable.
Within this context, America has been so successful as a positive global force that our language has become the new lingua franca and our science, technology, and culture dominate everywhere. In every pragmatic sense, American exceptionalism is real. You don’t need to conduct a survey on how the world feels about American exceptionalism because the proof is at our borders.
But what is the benefit to America from bearing the cost of being a superpower? With great power comes great responsibility. Past superpowers understood this. America without its commitment to Pax Americana would not be the great country that it is. You can’t have the latter without the former. Those that give the most, reap the most. America has the most because it gave the most.
Without Pax Americana, there would be economic repercussions domestically, and sociopolitical instabilities globally. Under an American-guided peace, in any real measure, economic and social rewards have been more available to all of mankind than any time in history, even if you include our darker moments.
It is concentrating on our darker moments that causes many to view America as a destabilizing force, including many on the American left. These people don’t see a Pax Americana but rather a Pox Americana. This view is based on “presentism,” or viewing the actions of the past in terms of modern sociopolitical theory. This would be equivalent to criticizing medieval doctors for not knowing about penicillin; medicine has evolved, so has America.
The differences that divide Paul from either Giuliani and Bolton might therefore be summarized, in the big picture, in how one sees the necessity of a global superpower in promoting stability, how that superpower uses its resources justly and wisely, and whether America will take the lead.
Universal human harmony may be in our distant future, but common sense tells us that for the foreseeable future the world still needs a stabilizing force. It’s almost as if a Pax Imperia is a law of nature, and since nature abhors a vacuum, the decline of one Pax Imperia usually gives rise to another. If it’s not a Pax Americana, what will it be? Some would like a UN Pax Novus Ordo. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I hope not.