Friday, October 28, 2011

Not ours to lose

In the earliest days of the Cold War, Democrats were accused quite effectively by the Republicans of losing China to the communists, as though China was ours to lose. The fact that those communists were Chinese citizens fighting for control of their own lives and that Americans did not live in that huge country did not dissuade those who believed we should be able to simply impose our will on the rest of the world.

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton are instituting a new, reality-based foreign policy. In this new philosophy, other countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, are not ours to win or lose.

Sometimes in foreign affairs, answers are clear. Executing Osama bin Laden is a yes; invading a country because we don't like their leader is a no.

Sometimes answers are not so clear.

For example, use of American power to try to stop genocide in Sudan is a maybe, but how? Mostly, the answers aren't really ours in the first place.

The U.S., at the request of the Libyans themselves, prevented Muammar Gaddafi from using air power to flatten the uprising of his own people. We did not decide whether to start that rebellion in the first place. We cannot determine what will follow its end because America does not own the results, Libya does.

It is not a sign of failure, but of success, that we don't know the eventual outcome of the nation-building that will now go on in Libya, or in Egypt or Tunisia. The only way we could know is if we were to impose U.S. answers on another country.

If we learned anything from the nonsensical notion that America could lose China, it should be that this approach was both morally wrong and practically ineffective.

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