Wars characterize the twentieth century, with the U.S. featuring as a significant player. The self-pronounced reputation of the U.S. as “rescuer of the world” continued at the turn of the century with 9/11 and the war in Iraq. National polls showed that the majority of the U.S. supported the Iraq war until 2005. Perhaps people grew tired of sending troops to places that few people felt they understood: our familiarity with the world seemed to grow according to the conflicts in which we became involved. Now, the U.S. focus is shifting from a military power stance, to a potentially more productive means to maintain status: global business.
For example, in October 2011, President Obama declared with the withdrawal of troops that the U.S. relationship with Iraq would now be based on commerce and that government focus would be on jobs for returning troops rather than sending them abroad again. In addition, in the recent summit for African leaders hosted by President Obama, the theme “Investing in the Next Generation” stated that U.S. support of Africa would ideally be through business. But with the Ebola outbreak, our pledge to support humanitarian aid trumps our business focus. It seems we can’t stay strictly to business.
Furthermore, since the airstrikes against the Islamic State began, over 150 airstrikes have occurred—hardly a point in favor of promoting business opportunities. Airdrops were authorized to help refugees targeted by IS, reminiscent of the airdrops during the Berlin Blockade. Essentially, we reverted to our role of “world rescuer.” President Obama said last week that “American power can make a decisive difference,” but he emphasized that our role would be to support the Iraqi military. We are technically involved militarily against IS, acting as mentors and orchestrators as the President asks for global military support.
The question arises: is it possible to be the world leader through business alone or will military involvement be necessary? General public opinion has changed about getting involved militarily, backed by the President’s statement that “American leadership is the one constant in an uncertain world . . . as Americans we welcome our responsibility to lead.” Within a matter of weeks, the goal for business to be the ideal point of contact became unrealistic. But, with this change, it begs the question of how we determine which conflicts to sanction, especially when we have firmly remained out of the Ukrainian conflict and boasted of success by meeting Russian aggression through sanctions—cutoffs from business. The line delineated by recent political contradiction blurs our ability to decipher whether we believe business to be a feasible means for progress.
And truthfully, business enables progression of conflict as well as economic growth. IS wasn’t a threat until it appropriated Syrian oil fields, turning around to sell the oil back to Syria. While their means of business isn’t ethical, it does sustain them. Being a double-edged sword, business can’t ensure peaceful intervention on the world stage: hence the U.S. may not be able to stay withdrawn militarily.
Given recent events, our business focus over the last decade seems to have been a tactic, one employed merely to avoid the politics and criticism of military intervention. Now our sense of moral responsibility brings us back to the military stage. It could be that military isolationism is a luxury we can’t afford with our role in the world, but that point needs a resolution before we promote any particular dogma, whether for business or military.
By the way, there has been little discussion of humanitarian aid mentioned in this piece. It will take future writing to explore military and humanitarian assistance as well as comparisons of business-based development and aid. Of course, these options do not have to be mutually exclusive.